Are you ready to sink your teeth into a great mystery?
There’s nothing better than a series that can capture the right tone of a suspenseful mystery while presenting rich characters who instantly lure you in.
And Harlan Coben’s Shelter Season 1 Episode 1 excels at this from the second we lay eyes on Jaden Michael.
We’re embarking on yet another book-to-screen adaptation, this time inspired by the work of Harlen Coben, and it doesn’t show any signs of disappointment.
Shelter doesn’t waste a single minute of its 55-minute-long premiere. If the rest of the season manages to keep up this type of momentum and strong storytelling, we’re undoubtedly in for quite an exhilarating ride.
The series’ strength is in these characters, who instantly feel thoroughly established, likely due to their being source material and a great cast who brings them to life.
Notably, Jaden Michael is a strong lead. Anyone familiar with his role in Netflix’s Colin In Black & White could anticipate what to expect as he took up the role of Mickey Bolitar.
Mickey is a compelling protagonist, endearing, charming, witty, and real. There’s something uniquely sympathetic about him in that he feels like a realistic teenager who behaves reasonably without veering toward the agitating or nonsensical things often used to drive the plot.
His actions and feelings make sense. As a result, the story flows organically. And it’s a hell of a story unfolding before our eyes.
But the ultimate scene stealer of the hour was Adrian Greensmith‘s Arthur. Are we calling him Arthur or Spoon? Hit the comments and let me know which you’re digging most.
Nevertheless, Arthur had that endearing unapologetic nerdy quality to him. His instant connection with Mickey has already made their dynamic the heart and soul of this series, and every second they share screen time together is a treat.
They have such fabulous chemistry, and they embody that Gen-Z buddy dynamic devoid of toxic masculinity and put a fresh spin on the buddy-cop tropes that we’ve come to love so much. In the many ways that this series has a Teen Wolf tone, the central dynamic of Mickey and Spoon is top of the list.
The hour gave us a taste of what they can and most definitely will be as they embark on adventures in search of answers, and for that bond alone, I already can’t wait to see the antics.
Of course, the girls added into the mix will make things better. Ema Winslow already flowed seamlessly into this new friendship dynamic, and it confirms how charismatic and delightful Mickey comes across that even the moody goth loner couldn’t resist his easygoing charm.
As of now, the girls are the most mysterious of the bunch, however. There is little doubt that Ema is an asset and ally regardless of whatever secrets she harbors.
She’s just mysterious enough to drive her own narrative but not so much where there’s genuine concern over the role she could play in the larger scale of things or whatever Mickey and Arthur hope to do.
We don’t know Ema well enough, but she still feels trustworthy.
So far, the biggest question marks with Ema revolve around why she was lurking around Bat Lady’s house in the first place during her first interaction with Mickey and whatever symbolism is behind her donning a butterfly tattoo that replicates the Shelter Album.
Rachel Caldwell is more questionable in all of this. She seemed nice enough, but her association with the troublesome Troy is damning, and she found ways to insert herself into everything while still coming across as aloof in a decidedly calculated manner.
You can already tell there’s so much more to this seemingly perky cheerleader, and the journey of digging into her and whatever she’s hiding will be worthwhile.
My mind was spinning by the end when we saw that she was the one who had Ashley’s bag with the gun in it, and she was insistent on dismissing the new girl’s disappearance and moving on.
But Ashely’s abrupt absence is only one of our many questions, and while it’s certainly driving the biggest plot, what happened to Brad precedes even that.
The car accident, while predictable in its execution, was a plot that worked to set things in motion and have you thoroughly invested.
Nothing stays constant, Mickey. It’s like I always told you, you can’t get a hit if you never swing the bat.
One of the central mysteries presented is this idea that Brad isn’t really dead, and from the moment we see the blond EMT tampering with him at the accident scene; it’s comprehensible how there could be truth to that.
It was odd that while Mickey and Kitty were stuck in the car, this person came to inject Brad with something. And while Brad was perfectly alert, albeit discombobulated after the accident, the second he got injected, he was completely out.
It alluded that he died in front of Mickey, but as the hour progressed and Bat Lady shared her cryptic messages, it made all the sense in the world that Brad was still alive and there were far more sinister and convoluted things happening in that town.
Why have so many kids vanished from this place, and why are people so casual about it?
Where is Brad in all of this, and literally, where is Brad?
Shira shared with Mickey that Brad was one of the kids trapped inside that creepy house when he was a child, and it happened shortly after another boy, Dylan, who is apparently connected to the history teacher, disappeared without a trace.
Even with Shira being forthcoming with little nuggets like that to keep Mickey’s mind spinning, it was obvious that she was still withholding much more.
I couldn’t make sense of the opening scene, but it was in 1998, and there were a bunch of kids of all ages in what appeared to be the basement of that house when the police were coming to get them out.
Later we were treated to the flashback of young Brad; as a side note, it’s absolutely precious that it’s Kristoffer Polaha‘s own son, Micah Polaha, who plays the younger version of him.
Brad went into the house on a dare and then got trapped inside, where he seemed to remain whenever young Shira showed up, banging on the door and calling for her brother.
The Bolitars have a connection to this house and Bat Lady. There’s a reason that Mickey is drawn to this place, and Shiva seemed visibly shaken by the idea that Mickey had even been there.
Of course, his first round sneaking around the place didn’t bode well for him, and we were treated to a tense but sadly far too realistic scene of Chief Taylor confronting him outside the home and being a royal dick.
