When Safe premieres on Netflix on May 10, Michael C. Hall will be taking on the role of Tom, a widowed father of two whose seemingly normal life has something darker lurking under the surface. The disappearance of his oldest daughter sets off a chain of events in his community that results in some shocking revelations. It sounds like the kind of complicated case that would spawn a critically acclaimed podcast, but is Safe based on a true story? Is there any real inspiration behind the mystery at its heart?
There's no indication that any real stories served as the basis for Safe, as familiar as the synopsis of the show might seem. It appears to be fairly typical of other shows of the same genre, like HBO's recent Big Little Lies: a tight-knit community seems idyllic from the outside but its residents are actually concealing all manner of skeletons in their closets. It's well-trod territory for television; shows can still handle the idea with innovation and creativity, but it's a common premise that's rich with possibility.
The fact that the Netflix series doesn't seem to be based on real events might make its twists and turns all the more surprising, because viewers will have no source material to tip them off about what happens.
Hall's character is in the center of the storm, though the actor told Variety that it was a departure from past projects in that Tom is "more or less a normal person." Though wild things are happening around him, they are not happening within him, as was the case with his very famous role on Dexter. Tom is a pediatric surgeon who recently lost his wife to cancer and is now raising his daughters Jenny and Carrie alone. Though they seem to be safe within their gated community, everything changes when Jenny sneaks out to a party and vanishes.
The series was made by Red, a U.K.-based production company run by Nicola Shindler. Red previously provided Netflix with Happy Valley, but this will be their first original collaboration. While talking with Variety, Shindler discussed how well-suited Safe was for Netflix because it's the exact kind of show you'll want to marathon. She also hinted at the series creator Harlan Coben's inspiration when she said:
The serialized nature of this, and Harlan's way of storytelling, lends itself to streaming. He's all about the book of a story. After The Five, he wanted to write something about family and how we build walls to keep out the bad people, but what if they're on the inside? It's about how far you'd go to protect your family.
Coben has written countless mystery novels and thrillers, as well as creating British crime drama The Five, which also involved a strange disappearance. He seems to have some experience with constructing complicated tales of unsolved crimes without necessarily adapting another book or a real case. In this instance, there was a specific theme he wanted to explore and he used fictional characters to do it.
In another interview with Variety, Shindler also spoke about how important it was that the show felt authentic even if it wasn't drawing from real life. That realism was something the company had focused on with previous shows and continued to prioritize with Safe. "It is very much a Red production because there is a big concentration on storytelling, on pace, and on making sure the characters feel very real and grounded, while being in a slightly heightened world because it is more of a Netflix show," she said.
There wasn't any source material inspiring Safe, but that just means it'll be even harder to predict as its episodes unfold.