Banner image: Fool Me Once. (L to R) Richard Armitage as Joe, Michelle Keegan as Maya in Fool Me Once. Cr. Vishal Sharma/Netflix © 2023.
With over 80 million books in 46 languages in print worldwide, American writer Harlan Coben has certainly earned his seat at the table of high-calibre, literary creators in the world of crime and mystery. But, in 2018, the #1 New York Times Bestseller signed a deal with Netflix that would allow the streaming giant to adapt 14 of his novels into English and foreign-language TV series.
Among these so far are top-performing UK shows The Stranger (2020), Stay Close (2021), and Shelter (2023). So, it’s unsurprising that, following the release of the trailer for the adaption of his fictional 2016 book Fool Me Once at the end of last year, fans began counting down to the 1st January release date. And even better – all eight episodes were made available to view straight away. Perfect for binging on a cosy winter evening!
So, what can audiences expect – or not expect(!) – from a Coben-inspired series this time?
Fool Me Once was brought to TV screens by BAFTA-award-winning director David Moore (Outlander, The Last Kingdom) and scriptwriter Danny Brocklehurst (Brassic, Come Home). We kick off in 1996 where we see five young men wearing masquerade and fencing masks as they drink, chant, and dance around a fire in some sort of unexplained ritual. Also part of the scene is a young, unmasked man tied to a chair – creepy, to say the least, but that’s the last we see or hear about that for a while!
Fast forward to the present day and Michelle Keegan plays protagonist Maya Stern, an ex-army captain who stepped down from her role after she was caught doing some not-very-nice things to civilians. But Maya’s turmoil doesn’t end there…she’s also trying to come to terms with the murders of her sister Claire (Natalie Anderson) and husband Joe (Richard Armitage).
Claire was tragically killed in a burglary while Joe was mugged and shot to death in a separate incident in front of Maya – or was he?
Three weeks after her husband’s funeral, things take another chilling turn for the ex-Corrie star. While reviewing some footage of her daughter on the ‘nanny cam’ in her home, she spots Joe, who it seems might not be dead after all.
What ensues is the weaving of an intricate web of questions, twists, and red herrings as Maya tries to work out whether her dead husband is really back from the grave. And, if so, who else is involved in the ruse and why would Joe be trying to fake his death? Each episode gifts us with another breadcrumb as we inch closer to an explosive ending that’s far from predictable and, quite frankly, left me with my jaw on the floor.
There’s plenty to like about the storyline of Fool Me Once. It has pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat appeal, with lots of intriguing subplots (think hackers and big pharma!) woven into the wider story. Yet, while it feels like we never truly know what’s coming next, leaving us wanting more, the story does lack balance.
Some aspects are really hammered home – such as the health struggles of investigating police officer DS Sami Kierce (Adeel Akhtar) – and I lost count of the number of times we were shown flashbacks of Claire’s murder. But, other times, certain subplots seem to taper off, leaving us with too many unanswered questions.
Michelle Keegan arguably carries the whole show, doing a brilliant job as Maya who, even with the weight of the world on her shoulders, we struggle to empathise with. Many agree that the Brassic and Our Girl star gave ‘the performance of her career’ – though, unfortunately, she’s still let down by some of the scripting. This includes Maya’s repeated threats to knock seven bells out of anyone who doesn’t agree with her demands – something which quickly starts to feel over-the-top and unrealistic.
We also see Keegan go head-to-head with the legendary Joanna Lumley, Maya’s wealthy mother-in-law who might know something about how Joe ended up on the nanny cam footage. While Lumley mostly does a convincing job as controlling and manipulative Judith, her performance seems hammy at times, acting as a stark reminder of the diversion from her usual upbeat, comedic roles.
In terms of cinematography, Fool Me Once, doesn’t disappoint and has no shortage of visually captivating moments, from shots of Judith’s stunning mansion to incredible helicopter scenes in the Middle East. However, this artistry does contribute to the overall feeling that the story couldn’t take place in reality, which may be a little disappointing for those who enjoy crime stories with a strong element of realism.
With that said, if you’re looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful, immersive series that introduces you to a labyrinth of clues and expertly unravels layer after layer of deception, then Fool Me Once is one for your list. Just be prepared to be left with a few questions, like: what on earth is going on with Maya’s friend Shane (Emmett J. Scanlan)?
Fool Me Once is now streaming on Netflix.
Are you planning to watch Fool Me Once? Or have you seen it? If so, let us know what you think in the comments below.