Dead Hot, review: Harlan Coben’s daughter muscles in on her dad’s murder-mystery terrain

Vivian Oparah and Bilal Hasna in Dead Hot
Vivian Oparah and Bilal Hasna in Dead Hot - Matt Squire/Amazon Prime Video

The comedy-murder-mystery-horror-Gen-Z-drama shouldn’t work. Not least because it’s a terrible title for a genre, one that rolls off the tongue with all the ease of a hairball. But, also, brutal murder is hard to combine with humour, and it’s all too easy to lose interest in a mystery that lacks stakes. If it’s all for lols, with emotion suffocated by irony, why should the viewer care?

These contradictions have been played out, with varying degrees of success, on last year’s Wreck on BBC Three, on Clique back in 2017, in the recent films of Rian Johnson and to an extent on the Disney+ hit Only Murders in the Building. Now we have Dead Hot, a new six-parter on Amazon Prime Video. To its great credit it recognises all of the complications listed above, cocks a snook and ploughs on regardless.

Set in present-day Liverpool, it tells the story of 20-something flatmates Elliot and Jess (Extraordinary’s Bilal Hasna and Rye Lane’s Vivian Oparah) who are devout besties bonded by grief – five years ago Jess’s brother, Peter, who was also the love of Elliot’s life, disappeared. In a typical Gen-Z-drama-horror-com flourish, Elliot discovered Peter’s severed finger at their flat...

In Dead Hot we jump back and forth from five years ago to the present, once Jess starts being contacted by somebody claiming to be her missing brother. Things get weird, and Jess and Elliot find themselves playing sleuth.

There’s a lot that doesn’t work, but also a lot that does (and there’s even entertainment to be had in watching writer Charlotte Coben – daughter of Harlan – work out which is which). Far too much early on, for example, is spent watching people messaging on phones. Yes, this is what “dialogue” is in 2024, but it’s also very boring, and an easy shortcut for a writer.

By contrast, when Oparah and Hasna get to play two-handers (they are both first-rate), or when Penelope Wilton or Peter Serafinowicz are thrown into the mix in a pair of brilliant supporting roles, Dead Hot comes alive. It is what I believe is called something of a hot mess. But at least it’s hot.

Dead Hot is on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 1 March