First, to clear the dirty plates from the table: yes, there’s already a TV series about a DNA-based dating app that matches people with their perfect partner. It’s AMC’s Soulmates, it’s on Amazon Prime, and premise aside, it bears no similarity to this new Netflix drama. Soulmates is a US anthology series, each episode of which tells a discrete story with a new cast and characters. The One is a UK serialised drama based on John Marrs’ 2017 novel – to which, incidentally, it also bears very little similarity. Call it convergent evolution, or just the way TV works.
(The team behind The One also made the updated War of the Worlds drama that aired around the same time as the BBC’s latest adaptation and is currently readying series two. Risk of confusion or comparison clearly doesn’t faze them.)
Written by Misfits creator Howard Overman, The One is the eight-episode story of Rebecca Webb, the ruthless CEO of a billion pound introductions agency that has revolutionised love. Submit a DNA sample, pay the fee, and find your perfect genetic match. It’s the end of gambling on relationships, Rebecca tells an adoring crowd, from now on we all roll a six.
It’s (evidently) a fertile sci-fi premise, yet one in which this show seems to have oddly little interest. Thorny debates around genetic determinism are ignored in favour of a workaday cat-and-mouse detective story starring an amoral company director and the police officer who attempts to pin her down. When a body is discovered in the Thames, suspicion falls on Rebecca, played by Hannah Ware. What secrets is she concealing about her company, its co-founder and the events of one fateful night a year ago?
Plumping out that central mystery are two supporting stories more engaged with the implications of match technology. There’s Hannah and Mark (Lois Chimimba and Eric Kofi-Abrefa), a happily married couple who profess no need of a DNA test to give their relationship the stamp of approval, until the idea takes hold. Then there’s Kate (Zoe Tapper), a young woman matched with a partner abroad who comes with their own set of mysteries and complications.
Surrounding that is a corporate coup plot featuring Stephen Campbell Moore and Simone Kirby, and a series of flashbacks to the company’s inception. Ant pheromones are the key, we learn (a tip in case anybody out there wants to cash in on a solid business plan.)
The headliner though, is Rebecca, a character who very quickly reveals herself as a calculating schemer who’s no purist when it comes to business ethics. As played by Hannah Ware, she’s gorgeous, expensively turned out and extremely pleased with herself. It’s clear from early on that she’ll sacrifice anything to protect her reputation and considerable fortune.
There’s a version of Rebecca somewhere who’s much more enjoyable than the one we’re actually given. When she’s told that the only thing bigger than her bank balance is her ego, for instance, she coolly replies that no-one’s ego is bigger than her bank balance. Lines like that offer flashes of a character we could love to hate, but the show’s patchy attempts to humanise her blur the sharp lines of her chic suits and imperious vibe. The One tries to have its cake and eat it with Rebecca, and as a result, we’re left hungry – neither being able to sympathise or fully relish her wicked ambition. Female antiheroes in the Cersei Lannister, Selina Meyer, Shiv Roy or Villanelle mould can make for great TV, but that takes commitment to the archetype not seen here.
There’s more life elsewhere in the cast. Lois Chimimba is the standout as Hannah. She’s naturally funny and instantly engaging on screen, pulling you into a story that’s easy to relate to. After this showcase, let’s hope to see plenty more of her.
The One’s a functional thriller that pulls off a few surprises and does gather binge-watch momentum, but ultimately, it shoots itself in the foot by giving away too much, too soon. By the time the finale comes, there’s very little left to reveal. Efforts also seem to have been made to leave threads dangling for a potential second series, which is the nature of the business, but still feels like a compromise. Not quite a match made in heaven.
The One arrives on Netflix on Friday the 12th of March