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Harlan Coben’s “Safe” is Suspenseful and Entertaining

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Harlan Coben's Safe is Suspenseful and Entertaining
Image credit: Netflix

For the past several days, every time I logged in on Netflix, I kept getting this viewing history-based recommendation to watch Harlan Coben’s Safe. I hadn’t heard of Harlan Coben before, I checked the cast and although the name Michael C. Hall sounded vaguely familiar, I didn’t remember having seen him in any movie nor TV show.

The synopsis of Safe says it is about a teenage girl who goes missing. I immediately thought of The Killing, based on he Danish television series Forbrydelsen (The Crime), which aired on AMC from 2011 to 2014. I enjoyed The Killing very much (except for Season 4 which was too much of a stretch already) and if Safe was going to be anything or something like it, I was willing to give it a try.

The first episode got me hooked. No, Safe is nothing like The Killing but it was suspenseful and entertaining in its own way. At that point, I was curious enough to find out who Harlan Coben and Michael C. Hall were. So, Harlan Coben is the author of the novel on which one of the most intriguing movies I have ever seen was based, Tell No One, and Michael C. Hall was the star of that highly popular TV show Dexter which I never bothered to watch.

Marc Warren as Dr. Pete Mayfield and Michael C. Hall as Dr. Tom Delaney in "Safe"

Marc Warren as Dr. Pete Mayfield and Michael C. Hall as Dr. Tom Delaney in “Safe” | Image credit: Netflix

Safe revolves around the lives of the residents of a gated community. In the prologue, Dr. Tom Delaney (Michael C. Hall) and his family are at the burial of his wife, Rachel. The tension between Tom and his older daughter, Jenny, is already obvious.

A year later, Jenny (Amy James-Kelly) goes missing after a party gone wild with booze and drugs. Her boyfriend, Chris Chahal (Freddie Thorp), who was at the same party cannot be found either. The fact that they go missing at the same time suggests that they might have run away together. After all, Jenny was not on good terms with her father and Chris just found out that his parents intended to divorce.

But when Chris turns up dead, the elopement theory goes to hell. Meanwhile, Jenny is still missing. Tom’s search for his daughter unearths long-buried secrets among the residents of the affluent community.

Amy James-Kelly as Jenny Delaney in "Safe"

Amy James-Kelly as Jenny Delaney in “Safe” | Image credit: Netflix

Because I was already aware of who Harlan Coben was after the first episode, and because I’ve had some acquaintance with his past work, I already anticipated that the answer to Jenny’s disappearance and Chris’ death have nothing to do with current events but, rather, a consequence of another story that hovers in the background with a few hints dropped here and there.

But, unlike Tell No One, the hints are much too fleeting and seemingly inconsequential to make one pause. Blame it on the fact that Safe is a mini-series with a soapy approach at story-telling and the story is spread over eight episodes. Tell No One is a full-length film where the story was packed in 131 minutes.

The first four episodes of Safe were great — so good that I watched them in one night. But, after that, the pace changed. Too many side stories that got too much screen time soured the experience for me somehow. A teacher having an affair with a student. A detective looking for her father who has since outed as gay. It just seemed to me that the story-telling could have been tighter and better paced if there were only five or six episodes instead of eight which means cutting down the screen time of the side stories tremendously.

Amanda Abbington as Detective Sergeant Sophie Mason and Hannah Arterton as Detective Emma Castle in "Safe"

Amanda Abbington as Detective Sergeant Sophie Mason and Hannah Arterton as Detective Emma Castle in “Safe” | Image credit: Netflix

As suspenseful and entertaining as Safe turned out to be, I was still left a little underwhelmed. There’s this nagging feeling that, somehow, there was a dumbing-down effect, that it was really a shallow mini-series yet you’re left thinking it’s more because the scenery was fantastic and the acting was good (although the fake English accent of Michael C. Hall could be jarring at times).

But one thing I appreciated about Safe was its insistence on presenting the characters as real people, the females especially. Female detectives that wore sensible shoes instead of the stilettos, heavy make-up and tight fitting clothes that became de rigueur in CSI, for instance, and much too hard-sell on CSI Miami. On Safe, freckles and other skin imperfections were left as they were instead of being hidden in a ton of face foundation. In short, the women came out as real people rather than as painted dolls. The non-Hollywood touch was so refreshing.