Monday's best TV: Safe, Innocent and Criminal Minds

Neighbourhood watch: Amanda Abbington and Michael C Hall in Safe on Netflix: Netflix / Ben Blackall
Neighbourhood watch: Amanda Abbington and Michael C Hall in Safe on Netflix: Netflix / Ben Blackall

All is not well in suburbia.

Behind the veneer of detached mansions where flash businessmen boast about their curved 65-inch TVs that cost more than their mother-in-law’s houses and everyone glides around in Audi saloons, a teenage girl has gone missing.

Safe (Netflix) is a new drama from American thriller writer Harlan Coben. Once you know that, this vision makes sense.

The gated community where it is set feels American — neighbours gather for barbecues, houses have swimming pools and the teenagers play beer pong at parties. It’s as if Coben watched Broadchurch, realised murder happens in England too and merged a Desperate Housewives-style vision of community with a British whodunit.

The protagonist is even an American actor, although he’s trying his best to put on an English accent and engage in dad banter. We first meet Tom Delaney (Michael C Hall) at his wife’s funeral. Seeing Hall by a grave is an instant reminder of how excellent he was in funeral-directors drama Six Feet Under, and how this is not a patch on that.

Then there’s Hall’s shady past as TV serial killer Dexter. Anyone who watched that will struggle to trust him as a well-meaning bereaved father, cast adrift when his eldest daughter, Jenny, doesn’t come home after a party. Luckily it doesn’t take long for him to resort to Dexter-style tactics, downloading an app called Text Spy (imaginative name) to monitor his daughter’s life. Gen Z here are straight out of a scare story about stereotypical bad teenagers, arranging house parties on Facebook the second they hear their parents are out of town and refusing to put their phones down at family lunches.

As with all TV communities, everyone is up to something. Delaney is having a secret liaison with the local detective, Sophie, played by Amanda Abbington. They steal five-minute fumbles behind the fence like teenagers at the neighbourhood barbecue. Sophie plays the exasperated working-mother role expertly, mainlining white wine to relieve her stress, mock-arresting her son to get him to visit his grandmother and pouting at her ex who lives in a caravan in the garden. “Remember fun?” he asks. She retorts: “Yes, and now I have to work.”

Sophie is investigating the case of a teacher, Zoe Chahal, who is accused of having an affair with a pupil. She happens to be the mother of Jenny’s wayward boyfriend. Coincidence? She’s played by Spiral’s Audrey Fleurot, but although the actress is French, her accent feels hammed up. Sophie has to contend with a new, younger, blonder colleague, Emma (Hannah Arterton, Gemma’s sister). She says she’s taken this job in a sleepy town to escape a break-up and they have woke clashes about whether they would treat a male teacher suspected of sleeping with a student in the same way as Chahal.

Emma has her own secrets. We see her spying on Delaney’s best mate, who we were led to believe was a harmless bloke.

It’s good to see Laila Rouass, who played Amber in Footballer’s’ Wives, back on screen, even if she doesn’t get to speak much in the first episode. She has to endure a smug husband who says “woof” when he’s excited. The characters are two dimensional like that. It feels like Coban is just going through the motions — exposition, twist, cliffhanger — and as a result it’s a thriller by numbers that doesn’t feel clever enough for its talented cast.


Pick of the day

Criminal Minds - Sky Living, 9pm

It’s a high-stakes season finale for the thriller about the FBI’s criminal profiling unit.

Fans of the ensemble show may recall that in the closing episode of the last series all members of the team were left in jeopardy, apart from Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness).

As if to prove that everything comes to those who wait, Reid is led to a storage unit where he finds former FBI agent Owen Quinn (James Urbaniak) who has been left for dead, and in an apparently confused state.

High stakes: there’s drama for the team (CBS)
High stakes: there’s drama for the team (CBS)

There is much that is unexplained about this scenario, and Quinn’s explanation he had quit the agency to follow his hunch, that a killer called The Strangler was murdering women along the East Coast, seems bizarre.

But he also claims to have been kidnapped and held hostage for a year. So why is he still alive, and who led the team to make the discovery?

In a tale that gets darker the longer as it goes on, a cult leader called The Messiah (Michael Hogan) appears. His initiation ceremony involves burning the fingertips of his followers with acid. And if that’s how he treats his friends…

Screen time

Innocent - ITV, 9pm

Lee Ingleby and Hermione Norris star in this thriller written by Forgotten creator Chris Lang. Ingleby plays David Collins, a man whose life has been wrecked by a disputed conviction for murdering his wife.

After seven years in prison, he is freed on a forensic technicality, and while he has always maintained his innocence, he has lost everything: his wife, his two children and his house. His kids have been brought up by his sister-in-law, Alice (Norris) and her husband. A new investigation into the murder is launched, but things are complicated by the fact that the woman in charge, DI Cathy Hudson (Angel Coulby) is in a relationship with the original investigating officer, DI Will Beech. The drama runs across four nights this week.

Jihadi Brides - Tomorrow, London Live, 9pm

Despite all the frontline reports of Daesh’s medieval brutality and their terrorist attacks across the globe, some 60 British women have been convinced to leave Britain behind and join the group in Syria. Unthinkable, but this film presents how a marketing campaign and social media have been merged into an effective recruitment tool.

Last Whites of the East End - London Live, 10pm

With such a provocative title, you won’t be too far taken aback to hear that there are one or two provocative views within this documentary film about a local community in Newham, some members of whom are cutting their local family ties to move outside of London.

Not everyone is leaving the area, nor is everyone resistant to change in this programme, which focuses on a section of the capital where dozens of cultures rub shoulders (although those who identify as White British are still Newham’s largest ethnic group).

As such, this hears from a range of voices, from those railing against a perceived sea-change, to people with a more sanguine attitude to a city’s ebbs and flows.

Weekend catch up

The Private Life of the Royal Academy - BBC iPlayer

Adam Low’s precious, revealing documentary follows five years in the life of the Royal Academy. It starts with the art world’s Morecambe and Wise, Gilbert and George, receiving medals.

“From the first day as baby artists all we wanted to do is win,” says George, looking back. “It took a long time,” says Gilbert. “We are nearly dead.”

Burma With Simon Reeve - BBC iPlayer

There is no shortage of documentaries about polite Brits making post-colonial train journeys, and not all of them involve Michael Portillo’s trousers. Reeve is a thoughtful guide to the country also known as Myanmar. He attempts to find out the truth about the fluctuating political situation in the country where some are turning the Buddhist heartland into a place of violence and apparent genocide.