Dead Hot review – it’s Skins meets Queer As Folk … but way weirder

<span>Tigger-ish energy and enthusiasm … Vivian Oparah and Bilal Hasna in Dead Hot.</span><span>Photograph: Matt Squire/PR</span>
Tigger-ish energy and enthusiasm … Vivian Oparah and Bilal Hasna in Dead Hot.Photograph: Matt Squire/PR

Dead Hot comes pre-loaded with charisma. Its leads, Vivian Oparah from Rye Lane, and Bilal Hasna, last seen in the underrated Extraordinary, sparkle their way through their scenes, lighting up what might otherwise have been a humdrum mystery. I say mystery, but it’s also a comedy-thriller-horror-romance. There is a lot going on. It has been created and written by Charlotte Coben, daughter of Harlan, who is clearly cut from the family cloth, so expect plenty of whiplash-inducing twists. However, it doesn’t quite manage to assemble its components into something more solid and palpable.

Hasna is Elliott, who we meet five years after a traumatic and life-changing event – the disappearance of his lover, Peter (Big Boys’ Olisa Odele), in mysterious and gruesome circumstances. Elliott arrived home one day to find Peter’s severed finger in a pool of blood, and Peter has not been seen since. In the present day, Elliott lives with Jess (Oparah), Peter’s twin sister, who has not entirely given up on Peter still being alive. She downloads and deletes a DNA-matching app, presumably in the hope that, in his absence, Peter will have been thinking, I’ve always wondered if I’ve got a fifth cousin twice removed in Australia, and sent off a swab to find out.

To start with, it’s all very Skins meets Queer as Folk. Jess is working in a gift shop, where she infuriates her boss by giving away the merchandise and skipping shifts on a regular basis. Elliott is finally allowing himself to move on, meeting a handsome stranger named Will (Marcus Hodson) at a club, and quickly convincing himself that they are soulmates. This is set in Liverpool, albeit a Liverpool largely populated by southerners, so they kiss goodbye the next morning at the Royal Albert Dock before making plans to meet again later the same day. While Jess is pleased for him, she’s preoccupied, having received a “close relative” match on the DNA app. Could it be Peter?

It starts to get weird, leaning towards the spooky, though it tickles horror under the chin rather than grabbing it by the scruff of the neck. You might jump, and you might wince at some of the goriness, but it is much more comfortable as a zany caper than as a thriller. The weirdness is largely aesthetic, and, as a result, it never really chills the bones. Jess is summoned to a red-themed bar with the eye of Horus as its name and sign. The colour red is a prominent motif, from nail polish to safety boxes to an eerie telephone, but despite the fact that it’s literally all over the place, Elliott somehow doesn’t pick up on any red flags coming from Will, who might as well be flashing like a fire alarm. Meanwhile, Elliott is troubled by his conscience, and starts to see Peter everywhere. Before long, both Elliott and Jess realise they have become pawns in some mysterious game.

It is frequently cartoonish, particularly when the grownups arrive, and it pivots towards more of a dark comedy. Peter Serafinowicz is Danny, a detective familiar with Peter’s case, who makes a crucial appearance in the present day. Penelope Wilton plays Elliott’s ghoulish, aristocratic grandmother, who supports him financially, but who also insists that he is actually straight and must go on dates with women. She lives with her daughter, and Elliott’s aunt, Bonnie (Rosie Cavaliero), who hates her golden boy nephew, and who is about to marry an underwear model with whom she has only communicated on the internet, called, of course, McCoughley Hamburgerson.

That’s a wacky kind of name for a wacky kind of show, and you occasionally get the sense that it is trying too hard to be quirky, at the cost of finding something more resonant. Often, when a series is sent out pre-release, it arrives with a list of spoilers that the programme-makers would like you to avoid mentioning. One of the points on the hilariously lengthy list for Dead Hot was to please not reveal “Who left the cat at LeBarkBark and why”. You’ll never get it out of me.

While its dogged over-the-topness sometimes propels it into enjoyably daft territory, it can be grating, particularly when it tries to deal with its bigger emotional themes. Jess and Elliott’s friendship and co-dependence, amid the grind of their mid-20s, is much more honest, as is their search for answers about Peter’s disappearance. Together, Oparah and Hasna are great, and there are occasional flashbacks, which allow Odele to wander dreamily into the frame. It’s just a shame that there has been so much thrown at it, because with its Tigger-ish energy and enthusiasm, Dead Hot is hard to dislike.

  • Dead Hot is on Prime Video now