Sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a TV character’s world fall completely apart, episode by episode, slowly and surely. How on earth will the writers manage to get this guy — in the thriller “The Sister,” he is Russell Tovey’s Nathan — out of the disastrous corner they’re forcing him into? Or is he going down without redemption? I’m not certain why watching possible ruination can be so engaging — maybe it’s the experience of hoping against hope, maybe it’s just plain old schadenfreude — but there it is.
“The Sister,” a four-part British import arriving Friday on Hulu, plays out the possible ruination of Nathan effectively and, yes, enjoyably, as his darkest, most damning old secret begins to resurface. In fact, it’s a body that is resurfacing, the body of a young woman named Elise (Simone Ashley), as a local forest is about to be excavated for new construction. Nathan has lived a good life in the 10 years since the event that culminated with Elise’s shallow grave, but his peace — he’s happily married to Holly (Amrita Acharia) — is in jeopardy now. A creepy lowlife named Bob (Bertie Carvel), whom Nathan hasn’t seen since the incident, has shown up at his door to insist that he and Nathan must now move the remains or risk being caught. Nathan goes into a panic at the sight of the slimy fellow, who threatens to tell Holly everything if Nathan won’t help, and so he embarks on a long, complicated campaign of lies to avoid exposure. Oh, and Holly’s close friend Jacki (Nina Toussaint-White) just happens to be a detective, so there’s that in the mix, too.
There are more facts about the basic situation in “The Sister” that I don’t want to spoil here, but I will say that they make Nathan triply eager to keep the incident in the woods under wraps, and they give us more psychological themes to consider. Nathan is desperate but he is haunted, too, by what happened to Elise on that night and the guilt he feels about it. In flashbacks across the series that become increasingly direct, we see the horror-filled backstory unfold, beginning at a New Year’s Eve party and finishing with hands digging in the dirt. “The Sister” is not a horror miniseries by any means, but it’s written by Neil Cross (who based it on his novel “Burial”), and Cross has a taste for putting viewers on the edges of their seats. As the creator and writer of “Luther” starring Idris Elba, he knew how to fit scare sequences into what was ultimately a detective story. Here, Cross inserts some possibly paranormal occurrences and a lot of dark photography and rain to keep the mood sufficiently eerie. In a way, though, “The Sister” is about the paranormal more than a paranormal story.
The actors help carry “The Sister” forward even when you might have strong inklings about the solutions to some of the mysteries in play. Tovey has done consistently fine work in “Little Dorrit,” “Being Human,” “Looking,” and “Years and Years.” Here, he brings a boyishness, almost an innocence, to Nathan that makes you want better for him, regardless of what happened that night in the woods. You can see his terrified thoughts pass behind his wide eyes, even when his face is still and his affect low. You also root for him because Carvel is so good at being a menace. His Bob is dirty on the inside and the outside, and there is something viscerally uncomfortable about seeing him enter Nathan and Holly’s beautiful home. With his stringy hair and smirkingly malevolent face, he’s the kind of guy you really don’t want to make eye contact with.
Starring: Russell Tovey, Bertie Carvel, Amrita Acharia, Nina Toussaint-White, Amanda Root, Paul Basely
On: Hulu. All four episodes available Friday.