Stay Close is paced like a rocket and is littered with the litany of crime cliches that always blight these Harlan Coben adaptations, making for a fine binge-watch as we enter the new year.
This review of Stay Close is spoiler-free, though contains some plot setup from the first episode.
There’s a particularly enthusiastic market for the adapted works of Harlan Coben, which is why Netflix has already released miniseries based on so many of them and has no plans to slow down any time soon. We had the Spanish-language The Innocent in April of this year, and the English-language The Stranger before that, and possibly a couple of others in-between that I’ve forgotten about. They mostly all work the same way, full of secret lives, shady pasts, and one cliff-hanger after another. But even by the well-established standards of these things, Stay Close is particularly bonkers, a lightning-fast, highly binge-able thriller that works mostly by sensory overload and never quite giving a straight answer. Happy New Year!
Anyway, here’s the setup to this one: Megan (Cush Jumbo) is a seemingly happy woman with a nice house, husband, and kids, but who nonetheless has a Dark and Secret Past which arrives literally on her doorstep in the form of a note addressed to “Cassie”. The sender is Lorraine (Sarah Parish), an old associate of Megan’s who reveals that currently missing Stewart Green is “back” and looking for Cassie. But Stewart should be dead! Thus begins a twisty-turny mystery that, within the span of one episode, also ropes in Detective Broome (James Nesbitt), who was never able to find Stewart and is currently investigating the similar disappearance of Carlton Flynn, who seems to have gone missing from the same place 17 years later to the day, a seedy photographer named Ray (Richard Armitage, who was also in The Stranger), who has inadvertently captured images of Carlton in a mysterious spot in the woods and who might have a past-life connection to Megan/Cassie, and even Megan’s oldest daughter, who might have been one of the last people to see Carlton before he went missing. Blimey!
Since there are eight episodes of Stay Close, it might come as a surprise to learn that all of this is established in just one of them. Or, I suppose, it might not. Either way, this is a mystery with a lot going on, and it’s so obvious that basically everything we’ve been told so far is going to be relevant in the long-term that it can feel a little breathless trying to keep it all in some kind of order. The fact that there even is a discernible order is a red flag to me, too. That I can more or less piece together what happened and to whom by the end of the first episode suggests we’re probably heading down more than one rabbit hole in the near future, and who knows if even a show with this solid of a cast can sustain that level of soapy genre madness.
It is a solid cast, though, even if the fluctuating tone makes it difficult to take James Nesbitt’s apparently quite promiscuous detective all that seriously. But a frantic Cush Jumbo is a sturdy emotional anchor, and Armitage is doing good work as a down-on-his-luck photographer with hidden layers. It’s obvious that everyone is connected, and that they’re connected at least in part by an eerie stretch of woodland that we keep visiting both in flashbacks and the present day. There’s more than enough – perhaps too much – mystery here to sustain an eager binge-watching crowd, and, let’s be frank, this is going to get one. Whether or not it’ll all conclude in a satisfying way is mostly beside the point. It’s about the journey, not the destination, and the journey takes place at 100mph. Buckle up.