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Channel: Sky 1
Recurring Cast: Tom Cullen, O. T. Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby, Sarah Solemani, Geraldine James, Michael Maloney, Don Warrington, Hannah Arterton and Rade Serbedzija

It has seem odd that the very talented crime writer, Harlan Coben, hadn’t turned his attention to TV before now. He has a very successful run of fabulous crime dramas. We have been dying to see Myron Bolitar, his sarcastic, cunning hero, find himself a movie deal or crime drama series. It turns out that Coben had a better idea, one which might explain why it has taken him until now to break into the small screen. The Five presents us with an original mystery drama, with brand new characters and a whole new mystery to unravel. It’s a treat for any Coben fans, as we wade into the new drama, every shock and character arc shocking due to its originality. I hope Coben has a few more series up his sleeve, if they are as intelligent as this one.

The Five

It starts off with the titular Five as kids in the woods. Mark Wells is a teenager, hanging out with his three best friends, when his little brother, Jesse, escapes home to attempt to play with them. As older brothers do, Mark harshly sends him home. Jesse never makes it home. We cut forward in time to find a grieving family, distraught at the day their son and brother disappeared without a trace. They seem to get closure, as we discover that a serial killer paedophile confessed to the murder (Rade Serbedzija pops up in this series in his creepiest performance yet, something which grounds the show), but the family is still in mourning. The other three characters in the woods are O.T Fagbenle’s homicide detective, Danny, trying to hold together a marriage struggling to cope with Danny’s insistence on keeping his father, suffering from dementia in the house. Slade is the cooler than ice best friend, who runs a shelter for troubled teens and holds dark secrets. Prue is the female of the group, who dated Mark for a while, before running off to the States to marry another man. She returns to the UK, unhappy with her husband and unaware the old romance is rekindling. As the four friends reunite, Danny investigates the murder of a prostitute, who was killed with a hammer. Forensics find a blood sample that connects to Jesse Wells. The four friends get together, shocked at the thought that Jesse could still be alive and could be a killer, vowing to track him down and bring him home.

As expected, the mystery is The Five’s strong point. It is a head-scratcher for sure, facts deliciously contradicting themselves in a constant fashion. The answers are laid out in front of you and refuse to make sense. While the performances and characters start off slower than you would like, the riddle in the centre of the story is the factor that keeps you hooked into the series. It is impossible to not watch the next episode. In fact, as ever with Coben’s work, leave it to long in between episodes and it is almost impossible to keep track of all the strands of story at work here. Where does Marosi, the paedophile who confessed, fit into everything? A music producer keeps young women locked up in his recording studio – did he have something to do with Jesse? The dead prostitute was a con artist – is Jesse a part of her scam? You stand there, watching these various strands of ideas unfold and wondering where Jesse fits into everything. Is his blood sample a hoax? Is he even alive? Yes, some of the above connections are red herrings. We are dealing in the murder mystery drama, of course, but they rarely feel like wastes of time. In fact, even when a lead comes to a dead end, they work well to keep the middle of the show feel just as strong as the finale, introducing a mystery of their own and bad guys who need taking care of. I suppose the middle of the season will depend on your appreciation of the genre. It can be frustrating when the middle seems intent on leaving you in this floating sense of confusion. But genre purists will insist this is part of the fun. The patient will be able to hang on for the answers lying in wait for you at the other end of the season. The answer to the riddle is thankfully worth the wait. It might come across as a little anti-climatic in terms of set-pieces. The answer is a great one, but by the time, Coben has finished revealing all of the little mysteries that demand answering, there really isn’t enough time to give the show the kick it needs to end things. However, perhaps that isn’t needed. The mystery is smart enough to impress and no, you won’t guess it…

MAS_harlan_coben's_the_five_s01-ingested

Surprisingly, the Five focuses on character as much as it does the mystery. Perhaps this is the most important thing that the show does. We come for the mystery, but the performances are the glue that keeps the show in the memory banks. Yes, as I said above, it starts slow. The mystery needs to take centre place to get the show going and lead actor, Tom Cullen, isn’t the strongest actor that could have been chosen for the role. However, as the series hits a few character beats, it turns into a fairly gripping drama on top of a mystery thriller. Danny’s relationship with his father, Don Warrington’s dementia patient, is a phenomenal piece of television, a great source of mystery, drama and, in some cases, comedy. Certain red herrings feel more forgivable, because when they stop mattering to the central story, they hang around and become a solid source of characterisation. British actors, Lee Ingleby and Sarah Solemani benefit from the show, because you have been waiting to see them tackle characters of this stature for a long time. Lee Ingleby gets the fun character, probably getting the least to do, but he is sure to be a fan favourite, which hopefully puts him on the map for better things. Solemani is known for her comedies, so it is refreshing to see her play a woman on the edge of a breakdown. Her comedic talents help her seem like the girl from next door you could fall in love with in a heartbeat, so when her life starts crumbling down around her, you pity her. This is especially important, because a few of her decisions are selfish and the cause of her situation, so she needs likeability to make the character work. As a whole, it is just easy to buy into the characters, which makes it much more rewarding to tune into the show. While the Five hardly screams a second season, it does suggest that Coben should get thinking about the next original crime drama.

Final Verdict: Slow starting and a bit complex in the middle, but strong characters and a decent ending makes this a must for anyone who likes a decent mystery.

Four Stars

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