Thriller series Then You Run prods and unravels the very tropes it capitalises on

We’re all drowning in content—so it’s time to highlight the best. In her column, published every Friday, critic Clarisse Loughrey recommends a new show to watch. This week: New thriller series Then You Run, in which a blowout getaway for four teens sees them on the run in Europe. 

A quartet of teen girls—blunt, argumentative and wildly devoted to each other—are all set for the European getaway of their dreams. A lot of booze. Some romance, maybe. More likely a few one-night stands. Instead, they’re drawn into a Nicolas Winding Refn daydream, all neon-slicked, ultra-violent underworld subterfuge, as blood splatters across marble countertops and chintzy carnival rides.

Tara (Leah McNamara), Stink (Vivian Oparah), Ruth (Yasmin Monet Prince) and Nessi (Isidora Fairhurst) are all 18, or on the cusp of it, and have promised themselves one last reckless blowout before their future swallows them whole. But when Tessa’s grandmother and sole guardian dies, she’s packed onto a plane to Rotterdram to reunite with her absent father, Orin (Cillian O’Sullivan). Her friends, supportive but also reluctant to change their holiday plans, trail behind her. It quickly becomes clear that Orin and his brother Reagan (Richard Coyle) are involved in some very shady business—why else is Tessa banned from even taking a peek at the basement pool? A couple of bad choices later and the girls are on the run across Holland with three kilos of heroin.

It’s the usual crime claptrap unexpectedly combined with a familiar kind of naïf, luckless teenagers who would feel more at home on an episode of The Inbetweeners. If there’s a teen girl in this sort of show, she’ll usually stride in with a Wednesday Addams scowl and the distinct whiff of sociopathy (see: Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World). So it’s nice to see young women here who seem so ordinary. Based on Zoran Drvenkar’s 2014 novel You (unrelated to Penn Badgley’s ultra-literate stalker) and adapted for the screen by Ben Chanan, Then You Run allows its protagonists to constantly prod at and unravel the very tropes it’s capitalising on.

They burst clumsily into a world of carefully postured menace, where men in pressed suits dress each other down in order to prove their own testosterone levels, and react as people should react to violence and death: they vomit, vomit at the sight of vomit, and then swiftly oscillate between hysterical laughter and hysterical tears. Oparah, already a standout in this year’s best British rom-com, Rye Lane, is particularly adept at the feat—it’s a tricky thing to let an audience laugh at a character’s hysteria without demeaning their humanity. The actor laces even the most outsized of reactions with a palpable, relatable sense of panic.

Only three episodes were released to critics ahead of its series premiere, so it’s tricky to guess where exactly Then You Run is headed next. Tara seems to be experiencing some grim visions, of violence past and future, by her own hand. Could this be a hint at the show’s ultimate theme? Is an ordinary life granted by birth or by nature? And how much would it take for Tara to turn down the dark path laid out by her father? And what to do about The Traveller (Christian Rubeck), the phantom-like figure seen in each episode’s opening flashback, who can commit massacres in public and then slip away entirely unnoticed?

His scenes are the most stylised and deeply nihilistic, and so far entirely unconnected to the main plot. What will happen when, inevitably, he and the girls collide? How will the show blend these extremes of the unreal and the real? Will the girls be allowed to keep their humanity—the very thing that allows Then You Run to stand out from the crowd? Or will this just become another one of those crime shows desperate to convince you of how cool and grim it really is?