It takes a lot to grab an audience these days. Desensitised is perhaps the best word to describe your average viewer. Catatonic might be another. Judging by the barrage of true crime shows and thrillers – each one more depraved than the last – it seems the only antidote for this slumberous state is buckets of blood and a good jump-scare. Within nine minutes of the first episode, Pieces of Her delivers both.
This new murder mystery is, like all Netflix shows seem to be nowadays, an adaptation of a bestselling novel. In this case, one by the appropriately named Karin Slaughter. But back to those first nine minutes: Toni Collette plays Laura Oliver, a mild-mannered mother who is celebrating her daughter’s 30th birthday when a crazed gunman attacks the restaurant. Without a pause, she leaps to her feet and slices his throat like it’s nothing. As easy as julienning a carrot. But this act of hometown heroism brings with it unwanted fame. Suddenly, her face is on every news channel in the country – and Laura is on the run from a forgotten enemy.
Toni Collette is Toni Collette. As always, the Oscar nominee is extremely watchable. When she isn’t on screen, you wish she was. But the focus here is on her daughter, Andy (Bella Heathcote), who under her mother’s instructions flees home with a suitcase of cash, a rolodex of fake IDs, and the nagging question of who exactly is my mum? The answer is slowly uncorked over eight episodes – partly thanks to Andy’s investigative prowess but mostly through fraught flashbacks of a young Laura (Jessica Barden).
Shuttling between timelines has become a prerequisite for this type of thriller, but while other, more successful shows such as The Sinner had the audience grasping at every fragment of memory given to us, those sequences in Pieces of Her are annoying detours from an interesting present day. It doesn’t help that the flashbacks become increasingly frequent as the show goes on. The later episodes are bloated. Both figuratively (the story strangely becomes more tiresome as it is fleshed out) and literally (the first episode is 44 minutes; the finale clocks in at over an hour).
The series coasts on several genuinely shocking and well-executed twists, which do indeed puncture the haze of passive-watching we’re so used to. And maybe that adrenaline hit is enough, because while Pieces of Her isn’t a very good show, it will probably be No 1 on Netflix for the next week. At least.
Pieces Of Her is available to watch from 4 March