Death may not seem to be inherently funny, especially to those who are going through intense grief after the loss of a loved one, but there is still room for dark laughs to seep through. In Finding Alice, Keeley Hawes plays a woman who moves into the dream home her husband designed, then finds him dead at the bottom of some very unsafe-looking stairs the first night they move in. How can that be the least bit funny? Read on for more.
Opening Shot: Construction equipment outside a modern, concrete house. A woman frantically looks around her kitchen, then sinks to the floor and says, “Where’s the fucking fridge, Harry?”
The Gist: It’s obvious that Alice Dillon (Keeley Hawes) has been through something traumatic. She sits in a darkened living room with her daughter Charlotte Walsh (Isabella Pappas) and her in-laws Minnie (Gemma Jones) and Gerry (Kenneth Cranham). The curtains in this smart home are stuck and won’t open with voice commands.
Exhausted with grief, Alice goes to bed and in her dreams we see the course of events: Earlier that day, Alice and her husband Harry Walsh (Jason Merrells) move with Charlotte into this modern home that he designed and built. Not only is it a smart home, but it’s got oddities like a flight of stairs without a bannister. That night, they’re about to go to bed when she goes to the bathroom and he goes down to the kitchen. When she has no idea how to flush the toilet, she comes out to look for Harry, and she sees his lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs.
Charlotte wakes her up and tells her that the police are there to ask more questions. Instead of wearing black, something Harry hated, she changes into a bright red dress and green heels. The detectives start to question Alice and Charlotte about how a seemingly healthy 48-year-old man fell down a flight of stairs. They ask for the CCTV footage when they see the cameras everywhere. Alice thinks they’re accusing her of killing her husband, and Charlotte keeps telling her she’s ridiculous.
As the next day or two goes along, Alice finds Minnie and Gerry popping in unannounced; Harry apparently gave them a key. Her way-too-affectionate dad Roger (Nigel Havers) and way-too-cold Sarah (Joanna Lumley) give her no emotional support; when she comes to them for money when Harry’s accounts are frozen, they balk. She goes and visits Harry in the morgue and is pointed to the wrong body by the attendant Nathan (Rhashan Stone). But when she visits a second time, after the autopsy, Nathan tries to hide the incisions with his Tottenham Spurs hat and scarf.
More strangeness: She goes to the construction site office where Harry’s company is building flats, and she finds his assistant Yasmina (Dominique Moore) cleaning up after a break-in. She also gets a visit from a woman named Tanvi (Ayesha Dharker), a business partner Harry never told Alice about; apparently, he needed an investor for his project. Minnie and Gerry pop in again and produce a document saying that Harry gave the house to them as protection against his money issues. They’ll need to sell the house in order to pay the inheritance tax, and Alice kicks them out, insisting that they’ll do so over her dead body. Finally, Charlotte finds a letter from a sperm bank, saying that Harry is behind in his payments to store his frozen semen.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Finding Alice should definitely not be confused with Losing Alice, the Israeli thriller that stars Ayelet Zurer. This show is more of a darkly comic take on loss and secrets, something akin to a show like Lisey’s Story, though more rooted in the real world.
Our Take: The reason why Finding Alice works is that we’re pretty much plunged right into Alice’s grief, mere hours after mysteriously losing her husband, and writers Roger Goldby and Simon Nye (Hawes is one of the executive producers of the show) can still find funny moments, like the fact that Alice can’t find the refrigerator in her new home. Why? Because Harry died before he could explain the ins and outs of this super-modern dream home he designed.
None of the funny moments in the show are gut-grabbing funny, but that’s fine because grim humor mixed with overwhelming sadness is natural formula, especially when Alice is portrayed as trying to keep the traditional British stoicism in the days following Harry’s sudden death. We all know that she’s not keeping it together as well as she’s making herself look, and Charlotte is going to have to be the one to tamp down her grief to take care of her mother. But Charlotte will have her moments, as we see on the CCTV footage of her curled up in a ball on a random piece of floor.
What will be interesting is finding out the little mysteries surrounding Harry and his death. Who was the person whose legs we see at the bottom of the stairs in the CCTV footage right before Harry fell? Why did the autopsy find that there are bruises on Harry’s shoulders, as if he was grabbed and held? How much money did he owe, and to whom? And why did he will the house over to his parents? What’s up with the frozen semen?
Hawes does a fine job of showing how Alice is trying to keep herself together in the face of all this craziness, even while waves of grief overtake her. All the performances of the supporting cast feed into Hawes’ performance quite well, and she’s able to balance the sad and the funny with equal adeptness. As we get further from Harry’s death, and Alice moves on while finding out some of what Harry is hiding, it’ll be interesting to see how she embodies a more confident version of Alice, one that refuses to be pulled along in life anymore.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: As she cries over images of Harry that pop into her head, the doorbell rings. At the door is George (George Webster), who says that he’s Harry’s son.
Sleeper Star: Joanna Lumley deliciously plays Alice’s mother Sarah at her most frigid, who seems to be almost happy that that no-goodnik Harry is out of the picture, but also being the kind of narcissist that Lumley has been playing since at least 1992, when Absolutely Fabulous debuted.
Most Pilot-y Line: Harry actually set the password on the smart home’s control tablet “1234”. Maybe he just didn’t get around to resetting it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Finding Alice strikes the right balance between drama and comedy, sadness and laughter, with a fine performance by Keeley Hawes at its center.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.