4 out of 5
Created by: Howard Overman
covers season 1
An app that magically matches people to their one true love… haven’t we seen this before? Not only very recently, but across movies and television shows of the last several social media-infused years, hasn’t this been covered, from both cynical and optimistic sides of the concept? And as delivered Netflix’s rapid delivery model, are we likely just getting an easily digestible take on the conversation, boiled down to the most mundane technological aspects and “ramped up” with generic intrigue?
…And to a certain extent, yes, maybe that’s all true: The One is populist entertainment, with a murder mystery and relationship tete-a-tetes baked in. But it’s also got a seasoned pro at the writing helm – Howard Overman – and though his track record ain’t perfect, his shows have generally ranged from weird to enjoyably goofy, and come across as informed enough to pass a sniff test on whatever their subject matter. And Overman decided to take a particular tack with The One that ends up making it stand consistently taller than a lot of similar projects: he doesn’t really care about the whole soul-mate matching aspect of it. Or rather, the show isn’t out to question the muck of Love, and what might make us stick to one partner or let techno-fate swipe right to another – it’s about Rebecca Webb (Hannah Ware), and the science-backed matching app she built, and what it’s cost her to do so: friends; a lover; a moral compass… The aforementioned murder mystery is part of that evolution, from eager inventor to power-hungry CEO, and while The One gets some mileage out of whodunnit, it solves it early on – Overman similarly doesn’t care about the murder, but it does give him a chance to involve cop Kate (Zoë Tapper), investigating that murder, and providing another perspective on obsessive pursuits.
While I won’t claim any of this as being particularly deep, it does feel “real”: the good-to-bad transition Rebecca goes through is usually an unbelievable trope in media, with the character suddenly sporting a goatee and an evil laugh, and Ware perfectly imbues the character with the right notes along the way to make her descent / ascent very recognizable. And though the show isn’t shot as a noir at all, it latches on to the slope of bad decisions characters in those stories make: Rebecca’s what we might call a “bitch,” but we can follow her decisions at every step. (And Overman quite cheekily makes sure to include a gender comparison at one point – that an aggressive male CEO might be seen quite differently from a female one.) On the other side of things, Tapper gives Kate a cool restraint as she juggles her professional and personal life, interestingly giving herself rather wholly to both, but without Webb’s sacrifices.
In the middle – and pretty damned tangential, but still interesting – is another couple, Hannah (Lois Chimimba) and Mark (Eric Kofi-Abrefa), who probably do fit into one of those other shows, as their relationship is more directly a study of the effects of this app on coupling. Sans their storyline, we probably could’ve boiled this down to a 4- or 6-episode Rebecca vs. Kate show, but it’s not taxing to watch – well written, well acted – and is spaced out effectively.
Along with other things Overman may not care about is some of the plotty connective tissue; in less consistent shows with more padding and not as engaging leads, I imagine I’d care more, but here, it generally flies under the radar: I was kept riveted by Ware, and by overall Overman’s confident approach.