Chief Taylor: You don’t look like a Bolitar.
Mickey: I look like my mom.
But even that scene had amusing moments because Mickey’s particular brand of snark was so familiar and authentic that it made you chuckle bitterly. Again, this is where the series reminds me of early Teen Wolf. The series nails its use of humor, adding levity to any situation.
His quip about how he doesn’t look like a Bolitar because he looks like his mother was such a perfectly sassy reply to Chief Taylor’s microaggression that it broke some of the tension out of seeing this young Brown kid at the mercy of law enforcement.
It certainly made up for Mickey’s puzzling lack of self-awareness when he opted to make so much ruckus in his new neighborhood in the middle of the night and didn’t expect a run-in with the law.
Maybe the kid spent a bit too long in Europe.
Aunt Shira to the rescue was another great scene, but then, when you have Shira played by the incomparable Constance Zimmer, there’s no missing.
The tension between the two characters is rich enough to keep things interesting but odd enough to have one eagerly waiting when we get into the family history more and why they were all so estranged.
It’s no doubt that Shira has her nephew’s back and harbors some guilt about things. But Brad specifically called her because she’s the only one he trusted, asking her to look after Mickey if something happened to him as if he knew the second he got into the States or crossed into that town, someone or something would come for him.
And despite Mickey directing all of his pain and anger onto Shira, she’s taking her new role seriously and working to fulfill that promise while Mickey’s mother is mysteriously still away.
I understand that Shira is a switch from the source material, something that the Executive Producer and Director spoke about briefly when discussing bringing this series to life onscreen, but thus far, it doesn’t feel like a drawback.
What’s interesting is how quickly Mickey may realize that Ashley’s disappearance dovetails into his father’s.
Initially, it felt a bit off that Mickey had only known Ashely for the better part of the day and got this attached to her. As it stands, he’s the only one advocating for and searching for her like this.
But if you factor in all the changes he’s gone through recently and how his life got disrupted, perhaps it’s not that far of a stretch that he’d become attached to this beautiful, sweet girl at school and direct all of his pent-up energy into figuring out what happened to her.
Henchman: We lost Ashley, but we’ll find her.
Bat Lady: No need. You’ve done enough.
Ashley’s disappearance came with so many unusual elements. We had the bearded man who kept following her around, taking photos and was supposed to get his hands on her somehow.
Ashley had the butterfly symbol in her locker with what appeared to be the number nine, and she was visibly rattled when she saw that but tried to cover her discomfort.
The magnet she used to cover it up somehow, chillingly, ended up inside Bat Lady’s house on the mantelpiece.
And what was supposed to be her home and where she lived was the scene of an incident they still haven’t explained. However, the biggest takeaway is that who Mickey Bolitar thought was Ashley’s mother was not, and someone else was getting carted away on the stretcher.
On Bat Lady’s end, we saw that the bearded man failed her, and the sunglasses man took over, snuffing him out with a shot to the head for failing to get the girl (Ashley).
There are already so many questions here, like where Ashley is, why Bat Lady wanted her, and what she gained from telling Mickey about his father.
We also have to wonder why no one bats an eye over disappearing children in this town, what role Brad played in the past and present, and where he is if he is alive.
Ema’s butterfly tattoo that she’s hiding is a huge clue, and the constant rotation of Shelter playing and this album cover symbol having such significance in all the intrigue surrounding whatever is happening is right at the surface of piquing curiosity.
This series will have a blast unspooling bits and pie to us along the way as we work toward learning the truth about everything.
And while the pilot had a bit of the usual pilotitis as it laid out the groundwork for the season and built the world we’re immersing ourselves into, leading to some clunkiness here and there, it was still strong and effective enough to suck us in that way the Harlan Coben novels do.
The series is also doing a decent enough job of juggling or blending multiple genres and themes simultaneously. The larger mystery is where our primary focus will be, but the series’ coming-of-age elements are also strong.
Mickey and Arthur, yes, even with all of his eccentricities, feel like real teenagers dealing with typical adolescent things amid all of this.
As the jock and bully hiding behind his daddy, Troy Taylor is a bit too on the nose and cliche, but it’s also what makes the distinctly young adult element of this series set in high school work.
The tension between Mickey and Shira provides that family drama element that can be compelling, and the promise that we’ll get to delve deeper into all of that because of the familial connection to the over-arching mystery is promising.
Essentially, it feels like all the series’ characters are relevant and aren’t solely there to chew up the scenery, something that can often happen when trying to strike the right balance with series with teenage protagonists.
And there’s also enough of those horror and suspense elements to give the series a bit of edge and make it thrilling, balancing out the more character-driven moments like Mickey still processing his grief or figuring out his identity and who he is beyond his father’s loss or his uncle’s shadow.
Bat Lady: There he is.
Bat Lady: Look at you. You’ve grown a lot, Mickey.
Mickey: How do you know my name?
Bat Lady: Listen to me carefully. Your father, your father, is not dead.
Bat Lady: He’s very much alive, believe me.
We’re excited about following the world of Harlan Coben’s Shelter as it plays out onscreen. How about you?
Over to you, Shelter Fanatics. What are your working theories after tuning into the premiere? Which characters resonated for you? Hit the comments!
You can stream the first three episodes of Harlan Coben’s Shelter on Prime Video. New episodes air Fridays.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on Twitter.