It’s hard being a teenager, and Prime Video’s latest young adult series doesn’t let you forget it.
Mickey Bolitar (Jaden Michael) is a 15-year-old with more problems than not having a girlfriend or missing out on selection for the basketball team – although these both feature somewhere on his list.
He’s just seen his father die in a car crash and is now starting out a new life with his aunt Shira (Constance Zimmer) in the fictitious Kasselton, New Jersey. Also, he is not being texted back by his crush Ashley (Samantha Bugliaro).
Obviously, it is the latter that gives Mickey the most bother and so the series starts with him taking the Ghosted route of tracking her down when she doesn’t appear at school for a couple of days. Some guys just can’t accept that she is just not that into them, but in Mickey’s case, the anxiety is justified as he is then plunged headlong down a rabbit hole attempting to figure out what happened to her.
The first two episodes play out like a high school drama bingo card. Mickey is befriended by his own Ron and Hermione – the kooky Spoon (Adrian Greensmith) and gothic Ema (Abby Corrigan). The three bond after being left out of the cool table by bullies and then break out after dark to carry out their DIY probe into Ashley’s disappearance.
Central to the mystery is the creepy mansion in Mickey’s neighbourhood, where his late father also had a run in many moons ago and which is inhabited by a woman known simply as ‘Bat Lady’. Is there a vague supernatural element? You bet and it’s all very Wednesday Addams: on this basis, I have every confidence there will be a prom-gone-bad scene, although only three of the eight episodes were available to preview.
At times, Shelter can feel like every YA drama you’ve ever seen rolled into one. There are elements of Teen Wolf, Harry Potter, The Hate U Give, even The Breakfast Club. Anne Frank is referenced. There is social commentary on race, privilege and sexuality. And there is also room for it to have secondary romantic subplots, sometimes implausibly crowbarred in, and have a sports drama backstory.
The characters can feel a little contrived but, in fairness to the young leads, they are all watchable. The grieving Mickey is very much the straight man amid the chaos around him. Jaden Michael – best known for playing a young Colin Kaepernick in the Netflix drama of the American footballer’s life – gives a solid and measured performance that segues from placidity to rare (but shocking) expressions of rage.
Abby Corrigan (previously seen in the series Banshee) makes her character Ema something of a dark Lisa Simpson with added sarcasm. No complaints there, but it is Metal Lords’ actor Adrian Greensmith who is the pick of the bunch, making the nerdy Spoon likeable when he could be irritating in the wrong hands.
Fans of the Mickey Bolitar books will be pleased to see Coben himself is on board as producer to give the series a mark of authenticity. Based as the show is on a literary series, there is of course lore galore, and the complexity of the plot means that it is perhaps best fitted to a multi-episode series. Indie director Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves, The Society) is the main force behind the camera and adapts a screenplay that is heavy on action and development – but does mercifully allow the occasional moment to breathe.
Shelter’s best claim to originality might be not that it is something you have never seen before – but rather that it is everything you have seen before. But it is well put together, and the talented cast offer enough charm to get it out of any moments of overload.
Harlan Coben’s Shelter will begin on Prime Video from August 18. The eight episodes will be released each Friday up to the season finale on September 22