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TV review: ‘White Lines’ is high on nostalgia and mystery ★★★☆☆

Yes, there's drugs and sex in Netflix's latest – but surprising depth too

From the creator of Netflix’s most popular non-English language show – the brilliant Money Heist – comes White Lines, a mystery-drama that has shot to No. 1 in the streaming service’s UK chart since release last week.

Here Alex Pina has a shot at a half-English, half-Spanish offering, starring a balanced cast of European talent and semi-recognisable British actors including Laura Haddock of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Inbetweeners Movie. This does broadly feel like a UK production – likely in part because of producing credits for Andy Harries (The Crown) and Chris Croucher (Downton Abbey).

Haddock plays Zoe, a thirty-something Manchester librarian who has travelled to the desert of Almería in Spain to identify a body – that of her brother Axel, who disappeared in Ibiza 20 years previously. Axel fled England along with three friends in the 90s to DJ and open clubs on the White Isle, but disappeared without trace after he found success. Torrential rain has now unearthed Axel’s mummified corpse – but why so far from Ibiza? And who killed him?

Zoe goes to Ibiza with the aim of answering these questions with the help, and hindrance, of Axel’s friends and associates from the club scene who remain on the island. But Zoe finds herself lured in by the same temptations her brother was – the music, the drugs, the sex. The idea that a life not marked out by white lines might be possible, and that it might not be too late to pursue it.

The show is about misremembered youth and coming of age as much as it is a murder mystery. Credit: Netflix

This sun-kissed, fucked-up nostalgia is the true emotional centre of a show that splits its narrative between present day and two decades ago, the contrast of the sodden, grey Manchester that produced Oasis with the sun-kissed, pulsating island of dance music dreams. Much of it is about memory and how it changes over time, how the past is so often remembered with thick rose-tinted glasses that do more than hide suspiciously dilated pupils. It is about regret, coming of age, escaping pain, adolescent dreams and finding oneself as much as it is about a decades-old crime.

And the plot of the murder – which grows surprisingly complex, involving Ibiza’s powerful club-owning families, large amounts of infidelity, and of course, drugs – is well-constructed and its revelations play out with patience and with enough impact to keep you hooked for ten lengthy episodes. Flashbacks often return only to play out further, or in unexpected ways that flip expectations on their head. Pina knows how to write, as any fan of Money Heist will know.

But White Lines is far from perfect. The predictable way to set the scene of Ibiza is to fill every frame with narcotics and sex, and while the show stops short of that, neither does it portray these elements subtly. There is literally cocaine everywhere – covering characters’ faces, their gardens and their cars, thrown from boats by the boatload, and snorted with pig-like gusto by most of the characters. Angela Griffin’s Anna is introduced via her skills as an orgy host, while the topic of maternal incest abruptly rears its head.

Some ideas also feel a little half-baked or key developments rushed. An extra two or three episodes might have been beneficial – but then again, it can’t be argued every scene is indispensable. There are a few too many video call conversations between Zoe and her therapist back home, which add little. The climactic episode is also executed hurriedly, making for an oddly unsatisfactory ending.

But as a piece, the show isn’t derailed by these missteps and the players give their all. An enjoyable Daniel Mays is the standout as Axel’s best friend who still DJs on the island and provides many of the sporadic laughs. Tom Rhys Harries is superbly cast as the young Axel, while you can tell the Spanish cast are mostly accomplished and high-profile figures, including Marta Milans of the recent Shazam!

White Lines has surprising depth and multiple access-points, and is a worthy product from Pina, who is fast becoming a household TV name. Like a full-on night in a superclub, you won’t remember too much afterwards, just that it was a good time – and despite your better judgement, you regret none of it.

White Lines is on Netflix now

Featured image credit: Netflix

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