Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Is ‘The Stranger’ the latest Netflix crime mystery you need to binge watch?

Richard Armitage stars in the new crime thriller based on the Harlan Coben novel of the same name

Richard Armitage stars in 'The Stranger'. Courtesy Netflix
Richard Armitage stars in 'The Stranger'. Courtesy Netflix

In the opening three episodes of The Stranger, there are several moments that will make audiences contemplate turning it off and returning to their Netflix menu. But despite its occasionally clunky dialogue and questionable plots, The Stranger always has a shocking twist or intriguing character up its sleeve.

More than that, though, the show makes these revelations at exactly the right time, which helps to makes up for its previous transgressions and make its viewers keep watching.

At no time is this more evident than in the opening scenes. We’re introduced to Adam Price (Armitage), a lawyer who has taken his teenage kids to football practice.

Adam’s evening is rudely interrupted by the mysterious titular intruder (Hannah John-Kamen), who informs him that his wife Corrine (Dervla Kirwan) faked her pregnancy and miscarriage two years earlier, causing him to question whether he is the father of their two sons. Adam spends the rest of the evening on the internet, using the stranger’s information to question his wife’s past. Unfortunately for The Stranger, the above fails to make much of an impact, with the lack of intensity and charismatic characters rendering it little more than humdrum.

That makes it all the more of a relief, then, when after only 15 minutes, The Stranger shifts its point-of-view to that of DS Johanna Griffin, played by Siobhan Finneran, and DC Wesley Ross (Kadiff Kirwan).

Not only are the pair more entertaining to watch than the middle-class bores who preceded them, but they’re called to investigate the decapitation of an alpaca, making the episode umpteen times more interesting. At this point, with the police officers unravelling more and more curious details and Corrine and Adam being dragged further apart, The Stranger really hits its groove.

Jennifer Saunders adds depth to the plot, our reviewer writes. Courtesy The Stranger
Jennifer Saunders adds depth to the plot, our reviewer writes. Courtesy The Stranger

Griffin and Kirwan’s patter injects some much-needed humour, with Kirwan in particular proving to be a breakout star as he steals every scene he is in. The appearances of Stephen Rea and Jennifer Saunders, bona fide Irish and English national treasures, respectively, bring a weight to The Stranger it had been severely lacking. Even the dilemma with the Price family becomes more entertaining, as the scenario unfolds in a more dramatic manner than originally suggested, so much so that by the end of The Stranger’s first episode you’re left not trusting anyone. Creator Danny Brocklehurst, who rose to prominence as a writer on Clocking Off, Shameless, The Street, Accused and Linda Green, once again combines timely themes and modern storylines with entertaining characters and often-preposterous plots.

It’s no surprise that he knows exactly how to keep audiences hooked by The Stranger, which is based on Harlan Coben’s 2015 novel of the same name. Brocklehurst previously worked with Coben on The Five and Safe, with the latter also released by Netflix. Clearly, that did rather well for the streaming site, as The Stranger is elevated by its sizeable budget, which gives it a sheen and atmosphere that helps to paper over some of its cracks. But while there aren’t too many of those for the remainder of its enjoyable first episode, The Stranger is unable to build on this momentum. Long parts of its second and third episodes disappoint, as they become waylaid by a high school storyline it is unable to make work, while some of the narratives from its opening episode begin to feel strained and fall apart.

Yet again, though, Brocklehurst and Coben use strong moments rather than consistent storytelling to keep viewers interested. The number of secrets exposed might become a tad absurd, but each helps to make The Stranger at least watchable, as it becomes apparent that pretty much every member of the growing ensemble has issues they want to keep hidden.

After three episodes, it’s still impossible to tell whether all of The Stranger’s storylines will come together in a satisfactory manner. What is apparent is that the journey to this conclusion should be full of genuine surprises, plenty of which might be ridiculous. But that shouldn’t stop it being a worthwhile if ultimately forgettable watch.

Updated: February 1, 2020 05:49 PM

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