Life & Culture

TV review: Fool Me Once ‘Am I the fool here?’

Yet another Harlan Coben blockbuster on Netflix


Michelle Keegan as Maya Stern and Richard Armitage as Joe Burkett in Fool Me Once.(Netflix)

Fool Me Once

Netflix | ★★✩✩✩

Reviewed by Josh Howie

The new series Fool Me Once has revealed a noticeable discrepancy between pretentious TV critics and the great unwashed. Word of mouth has driven it to the top of the Netflix charts, garnering, in the process, considerable publicity. The general public has spoken with its remote controls. But if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then people want a sickly tepid one.

The primary reason for its success is probably is that it’s a Harlan Coben adaptation. And not just because of the prolific Jewish writer’s established fanbase. He is a master at drawing you into a mystery that widens in scope as the plot thickens with plenty of twists and turns before arriving at a highly satisfying finale.

The kick-off point in Fool Me Once is recently widowed Maya Stern seeing her murdered husband appear on a nanny cam. Is there a link with her also recently murdered sister? What about her controversial exit from the army where she was a helicopter combat pilot? Ditto her creepy mother-in-law? Keep watching and you’ll get all the answers, and a shocking conclusion.

You get other things too:  a hack thriller music track, pumped out incessantly and threatening to overwhelm every instance of nuance; a stifling, stilted edit, where each shot lingers a half second too long; and flashbacks galore, as our lead stares ever intently into the distance. Plus, moments of relationship realness, as though written by AI, and set design from someone with all the hallmarks of OCD.

In fact, it all feels so constructed, refined, and formulaic, I’m not sure if the performances are also bad, or just tainted by what’s around them. Michelle Keegan is Maya, and she imbues her character with the strength and dogged determination it takes to survive and succeed in the entertainment business. Yet I can’t tell if her never appearing frazzled by constant revelations is down to an improbably immaculate wardrobe, or her thespian reach.

Joanna Lumley does the mother-in-law from hell well enough, but Adeel Akhtar as the police detective trying to put it all together is a distraction. Partly because his subplots of pregnant fiancée, health concerns, and annoying young partner continually grind any action to a halt, but also, and unfairly, because of his memorable role in the seminal film Four Lions.

I still maintain that film is the best medium for a Coben adaptation, with French masterpiece Tell No One in a different league from the TV adaptations. Already spread out over eight episodes, the frenetic energy of discovery is lost, the pacing glacial by comparison.

But with a huge Netflix deal many more of Cobin’s works will no doubt be on screen. They can work like The Innocent and Safe. It’s a mystery then that primary writer and showrunner Danny Brocklehurst had the same role on the latter as he does here, yet results that are markedly different in quality. Or perhaps it’s just that the fool is me.

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