Ibiza is so beautifully lit, populated with such attractive people, that sometimes you don't notice the clichés. Maybe this is what attracts many to the bright and braindead holidays destinations of Love Island and Too Hot To Handle? There was fear from this critic, an avid hater of that bleak ‘reality’ TV cesspool, that White Lines would tread a similar path. Warning bells rang when the hero of the series, Zoe (Laura Haddock), says in voiceover, ‘I didn’t realise how destructive the truth could be… until now’. Oh, god, ten hours of this?
Zoe (Laura Haddock) investigates her brother's murder
Thankfully, the plot is also attractive, spinning into so many wacky directions that the journey itself is a trippy experience. Zoe, a thirtysomething librarian from Manchester, travels to the Balearic Islands to identify the long-dead corpse of her brother Axel (Tom Rhys Davies). He went missing 20 years prior, following a trip to Ibiza to make his fortune as a DJ.
Most episodes start with Zoe dictating her troubles to camera, before circling back to reveal how she got there. She decides to find the truth about Axel’s murder via his friends and enemies (often one and the same), through hallucinatory night clubs and incestuous crime families, into forests and seas and yellow-tinted flashbacks from 1996. But as she plunges further into the lighter and darker areas of the island, she uncovers a different side to herself. She’s vivid, exciting, and resourceful; an excellent and exceedingly flawed amateur detective.
Zoe's brother Axel (Tom Rhys Davies, 2nd left) is/was a carpe dium-possessed maniac
Axel himself, seen entirely in flashback, is a divisive figure. He's a carpe dium-possessed maniac, desperate for the dopamine from drugs, sex, and DJing with a pose mimicking Christ the Redeemer. There’s a hedonistic, Wolf of Wall Street abandon to his dangerous insistence on having a good time, which spills into his sister's present-day experiences. And much like the ill-fated Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, so many characters fall in love with him or, at least, wield a heavy lust for his living-in-the-present attitude.
Although this very familiar plot drives the series, it’s the strangely detailed characters that keep you on the island. There’s Marcus (Daniel Mays), the loveable loser and drug peddler who owes money to the wrong people. Boxer (Nuno Lopez) is a club-owner and head of security for the Calafat crime family, but he also likes Jean-Luc Godard and painting women’s feet.
Daniel Mays stars as the lovable loser, Marcus
But the strangest appearance, by far, is from Laurence Fox. Yes, the same barely-known actor who made that controversial Question Time appearance. He plays an addict-turned-spiritual-guru, another old friend of Axel, and he's difficult to take seriously.
A huge part of the White Lines’ appeal is in its sordid temptations. Axel’s transgressive joy looks like intense fun, even for this introverted critic, but ties with a painful, thirty-something existentialism. Characters are hit hard with the knowledge that the best years are behind them. Ibiza exists on a separate plane of existence, worlds away from the grim grey of Manchester, offering so many possibilities for Zoe. But violence, abuse, murder, and heartbreak are quick to follow her.
Like Zoe's experiences, White Lines offers plenty of disorientating pleasure; a bingeable cure to self-isolation.
White Lines is available on Netflix from Friday 15 May
|White Lines, Netflix review
15 May 20 – 15 May 21, ON NETFLIX