Harlan Coben’s Shelter

Harlan Coben's Shelter
Harlan Coben’s Shelter
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From “Veronica Mars” to “Nancy Drew,” mysteries and thrillers have found a space in YA television, and supernatural-centered shows like “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and “The Vampire Diaries” tend to have longevity and have even spawned spinoffs. Watching whip-smart teens take life by the balls, thwarting adult interference and figuring shit out for themselves has been continually enticing. In the new Prime Video thriller, “Harlan Coben’s Shelter,” based on Coben’s novel of the same name, a group of high-schoolers attempt to untangle a decades-long mystery involving a dead father, an unresolved missing child case and a terrifying old woman. 

Executive produced by Coben and “13 Reasons Why” producer Allen MacDonald, “Harlan Coben’s Shelter” has a strong foundation, but loses its center in the twisted web of storylines. 

Four months after his father’s tragic death in a car accident, a despondent 16-year-old Mickey Bolitar (Jaden Michael) finds himself living in the suburban town of Kasselton, New Jersey, under the care of his estranged aunt, Shira (Constance Zimmer). Though grief, anger and a new environment are usually a recipe for adolescent disaster, Mickey finds a connection with a fellow Kasselton newcomer, Ashley Kent (Samantha Bugliaro). However, the basketball star’s reprieve from his inner turmoil is short-lived when Ashley vanishes, sending him on a desperate search to discover what happened to her. He quickly realizes his family history and the loss of his father could be intertwined with her disappearance.

Though Mickey has a Harry Potter complex — presuming he can do everything alone — he finds his own Ron And Hermione in two of Kasselton High School’s oddballs. Spoon (Adrian Greensmith) is sweetly awkward and provides the laugh-out-loud one-liners in the show. Also, despite her standoffish vibes, Ema (Abby Corrigan) can’t help being sucked in by Spoon’s earnestness and Mickey’s determination. 

In their quest to find Ashley, the trio and some other unexpected allies unfold secret after secret buried deep in Kasselton’s lore. “Harlan Coben’s Shelter” hits all the typical teen dramatic beats over eight hour-long episodes. Crushes, unhappy parents, anguish and loneliness buzz around characters like flies. Unfortunately, these themes don’t move the story forward; they slow down the narrative and cast a mundane tone over the show. With many YA TV shows, viewers are asked to suspend disbelief to follow a frenzy of genre tropes — but with “Shelter,” despite heartfelt acting from Michael, Greensmith and Corrigan, these arcs feel at odds with the thriller overall. Other subplots — including a mysterious tattoo artist; unanswered questions about Mickey’s hospitalized mother; and the ending of the school jock’s parents’ marriage — might be building blocks for a second season but needed to be more cohesive this season.

Rather than a pulse-pounding thriller, “Harlan Coben’s Shelter” is more like a maddening jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t fit together until the very end. The show’s biggest problem is its heavy-handedness with plot — characters and timelines bending and twisting around each other is not the issue. In YA serial thrillers, it usually works best when there is a big bad combated/unraveled every episode and an overarching question to be solved by season’s end (see: Netflix’s “Wednesday”). Being an adaptation of one book and a spinoff to another book series, “Shelter” has dozens of Bolitairs and Kasseltons to connect, leading to long dull stretches of exaggerated emotion and tired missions that feel formulaic about addressing current societal concerns like depression, sex trafficking or obsessive social media use.

While it remains intriguing what happened to Ashley and how the old woman (Tovah Feldshuh) fits into Mickey’s family storylines throughout this season offer too little in turns of small revelations toward season finale that are almost mundane enough themselves so as not hold viewers attention throughout whole season let alone these them into next. Some even for teen drama outlandish forced feeling scenarios could have been altered or left on editing floor tighter episodes which would have allowed dark revelations in “Harlan Coben’s Shelter” pave way for some heart racing excitement.

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