Imagine: What if, thanks to the hard work of scientists, modern society has created a test that can determine, with 100 percent accuracy, who your perfect romantic match is. No more bad dates, no more heartache — all the guesswork involved in falling in love is a thing of the past.
Whether or not that sounds like a dream or a nightmare, there’s no denying that it’s an interesting premise for a drama, which is perhaps why not one but two different British shows have come out in the last six months which are about exactly that: Last fall’s Soulmates, which aired on AMC, and the brand-new The One, now streaming on Netflix.
This is, to be clear, a review of The One, but as someone who watched Soulmates months ago it was pretty hard to separate the two in my head. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no significant overlap between the creative teams beyond some visual effects artists; Soulmates, according to creators William Bridges and Brett Goldstein, was an original idea they developed over years while The One, created by Howard Overman, was officially based on the book by John Marrs. It’s like what happens when two creative writing students choose to explore the same prompt, with the surprising twist that the approaches of both shows prove to be relatively complementary.
A big factor in that is Soulmates used the concept as a springboard for a character-focused anthology series, with each episode taking place in the same narrative universe but spotlighting different scenarios that might pop up in a world with access to this kind of technology. By contrast, The One is relatively more conventional, with the eight-episode season focused on an ensemble with varying levels of connection to the matching technology at the center of the concept. That means there’s really no reason to choose, and while The One might lack the dramatic heft of Black Mirror (no shade intended by that statement, to be clear) it proved a bit more fascinating thanks to the narrative momentum it’s able to build up from episode to episode. (And hey, if you also end up watching Soulmates, it’s honestly not that hard to pretend they take place in the same universe, and some of the ideas it explores are very much worth discovering.)
The series begins with a mysterious death that honestly doesn’t have much mystery to it, but to the show’s credit the journey still proves rewarding; it’s not the who or what that matters here, but the why, which speaks to the strength of the show’s world-building and characters. Largely carrying the series is Hannah Ware as Rebecca, the creator of this technology; one of the very first things we learn about her is that she’s not just the president and CEO of her company, she’s also a happy client of her own service. But behind the perfect hair, perfect pantsuits, and perfect “match” lurks a past full of dark choices, doled out in flashbacks that sometimes verge on predictable or repetitive, but nonetheless help craft her as one of the more compelling new characters I’ve encountered in 2021.
The rest of the ensemble, though, is essential to fleshing out just what sorts of implications matching technology might have on the world. Take journalist Mark (Eric Kofi-Abrefa) and wife Hannah (Lois Chimimba), whose marriage still hums with love and passion — until Hannah’s doubts and curiosities about whether Mark is really her match get the best of her. There’s also Kate (Zoë Tapper), a detective who might be investigating the mysterious death connected with Rebecca and her company, but has also just gotten matched up with a woman she’s never met. It’s not a particularly dense cast, but their stories are given real opportunity to develop beyond the limits of a single 45 minutes of storytelling, while also highlighting both the good and bad aspects of this innovation.
As a creator, Overman has been involved with a number of genuinely fun genre series, including unconventional takes on time travel (Hulu’s Future Man) and superheroes (the British series Misfits, also available on Hulu). The One isn’t his greatest achievement (if only because seriously, Misfits is a must-watch show, at least for its first two seasons). But it’s solid and the season finale, packed with loose plot threads, will make you crave a second season. And in the grand scheme of Netflix original series, this one might linger in the memory for longer than expected, if only thanks to that premise — the power of a truly great “What if…?”
The One is streaming now on Netflix. (Soulmates is also available now on AMC+.)
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