Deborah Ross

‘Safe: a teenage party and the house is clean?’

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CONTENTS - Deborah Ross

Safe is the lat­est thriller from Net­flix and it’s set in a wealthy gated com­mu­nity be­cause it’s where you might live to feel safe, but what if the dan­gers are from within? This is the premise, as an up­date on the old sub­ur­bia trope, where it all looks per­fect but ev­ery­one is har­bour­ing fes­ter­ing se­crets in­clud­ing, in this in­stance, a dead body in a freezer. I have to say, I grew up in sub­ur­bia and never had any idea that all of this was go­ing on. There I was, watch­ing Butterflies while my fa­ther washed the car or loaded it with his golf clubs and my mother baked cakes (se­ri­ously), happy as any­thing. How could I have not known? We did have a big chest freezer in the garage, but I can’t re­mem­ber ever prop­erly check­ing it out. I am a fool.

Cre­ated by the Amer­i­can crime writer Har­lan Coben, this is set in Bri­tain, yet it doesn’t feel Bri­tish in the way, say, Broad­church did. In­stead, it feels very Amer­i­can, which may be due to its Amer­i­can star, Michael C Hall (Dex­ter, Six Feet Un­der), who em­ploys a Bri­tish ac­cent so ef­fort­ful you want to pat him en­cour­ag­ingly on the arm and say, ‘Well done for try­ing. Good on you.’

He plays Tom, a wid­owed sur­geon with two daugh­ters, the el­dest of whom, Jenny, is a teenager play­ing up in a teenage fash­ion be­cause in dra­mas you don’t ever have teenagers who aren’t play­ing up in a teenage fash­ion. There’s some kind of law, I think. So he’s wor­ried about Jenny, who is dat­ing an older boyfriend, Chris, and, as he tells his best friend Pete, if it comes to it, he has the tech­nol­ogy in place to in­ter­cept her texts. ‘Ev­ery­body is en­ti­tled to their se­crets,’ protests Pete, be­cause the script is work­man­like.

The com­mu­nity in­cludes a de­tec­tive, So­phie, played by Amanda Ab­bing­ton, who is the best thing in this by far, even if you do won­der how a de­tec­tive (whose es­tranged, no-good, drunken hus­band is liv­ing in a car­a­van in the gar­den) might af­ford to live here. There is also a clan­des­tine af­fair (Tom and So­phie), a French teacher who may be hav­ing sex with an un­der­age stu­dent, and Jenny’s friend, Sia, who is also a teenager play­ing up.

Sia’s par­ents are go­ing away for the night. ‘No par­ties!’ in­structs her fa­ther. Next thing you know, droves of teenagers are ar­riv­ing and then they are drink­ing and smok­ing and do­ing drugs and play­ing beer pong. (That’s an Amer­i­can thing, right?) But it goes hor­ri­bly wrong and at mid­night Sia phones her par­ents, who race home, by which time the house is… spot­less. Not a sin­gle can, not a sin­gle bot­tle, not a sin­gle beer spill or ring pull to be seen, any­where. Seventy teenagers at­tended, we will later learn, and the kitchen sparkles to show-house stan­dard. Suck it up, you might say, but I can’t, be­cause such in­con­sis­ten­cies strike a dark fury in my heart. If you can’t be both­ered to pay at­ten­tion, why should I?

This is story-driven rather than char­ac­ter­driven, which is some­times OK, but at least get the story right. And it wasn’t just the spot­less house. Jenny and Chris go miss­ing af­ter the party and Tom is be­ing driven out of his mind with worry. It’s dis­cov­ered that Pete picked her up, so now Pete is UN­DER SUS­PI­CION, but he says he al­ways told Jenny that if she was in trou­ble and needed a lift, to call him, so he col­lected her from the party and brought her back – and CCTV footage con­firms he dropped her at the gates into the com­mu­nity.

But why? Why at the gates into the com­mu­nity when Sia lives within the com­mu­nity? And why am I the only one ask­ing this? I only watched two of the eight episodes but it was enough. It can whirr on, in its me­chan­i­cal way, with­out me.

On to the fourth se­ries of The Bridge, which opened hor­rif­i­cally – a woman gagged and buried up to her shoul­ders is then stoned to death – and ended hor­rif­i­cally, but oth­er­wise it was busi­ness as usual: an­other un­der­ground ex­treme po­lit­i­cal group; a mil­lion­aire with a fab­u­lous house who ob­vi­ously has a se­cret; a ma­jor mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion (the dead woman was head of the Dan­ish Im­mi­gra­tion Board) with just a cou­ple of cops work­ing on it.

The trou­ble is, I’m much more in­ter­ested in the per­sonal lives of Saga, who is suf­fer­ing in prison for her mother’s mur­der, and Hen­rik, whose daugh­ters have yet to be found, than I am in any­thing else. I would also ask, as seems to be my habit: we’re seven years down the line and no one has yet clocked that Saga is some­where on the autism spec­trum? Still, it’s four stars, be­cause Sofia Helin is so mag­nif­i­cent as Saga, and it’s the fi­nal se­ries, and I need to know how it all ends.

Now I can re­turn to my own con­cerns. Was my fa­ther re­ally play­ing golf… Or was he hav­ing a clan­des­tine af­fair with Enid from the ten­nis club? I’m truly wor­ried about this now.

Amanda Ab­bing­ton and Michael C Hall in Safe

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