At first glance, the Netflix limited series “The One” seems like a perfect match for a weekend binge-watch. A slick, fast-paced, lurid, sci-fi thriller with a great-looking and talented cast, set in a world where a groundbreaking new DNA test can match you with your perfect partner, aka THE ONE? With murder, corporate intrigue, risky love affairs, double- and triple-crossing also on the menu?
Let’s do this!
Indeed, writer-producer Howard Overman’s adaptation of the novel of the same name by John Marrs is a handsomely mounted production filled with bloody cliffhangers and putatively shocking reveals, but with each passing episode we actually become LESS interested in the main characters and the increasingly ludicrous storylines that depend upon a whole bunch of supposedly smart people doing a whole lot of stupid things. Even more frustrating than the underwhelming resolutions to certain storylines are the loose threads left hanging all over the place. Perhaps the intention is to pick up some of those plot points in a Season Two of “The One,” but if and when that happens, count me out. There’s just not enough substance beneath all the style on display here to sustain this season, let alone a second.
In a premise not dissimilar to “Soulmates” on AMC, “The One” takes place “five minutes in the future,” where scientific advances involving ant pheromones — yes, ant pheromones and just go with it — have led to a breakthrough for a DNA-based dating app that will match you with your one true love, no matter where he or she lives. Once you connect with your perfect mate, you’ll know lasting and true love and live happily ever after. Of course, if you happen to be involved with someone else at the time, it can get complicated, but hey: DNA don’t lie.
Hannah Ware (“Boss”) is a striking presence as Rebecca Webb (as in the world wide web, as in a web of deceit!), the charismatic and globally famous scientist turned CEO and co-founder of MatchDNA, the billion-pound British company that has matched tens of millions with their soulmates. Rebecca herself is the best advertisement for the technology; she concludes every jam-packed auditorium presentation by bringing out HER perfect match: Ethan (Wilf Scolding), who’s endearingly sheepish about the whole thing at first but then wows the audience by engaging in a long and passionate kiss with Rebecca as the crowd goes wild.
In rapid fashion, we’re introduced to a number of other key characters as “The One” splits into a number of distinct and eventually overlapping storylines:
- Behind the scenes, Rebecca has ice water in her veins and won’t hesitate a moment to manipulate events and destroy careers, as Stephen Campbell Moore’s wealthy investor, Damian, schemes to take over the company. “If I feel my investment in this company is under threat, I’ll throw you under a bus!” Damian tells Rebecca, just so we’re clear he’ll, you know, throw her under a bus.
- In flashback scenes to the not-so-distant past, Rebecca and her best friend and fellow researcher James (Dimitri Leonidas) have reached a breakthrough in the lab with the DNA technology — but they can’t test it out on humans without breaking the law as well as betraying their friendship with Rebecca’s flat mate Ben (Amir El-Masry), who is clearly in love with Rebecca.
- Eric Kofi-Abrefa’s Mark is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about MatchDNA and is hopelessly in love with his wife Hannah (Lois Chimimba). But Hannah lives in constant fear Mark will give into the temptation of seeking his one true love — so she secretly sends a thread of Mark’s hair to DNAMatch and befriends his match, in the hopes of keeping her away from Mark. Dubious plan, Hannah.
- Zoe Tapper’s Kate is a no-nonsense police detective investigating the discovery of a body in the Thames — an incident initially classified as a suicide that might actually be … MURDER, and could well involve Rebecca and/or James. Meanwhile, Kate has found her true match in Sophia (Jana Perez), a stunning beauty who lives in Barcelona and is making plans to come to London and start a new life with Kate. Problem is, Sophia’s whose life is extremely complicated. Extremely. Kate might be a great detective when it comes to solving crimes, but she’s utterly clueless in navigating Sophia’s secret world.
There’s a lot more going on, involving the British government possibly cracking down on the controversial DNA technology, which would essentially put Rebecca’s company out of business; a charming French surf instructor and his troublesome younger brother; a corrupt cop playing both sides of the fence, and the occasional beating or shooting that takes place as one cover-up leads to another.
“The One” has no shortage of hiss-worthy villains and conflicted anti-heroes trying to do the right thing even as they’re pulled this way and that, but precious little time is spent on what happens to couples after they’ve been matched for life. Do they ever break up, does the passion ever subside, do they remain in a state of movie-like bliss? Instead, the focus is on the convoluted and largely unsatisfying crime mysteries, none of them particularly gripping.