A bad accent can ruin an entire movie or TV series for me. I say this as a Bostonian who has been subjected to some of the worst vocal offenses known to mankind, aural sins no human cochlea should ever know.
So I was wary of “Safe,” a new Netflix thriller starring the American actor Michael C. Hall as a British surgeon. On “Six Feet Under” and “Dexter,” the American Hall played Americans with big secrets who kept their voices inexpressive and neutral lest the truth sneak out. Would his jolly old intonations in “Safe” be a not-so-jolly hell, so distracting that nothing else in the show registers?
Turns out Hall’s English accent is easy to get used to, at least for me — I can’t imagine how it sounds to natives. After a few minutes of adjustment, I was perfectly fine hearing Dexter pronounce privacy with a “priv.” And it turns out that “Safe, which is available Thursday, is easy to take, too. There’s nothing particularly fresh about it, but it does what it sets out to do — to keep the viewer guessing who dunit and why — with assurance and flair.
The show, created by best-selling novelist Harlan Coben and written by Danny Brocklehurst, is in the same general family as “Broadchurch” and “The Killing.” Hall’s Tom Delaney is a father of two daughters living in a well-to-do gated community and recovering from his wife’s death from cancer a year earlier. When one of his daughters, a defiant teen named Jenny (Amy James-Kelly), goes missing, Tom begins a search that will be filled with dark revelations and clues. We don’t know if Jenny’s dead or alive, but we learn that she, like just about everyone in “Safe” including Tom, is keeping secrets. Even dead characters keep secrets on this show.
Tom pushes forward, with his best friend, Pete (Marc Warren), helping out. Two local detectives are also on the case. Sophie (Amanda Abbington) is a seasoned pro who has some of her own problems at home, as well as a personal connection to Tom; Emma (Hannah Arterton) is new to town but may have a hidden agenda. There are twists we don’t see coming, secondary characters who become unexpectedly significant, and one story line with a “Weekend at Bernie’s” theme that I hope is meant to provide moments of comic relief.
“Safe” is unlike “Broadchurch” and “The Killing” in that it’s more plot-driven. Some suspense series take time to explore the characters — the detective and the aggrieved family members and friends — before tossing out the red herrings and twists. Some of the acting on those shows is remarkable. But “Safe” stays largely on the surface, as each of the parties chases down the next piece of evidence. Hall is fine, as the script moves him around the chessboard feverishly. Tom’s troubled about his daughter, and he’s working through feelings about his late wife, but he’s not nearly as layered a character as David on “Six Feet Under” or even the epically scarred Dexter. He’s part of a motivated group of truth hunters, each of whom is learning that safety is elusive, no matter how rich and insulated you may be.
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Hannah Arterton, Amanda Abbington, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Marc Warren. On: Netflix, season one available ThursdayMatthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.