Netflix Review: Harlan Coben’s The Stranger

This is the best Netflix Original since Russian Doll came around last February.

Big words to use, I know. But it’s not just me who’s heaping praise on ‘The Stranger’; online there is hardly a bad word to be said about it. One word of warning for people who may have read the book; the show is different. For a start, the original was certainly not centred around suburbia Manchester. Although, whoever made the decision to change location was inspired. It became gritty, hard-hitting, and gave it a serious edge which may have been lost had it been set in New York like the book.

The premise of the show appears to be obvious from trailers; a woman who exposes strangers’ secrets tells Adam Price (Richard Armitage) that his wife Corinne faked a pregnancy and then a miscarriage two years previously because she had found out that he had been having an affair with another woman and didn’t want their family to fall apart. Corinne then goes missing; and Adam desperately wants to find his wife. Now, maybe I didn’t see the trailers correctly or misinterpreted them, but I expected the show to focus more on the exposers; however I liked how it took a look at the ramifications of their actions and posed a few questions, the main one obviously being: are secrets always that bad?

This is just one of the plots of the show. ‘The Stranger’ is in fact thinly disguised as a police drama; Siobhan Finneran shines as DS Johanna Griffin, who opens the show investigating a peculiar case involving a decapitated alpaca (named after One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, naturally) and a naked teenage boy comatose lying by a lake with his clothing discarded throughout a forest following a party. Paul Kaye is her colleague DS Ian Katz, who gets caught up in a serious situation with Heidi Doyle (Jennifer Saunders), who happens to be Griffin’s best friend. This is all connected to the Stranger who appears in the opening sequences.

Shoutout to the Stranger (Hannah John-Kamen): she gives a brilliant performance. Even though she’s going around causing people’s lives to fall apart by exposing all their darkest secrets to their loved ones and making money from it, she becomes portrayed as an anti-hero. I won’t reveal much more, but I ended up supporting what she was doing through her detective agency. She’s back up by some brilliant writing, which is something I’ve become accustomed to not expect from Netflix Originals. The characters are believable at the most point (with a couple of minor exceptions) but at the least they are relatable; they talk like actual humans. The chemistry between Griffin and her colleague DC Wesley Ross (Kadiff Kirwan) is likeable and their bickering (she calls him ‘the infant’) adds a humorous edge; but notably, it feels natural. This is a combination of both exceptional acting skills and great writing. UK readers; think about Barnaby and his various assistants in Midsomer Murders, only, obviously, not in Midsomer.

As a whole, the show is exceptionally fast-paced and intense. If you think it has reached its peak, the next level of crazy is always about to be reached. Plot twists come thick and fast, and every character is hiding something, even the children of the community affected by Corinne’s disappearance. Ella-Rae Smith and Jacob Dudman are going to be part of the next generation of big British actors (you heard it here first). Each plot manages to enthrall and you are genuinely wondering how on earth it’s all going to tie itself up until the final scene of episode 8. The 2000s British soapy drama is as close as a genre as you’re going to find with ‘The Stranger’ – similar to ‘Footballers’ Wives’ and ‘Dream Team’ in being about the facade of perfect, middle-class lives being exposed through melodrama, scandalous secrets and occasionally unbelievable plot twists. We don’t have a Tanya Turner, but we do have a football club which is drowning in its own secrets. It feels familiar and slightly nostalgic but also modern, exciting and thoroughly unique.

Season 2 is not needed in my opinion, it comes to a natural and satisfying conclusion at the end of the finale, and all the characters’ plotlines are bought to an end. The only way a continuation could feasibly take place is through an ensemble soap drama, but as much as I would love to step back into the chaotic carnage of this world, it could only harm the show. A thrilling six hours (or so) of television, this show gets a full 10/10 from me.

Main cast:

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