When you walk past a rack of books in an airport, you’re likely to see a few by Harlan Coben. There’s a reason his books are popular, even among those not about to board a long flight. Like his new TV thriller “Safe,” they are efficient suspense delivery systems, and any deficiencies in character development are usually overshadowed by the satisfying tick-tock nature of the plot and the interlocking mysteries threatening upscale people who find themselves spiraling into trouble.
“Safe,” Coben’s second foray into TV after the U.K. series “The Five,” has a mostly British cast, and takes place in a luxury gated community in the English suburbs. At the center of this drama, however, is Michael C. Hall, an American actor who speaks here with a British accent. This will be jarring for viewers who watched him on “Six Feet Under” and “Dexter”: It’s hard to get Dexter Morgan’s flat American pronunciation out of your head as you watch Hall play a middle-class English surgeon.
Hall’s attempt at an English accent is reasonably successful, even if it sounds a bit forced at times. The good news is “Safe” is a plot-driven drama that doesn’t rely all that much on extensive conversation, and what dialogue it does have is workmanlike at best. But in its first two episodes, it delivers on what it promises in its taut opening scenes: It’s a slick portrait of one man’s descent into a nightmare, one that threatens to damage the fragile connections within several families. It’s essentially a propulsive nighttime soap opera littered with crimes, well-appointed kitchens, and surveillance cameras everywhere.
In a leafy, safety-conscious subdivision, grieving widower Tom (Hall) is raising two daughters, one of whom is a teenager and increasingly estranged from her dad. Adults and teens in the community are all hiding secrets, and on the whole, the teens are better at covering their tracks than the grown-ups. But things begin spinning out of control when a crime occurs, and a resident goes missing.
“Safe” takes itself a bit too seriously now and then — portentous music cues occasionally crop up in ways that play up the show’s pompous tendencies. But overall, it tends to avoid the sloppy, meandering tendencies of its more prestige-driven TV brethren. It’s a highly watchable, semi-pulpy serial loaded with reveals, clues and cliffhangers, and the core cast is generally quite good. As the drama gains momentum over its first two episodes, Amanda Abbington (“Sherlock”) is excellent as a local detective with her own domestic problems, and Marc Warren is terrific as Tom’s wary, acerbic best friend. Hall brings a worried, intelligent gravity to the central role, and if the drama doesn’t stretch the actor’s range in its opening hours, we know he’s capable of much more, should later installments of “Safe” require a wider variety of emotional colors from him.
This is the kind of drama in which everyone is keeping secrets — and characters with knitted brows remind each other of that fact —and there are the expected chase scenes, interrogations, and close-ups of a mysterious bank transfer.
The most incongruous idea contained within the program is not that some suburbanites are up to no good — we’ve certainly seen that before — but the that teens would extensively use Facebook to document their lives (most young people I know would rather eat glass than rely on that platform to keep in touch with friends).
No matter; “Safe” is pitched not at high-schoolers but at their parents, and it generally delivers the kinds of well-paced twists that mystery fans are likely to enjoy. On that score, “Safe” truly is a safe bet.