10 Reasons why you should watch Sky Atlantic’s Save Me

Lennie James in his self-penned thriller, Save Me (C) Sky

Lennie James in his self-penned thriller, Save Me (C) Sky - Credit: Sky

Save Me is a clever layer cake of a drama which boasts outstanding performances from Lennie James and Suranne Jones and is a breath of fresh air in comparison to other tired police procedurals.

Sky Atlantic's Save Me - created by Lennie James, written by Lennie James and executive-produced by Lennie James - is six absorbing hours of television which, as it happens, also stars Lennie James.

It's a veritable Lennie James fest and it comes as no surprise that the 52-year old actor turns in a strong performance in the lead role: after all, he's got form from roles in the likes of Line of Duty, The Walking Dead and Blade Runner 2049. It does come as somewhat of a surprise, however – if you're me anyway – that James wrote the series as well. But once again, he has previous with the award-winning Storm Damage that aired on the BBC once upon a time (2000), built from the foundations of his own experiences of a council-run foster home.

Fast forward 18 years and James has devised Save Me, a series that plunges a desperate father into the heart of the darker side of London as he searches for his missing daughter.

Amid a TV schedule clogged full of detective-fronted thrillers and police-based series about missing children, you could be forgiven for thinking that Save Me sets the stage for more of the same. But the short answer is that it's not. The long answer takes the form of ten wordy reasons below. Bear with me.

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1) The unlikely hero: James plays Nelly. He's not a detective. He's not ex-Special Branch. He's just an ordinary bloke, warts and all. We see him giving his morning coffee a splash of something a little stronger, he's got a handful of lovers on the spin and a bit of a selfish streak. He trots about his Lewisham council estate, selling bits and bobs, and lends a hand at his local – both as a karaoke compere and 'difficult punter turfer-outter' (my terrible turn of phrase, not the show's). Simply put, Nelly is both decent and flawed. He's a compelling, charismatic lead and ill-equipped to go looking for his daughter – especially as he's not seen Jody since she was three – but he does. It transpires that Jody was led away from her family home through a series of emails with someone she thought to be her father, pinning Nelly as chief suspect. He sets out to clear his name but there's also a sense of redemption to his story as his – increasingly desperate – quest for his long-estranged daughter teaches him what it means to be a father.

2) The supporting players: While James is terrific as Nelly, exasperating you and endearing you in equal measure, he's backed with some stellar supporting turns. The ever exemplary Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster) plays the helpless, despairing Claire, mother to Jody and – obviously - a former flame of Nelly's. Stephen Graham, meanwhile, plays Melon – a pal of Nelly's – with plenty baggage of his own. It's some feat that Graham is able to embody him with as much humanity as he does but the series is richer for it.

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3) The yellow puffa: Columbo had his Mac, Del Boy had his cap, Luther has his coat, Nelly has a yellow puffa. An iconic yellow puffa.

4) The show's focus: In refreshing fashion, Save Me focuses on the victims of the crime rather than those tasked with solving it. It's something – not to blow my own trumpet – I actually discussed with series director, Nick Murphy (OK, it was just a tweet). Witness:

@iwritethings23: 'Keep thinking about #SaveMe. Easily the best thing on TV at the moment. Really think the fact it keeps the police side of things in the b/g is a big plus point, avoids it becoming yet another detective piece and allows it to flourish.'

@nickmurftweets: 'Lennie isn't on twitter but I will show this to him. It is EXACTLY what he intended, to be with the extended victims of the crime rather than always the coppers. Thanks Cory.'

5) 'You wot?!' At first, it's wildly irritating but by episode six, it's really grown on you: Nelly has a 'creative' ringtone, entirely the brainchild of Lennie James. Every time he gets a call someone – director Nick Murphy, as it so happens – shouting 'You wot?! You wot?!' comes blaring out of his phone with considerable vigour. It must be heard to be believed.

6) The realness of the world: From the believability of its characters, to the tiniest details like Nelly's ringtone or Jody's sing-song voicemail, to the sense of community both at the estate and at the local pub, the world of Save Me is so brilliantly fleshed out. It's a real, believable world filled with real, believable people. It's testament to James' writing.

7) The emotional logic: Have you ever watched a horror movie and rolled your eyes at the stupidity of its characters? Have you tutted like the best of them when a cop goes flying into the danger zone without back-up? Have you sighed until you can sigh no more after a ridiculous twist? I know I have. That's a further reason why Save Me is so refreshing. The show's logic is near enough watertight. Nelly goes to some pretty dark places in search of Jody. He's doing things without the cops, who are off carrying out their own investigation, and there was always a danger it could fall into the realm of ridiculousness. Yet, it never does. The plot progresses from A to B in a way that feels earned. The characters act in ways that feel real.This all means, that…

8) …it's incredibly impactful: Save Me's twists, turns and revelations hit like a steel capped boot to the crotch. This is not a show that's afraid to be dark. It really strays into some pretty horrible places – no spoilers, brace yourself. The potential suspects for Jody's disappearance grow increasingly ghastly and the prospect of where she may be becomes increasingly horrifying to comprehend. It really uses this material magnificently. There's one scene in particular – an auction – which honestly carries more tension and discomfort than plenty of horror movie scenes manage to muster. With all the set-up done beforehand and just the right amount of hope and humanity, Save Me spoons out its plot in incredibly impactful fashion and the pay-offs work.

9) It delivers to the end: Not everyone will agree with me, be warned. In my view though, Save Me delivers to the end. It's an ending true to the world. So often, you get to the end of a thriller and wonder why on earth you invested all your time in it. In the case of Save Me, well, that simply wasn't the case.

10) It is a really good thriller: Speaking of thrillers, Save Me is a very good one. It's a fantastic piece of drama, believable to the smallest detail, gritty and gloomy in tone, though its characters and their trials and tribulations are really made to matter. As it picks up the pace through its six episodes, you will find your butt cheeks pushing ever closer to the edge of your seat and find yourself immensely glad that Lennie James is hoping for a second season.

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