The Stranger – TV Review

Silly, fast-paced thriller which is a perfect antidote for these anxiety-ridden times.

By Naomi Roper

The only way I can explain the horror show that is 2020 is that some dumb kid somewhere clearly found a cursed relic and wished for their life to be more exciting. Well, frankly I’m done living in interesting times and would like to be living in incredibly boring times thanks very much!

In an attempt to keep myself sane I’m going to be writing about things that I’ve watched lately and enjoyed and that you can all find online to watch. Hopefully, it might help someone find something new to watch.

First up is Netflix series The Stranger which is a frothy, compelling thriller starring Richard Armitage and a stack of Brit telly favourites.

Adam Price  (Richard Armitage) is approached one day by a mysterious woman (Hannah John-Kamen) (Ghost in Ant-Man and the Wasp) who drops on him some bombshell news about his wife Corrine (Dervla Kirwan). Reeling from the news Adam confronts Corrine only for her to promptly vanish. Meanwhile, something terrible has happened at a local party. The Stranger’s news sets in chain a series of tragic events that threaten everything Adam holds dear.

The Stranger is the TV equivalent of a trashy airport novel (aw remember when flying was a thing we could do?). It grabs you with a compelling mystery, keeps the pace speedy enough that you have to find out what happened next, is super enjoyable when you’re consuming it and it’s only afterwards that you realise what a load of old nonsense it truly was. In short, it’s the perfect series to watch in these anxiety-ridden times in that it is both fun and really quite silly indeed.

The Stranger is an adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel and the second of his books to be adapted by Netflix (the first was Safe). Both follow an almost identikit format. The action has been transplanted from the US to the UK, there is a tragedy at a teen party, there’s a handsome middle-aged dad character played by a mildly famous hard-working actor as our entry point into the series (Richard Armitage in The Stranger, Michael C Hall in Safe), a host of Brit famous faces (The Stranger’s cast is starrier), a Brit leading lady giving the performance of her career as a completely no-nonsense copper, a shocking act of violence and more red herrings than a local fishmonger.

Richard Armitage anchors the whole thing nicely as the dad whose life just completely falls apart after the Stranger’s appearance. He’s a very watchable leading man and gives the show the gravity it needs. Anthony Stewart Head (forever filthy hot) is playing granddads now and plays his millionaire property tycoon father (even though he’s barely 18 years older than Armitage). I’m not that familiar with Siobhan Finnernan but she’s wonderful as the no-nonsense copper in much the same way Amanda Abbington was in Safe- if nothing else we should commend these shows for giving the role that would usually be played by a guy to a woman. Elsewhere famous faces Paul Kaye and Jennifer Saunders pop up.

The show is fast-paced and twisty enough that it’s easy to overlook the frequently terrible dialogue. Nearly half of the running time is given over to complete red herrings (although I commend the fact that I did not work out at all what was really going on).

My main issue with The Stranger is that halfway through there is a horrendous act of violence that frankly is just slightly silly in a UK setting. The whole premise behind it would work well enough in a US series but here is just a bit preposterous.  I mean this is the sort of thing that would end up on the front page of every single paper here! There were also so many many many different ways for the individual concerned to get what they needed without said act of violence that it just makes the scene (which propels much of what follows) very silly indeed instead of shocking.

Of the two series Safe is actually superior in terms of plotting (although in both you’ll spend way more time than you may care to with mildly annoying teens) but The Stranger has a starrier and stronger cast. Both are entertaining nonsense and available to stream right now.

The Stranger and Safe are streaming now on Netflix.