The new Netflix series Fool Me Once is based on a book of the same name, written by crime author Harlan Coben. This is an 8-episode series starring Michelle Keegan as Maya Stern, Richard Armitage as Joe Burkett, Adeel Akhtar as Sami Kierce, Joanna Lumley as Judith Burkett, Laurence Kynaston as Corey, Emmett Scanlan as Shane Tessier, and Natalie Anderson as Claire Walker.
The plot revolves around the lead actor, someone who left the military because of her dark past and the media’s accusations of her after that, trying to solve some serious crime, and how she goes about her investigation.
Cliched crime thriller hero?
The lead in Fool Me Once has all the classic traits of an ex-military officer character in fiction: tough, fit, guilt from the past, a dark past, PTSD, reserved and keeps to oneself, needs therapy, tries to dodge therapist, does not open up much in therapy, has haters, has people telling them they did the right thing, that they were really a hero…you get the picture. But this time, it is a female lead, Maya Stern. Initially, it seems interesting, and one would feel engaged enough to try and solve the cases themselves, trying to guess who is behind all this, but this excitement lasts only for a short while.
Can being too straight-forward kill the suspense?
One of the biggest weaknesses of the screenwriting in Fool Me Once seems to be that the lead seems to throw away all her key findings to any person she encounters, without them even asking for it, like she is confronting them or something, to people all of whom could be key suspects. And she does not even confront them fully or wait there enough for them to give any answers. It’s like she just finds evidence, goes to share it someone else, and moves out of the spot after being rude.
At every turn, it seems evidence presents itself to those who go searching. How ridiculous is that? An old model camera is left to be easily found with tape still in it, tape that would reveal important information. How have these things have been under hiding for so long and suddenly when one of our characters come searching, they find it? Is this poor writing or a brilliant mockery of investigation?
Flaws that make Fool Me Once too unreal even for fiction
In every episode of Fool Me Once, all that the lead has to do is to approach different people and scream enough or coerce them using poor threats or just introduce herself as a member of the Burkett family and people everywhere are ready to shower her with more information than she asked for. All this is for a person who is not even good at communicating with people and has nothing solid enough to convince any of them. Basically, this is a rude woman with no police badge or political power or journalist or press badge, and people quickly start warming up to her right away, as soon as she approaches them and introduces herself.
Another flaw is that even when she confronts almost every person who could be connected to this case, including the wealthy and highly powerful people, it still does not prompt the criminals to attack her or even try to stop her. Wouldn’t criminals trying to cover up some big crime use all their resources to threaten investigators or stall the investigation somehow? It seems that the criminals want to get caught. They could have rather kept it simple and surrendered.
Why would total strangers, innocent people whose family members were victims or people somehow connected to the case from different races and classes want to readily welcome a woman and share with her a lot of key information, trusting her immediately? Even in fiction, why would anyone cooperate or share their findings so easily with a woman whose family members have been murdered, who herself has a controversial past which was all over the media and therefore her career was ruined?
There is a scene in Fool Me Once where the police officer Sami, who has been portrayed as a very private person since the beginning of the series, shares investigation related details with a military officer over casual conversation, while buying food. People who are in no way connected to the case or family are also readily willing to do her favours. So many different characters seem to be running their own investigations with little help.
Does Fool Me Once get better in the second half?
Somewhere in the middle of the show, it starts feeling like a drag and you want to finish it just because you have put in so much time into this, even as the main character starts acting ruder and ruder, expecting everyone else to do for her what she demands.
Another comical flaw in Fool Ne Once is that Sami, who is shown to have serious health issues, so serious that he starts having blackouts and seizures often in his daily life suddenly becomes fully capable of doing things he couldn’t do until then, after all the pep talk and moral support speeches given by his fiancée and his partner. And just like that, he goes from a patient with issues that are killing him to a superhero.
Towards the end, you really just want the series to end. Most viewers could arrive at a point where they no longer care who really is the criminal anymore.
Fool Me Once: The book vs the series
One thing one might notice in Fool Me Once is the fine taste of nature captured well by the team. Thankfully, not all of the story happens indoors or late in the night on the streets, so that aspect is refreshing for the eyes. While the story in the book happens in the United States of America, this series adaptation happens to be British. And it is good for the viewers that they have captured beautiful landscapes well through the lens.
For someone reading a Harlan Coben book for the first time, the story could be highly consuming. Thousands of readers seem to have enjoyed the book, calling it a page-turner and an excellent thriller. While the plot is pretty good, it would have been intriguing if the storytelling had been better. So the antagonist to this series becoming a popular, much loved one is the screenwriting itself.
The dialogue seems to be equally bad; there is no subtlety anywhere for most characters and the dialogue is raw. What’s important in a thriller is to give little, confuse to some extent, and allow the reader or viewer to make several interesting guesses on their own. But the poorly written dialogue is too straight-forward for all characters, lacking creativity. The one thing that could keep you going, though is the acting. Almost all the actors seem to have played their roles well.
To conclude, if you are open to watching a lazily written script with several flaws in it on a weekend when you don’t want to exercise your brain much, then Netflix could Fool You Once. But if you have nowhere else to go and nothing better to do, then Netflix could fool you over and over again, showing this series as one of the “most liked” or “top 10” in your country.