TV Reviews

TV Review: Netflix’s The Stranger – not a good example of a conspiracy thriller, frankly

I really thought this was gonna be a good’un. The trailers made it look great. And for the first few episodes, it was genuinely compelling, with lots of plotlines you expect to come together.

Until they don’t.

The fact that new Netflix show The Stranger was billed as a conspiracy thriller made me assume something big and secret was going on that the show’s key mysteries would hinge on. When lead character Adam confronts his wife, Corrine, about faking her pregnancy two years ago, she assures him that “there’s more to this”. Given that we’re watching a conspiracy thriller, I took that to mean Corrine was part of some secret organisation, that she had to fake a pregnancy for a larger purpose.

But no! God knows what Corrine was referring to because, as it turns out, she did fake the pregnancy for an attention grab, like that other woman she met who’d done it (one of the show’s many extraneous plotlines that went nowhere). Colour me underwhelmed.

Then there’s the titular ‘Stranger’. The show makes us think that the Stranger and her friend have a significant overarching goal, not just exposing certain individuals’ little secrets. And then, when bent cop Katz goes after Heidi for information about the Stranger, you again assume something big must be going on.

Wrong again. The Stranger’s overarching purpose is to expose the little secrets, because of some sentiment about secrets destroying lives (after one destroyed hers). And the revelation about the Stranger being Adam’s half-sister is… not all that revelatory. And Katz is only concerned with the Stranger’s blackmail of Heidi because Heidi’s daughter has been selling her body to someone Katz is doing some shady business with. Katz has no connection whatsoever to Corrine or Adam.

And going back to Corrine for a moment, the show’s central mystery is her disappearance at the end of episode 1. You assume that this must have something to do with the real reason she faked her pregnancy. It doesn’t. Because there is no ‘real’ reason she faked her pregnancy. Another mini mystery running through the series is that some money has been stolen from the football club Adam and Corrine’s kids go to. Turns out Corrine’s disappearance is to do with that. Because their goofy neighbour, Tripp, is the one who stole the money. And Corrine threatened to tell (after thinking Tripp was the one who exposed the fake pregnancy), so Tripp killed her.

This doesn’t work for two reasons. 1. It’s boring and has no bearing on the other storylines at play. 2. Tripp is the least convincing murderer I’ve seen on film or TV. I absolutely did not buy that he was capable of killing Corrine.

There’s also another totally extraneous and pointless plotline involving Adam and Corrine’s son, a bonfire rave, a naked boy found unconscious and injured in the woods, and a beheaded alpaca with human bite marks on it. This very weird tangent ultimately amounts to diddly squat. None of it was present in the novel The Stranger was based on and it shows. I guess it’s another red herring to make us think everything’s connected when it’s not. The problem is, we want everything to be connected. That’s what makes a story with multiple plotlines satisfying.

And isn’t this supposed to be a conspiracy thriller? Where exactly was the conspiracy? I guess Katz and that dodgy businessman who’d been shagging Heidi’s daughter. But to me, that’s not how conspiracy thrillers work. The show makes us think that its enormous cast of characters are involved in something more complex. But only two of them are really ‘conspiring’ and it’s not complex or even interesting. Everything, in the end, was pretty darn simple.

The only good thing about The Stranger was Happy Valley and Downton Abbey‘s Siobhan Finneran as the cop, Johanna, investigating the show’s many disparate mysteries. She’s both a good character and really well acted. Shame she wasn’t in a better show.

Final note: what a waste of comedy legend Jennifer Saunders in her first dramatic role! Her death was shocking, sure, but she was only in a few scenes before she was offed. Rubbish!

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