The Dark Secrets of Family and Friends
The Stranger Review by Matt Owen
The Stranger is a mystery mini-series based on the novel by Harlan Coben and adapted for television by Danny Brocklehurst. While the original book was set in New Jersey, USA, the show instead focuses on a tightly knit community in Northern England. When a mysterious stranger appears in town and starts to blackmail citizens with their darkest secrets, a web of conspiracy begins to unravel, leading to deadly consequences. Eerie, suspenseful, but occasionally melodramatic, The Stranger paints an engaging tale of interpersonal relationships, explored through a cluttered yet intriguing branch of mysteries.
The show's narrative is packed with characters, but the plot primarily centres on the successful lawyer and father, Adam Price (Richard Armitage). While attending one of his son's football games, Adam is greeted by a mysterious stranger (Hannah John-Kamen), who shares a troubling revelation about his family. Although he doubts the stranger's tale, when his wife mysteriously disappears, Adam is forced to face reality.
Meanwhile, trouble brews elsewhere in town. After Adam's athletic son Thomas (Jacob Dudman) and his friends throw a party in the woods, one of their fellow students is found naked and unresponsive. Other issues crop up at the local university when students' private photographs and information are leaked online by an unknown source. As two local detectives, Johanna (Siobhan Finneran) and Wesley (Kadiff Kirwan) begin to investigate, they stumble upon a string of other unsettling crimes around town. The Stranger constantly piles on new characters and subplots episode after episode, and by the halfway point, the narrative starts to feel a bit crowded. Thankfully, the story ties up coherently toward the end of the series, it just takes some time to get there.
If his long list of popular projects is any indication, novelist Harlan Coben obviously has a knack for creating suspenseful stories. Considering that Coben was directly involved with the production of the show, you can rest assured that the core mystery of The Stranger is well-written. Despite being somewhat cluttered with subplots, the show is paced well, so it never becomes too confusing or overwhelming.
That said, some aspects of the story feel significantly underdeveloped, seemingly shoehorned into the show for artificial suspense as the main plot unfolds. It doesn't help that key characters occasionally make massive leaps in logic, often to help move the story along. Similar to other shows based on Coben's work, such as Safe or The Woods, The Stranger can be predictable at times and fall victim to genre tropes, but it's still a competent story with some true surprises along the way.
However, the true surprise of The Stranger is the exceptional quality of the acting, as the majority of the cast does a wonderful job selling the suspense. Richard Armitage offers a performance worthy of a protagonist as Adam Price, appearing both empathetic and heroic when needed. Siobhan Finneran and Kadiff Kirwan also share some vibrant buddy-cop energy in their roles as Johanna and Wesley, adding a bit of levity at points. Additionally, Paul Kaye stands out as the troubled constable, Patrick Katz. Apart from some awkward line delivery every now and then, the strength of the cast is commendable, especially in the more emotional scenes.
The Stranger works well as a tense, character-driven mystery, although it can be a bit cheesy at times. In a story all about truth and deception, every character has a secret to hide, leading to exciting twists and turns. While not every subplot is granted a particularly satisfying resolution, the overarching mystery should be gripping enough to propel viewers to the end. The solid acting performances help elevate Coben's existing story, although fans of the source material will likely have some gripes with this adaptation. Overall, it's a worthwhile mini-series if you already enjoy the genre, as it rises above the expected quality of your average made-for-television mystery.
Published on August 8th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.