SPOILER ALERT: This story contains detailed descriptions of plots and key scenes in the Netflix thriller series “Fool Me Once.”
Joanna Lumley hadn’t read Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel “Fool Me Once” before shooting its Netflix series adaptation. In other words, she wasn’t aware of the final episode’s many twists until she read the script. “My heart was beating so fast,” Lumley tells me. “The cast gathered and we were all like, ‘Oh, my God! What do you think of this?’”
And that’s exactly what viewers seem to be asking each other — what do you think of this? – because the series’ main plot and multiple storylines coalesce into a primetime soap smorgasbord of lunacy and outrageousness.
The eight-episode series stars British soap star Michelle Keegan as Maya, a former Army helicopter pilot whose husband Joe (Richard Armitage), a wealthy pharmaceutical company heir, is fatally shot in front of her not long after her sister was found murdered. Just weeks after Joe’s funeral, Maya sees footage of her supposedly dead husband playing with their daughter on her new nanny cam.
What follows is Maya trying to figure out if Joe is really still alive, as a detective (Adeel Akhtar) and his hunky partner (Dino Fetscher) investigate the killing. Lumley plays Judith, Maya’s potentially evil mother-in-law, Judith.
Many critics haven’t exactly been kind, but viewers can’t get enough.
“Thank God [the show is] not high art because not everything has be high art,” Lumley says. “I thought it was beautifully done. And some quite important people have said how beautifully they thought it was made, how skillfully edited it was. And it went along at such a lick that people never thought, ‘Oh, that would be interesting. I can watch another two episodes in three weeks.’ They binge-watched it! If millions of people watch it, I don’t think it’s up to us to patronize them and say they’ve got bad taste.”
The series premiered in 190 countries just after midnight on New Year’s Day. Since then, “Fool Me Once” has reached an estimated 90 million viewers, which Netflix calculates by dividing the show’s whopping 512 million total hours viewed by its 5.7-hour runtime.
“It’s complete escapism,” Lumley says. “Most of us don’t fly helicopters into war zones, most of us don’t live in grand houses where there are lots of staff and cars driving to and fro. Most of us are not being investigated by the police or looking into murders. None of us watch this and go, ‘Oh, I’m like that.’ I rather love entertainment — TV shows, films and books — that to take you out of what you are and into another world. That’s whole point of entertainment.”
Lumley credits Netflix with skillful post-holiday programming. “I realized everyone might be a bit hungover,” she explains. “Everybody will be poor from the holiday season. They won’t have any money left. It’ll be quiet because they have the day off. People are sitting at home with no money wondering what to do. And the answer is you could watch a gorgeous Netflix series.”
A second season of the series is unlikely. Not only is Maya dead, but Judith has been sent to prison after Maya uncovered that the family had been forging test results and data at its pharmaceutical company. Did I mention that the detective investigating Joe’s murder is taking one of their medicines to treat a mysterious condition that causes him to fall asleep without any warning?
“Richard Armatige has been in three of Harlan’s TV pieces,” Lumley says. “I’m going to try to chase Harlan and see if I can be in something else. He’s got the storytelling genius. People like Dickens had it. They knew exactly how to tell a story that people wanted to hear.”
Of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask Lumley about the possibility of a Patsy and Edina reunion in another “Absolutely Fabulous” project. The last time she and co-star and show creator Jennifer Saunders got together was for a movie spinoff in 2016. “I think Patsy is sleeping in a coffin in the corner of the room and anytime I can creak the lid open and get her out,” Lumley cracked. “If Jennifer said, ‘Let’s say more,’ I would be there in a flash. I adore playing that part more than I can tell you. It was the most fun in the world.”