Safe (Season 1)
Creator: Harlan Coben
Starring: Michael C Hall, Amanda Abbington, Marc Warren, Hannah Arterton, Amy James-Kelly
The good and bad elements of Safe contrast so wildly it is hard to believe that they could be contained within the same show. It certainly gives off some mixed signals; from the outset Safe seems to try its hardest to put you off, while simultaneously sinking its hooks in deep and dragging you into a zig-zagging tale of deception.
When giving feedback it is always useful to start with the positives, so lets begin there. At its core, Safe is a superbly taut, edge-of-your-seat crime-drama which constantly thrashes its way through its eight episodes with a relentless energy, leaping from shocker to shocker without allowing the viewer a moment to catch their breath. Early into the first episode we learn that the teenage daughter of surgeon Tom Delaney (Hall) is missing, and so begins his frantic (if not incautious) search for her - Safe, it appears, is a rather sardonic title. Meanwhile, separate stories piggy-back the main narrative (which will not divulged for the sake of keeping this review a spoiler-free zone), notching up the tension and complicating the picture. Throughout its racing episodes the thrumming momentum maintains an exhausting pace, as the different storylines are twisted together. Safe is practically unguessable, stuffing red herrings inside of bigger red herrings, with various strands forming an impressively constructed web of deceit and misbehaviour. Its not always elegant, but its definitely gripping.
Running throughout, however, is a script that can only be described as diabolical. Very little attention seems to have been afforded to it, the interchange between characters being little better than that of a soap opera, displaying very little imagination or creativity. The horrendous dialogue almost renders the first two episodes unwatchable, and continually hampers the show's momentum and shatters its ambience. As a viewer you would be forgiven for blaming a disinterested cast for Safe's initial lack of zest, with many of the performances at first feeling wooden and uninspired. With time, however, it becomes clear who the real culprit is, and the cast do a commendable job of selling such poor writing. As the tension rises in the season's second half the clunky, awkward speech is mercifully less noticeable, but Safe remains a difficult watch, knowing that there may be some dreadful cliché or strange bastardisation of British teenage slang lurking round the next corner. The script's effect on the show is infuriating, as all the other components are deserving of so much more.
Fundamentally though, Safe is missing a key ingredient which all great British crime-dramas share. Successful shows like Line Of Duty (2012- ) and Broadchurch (2013-2017), are accompanied by a metaphorical black cloud, a moody sullen essence which hangs heavy in the air in every scene. It is an elusive but vital component for such shows, and one which Safe has simply not captured. The blame may again lie with its script, which hints at the possibility that Safe has been written for an American audience. Some American English is placed bizarrely within conversation ('pants' in place of 'trousers' is an obvious one), and an odd interpretation of a British house party is shown throughout. Such unfamiliar Americanisms clash awkwardly with the familiar English scenery, and the show never really feels completely comfortable in itself.
In summary, Safe offers a script which could easily derail other TV shows, but it manages to hold an audience with the help of its convulsing story line and some very powerful performances. It takes a lot of faith to power through past episode 2, but luckily your faith is rewarded.