If you want to murder people for entertainment there are certain rules that really ought to be followed. Namely, you’ve got to give an attentive audience a chance to work out whodunit. The members of the Detection Club, a 1930s secret society of British mystery writers including Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton, were obsessed with this idea of “fair play”. Members of the club pledged not to conceal vital clues from the reader and make no use of “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God.”
What, one wonders, would the Detection Club have made of The Undoing? The star-studded HBO drama on Sky Atlantic didn’t include any divine revelations but it had a hell of a lot of bizarre plot holes and red herrings. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but it left audiences feeling duped rather than out-smarted. The show gave you all the clues to figure out whodunit – it shoved them right in your face at the beginning and left them there – but somehow it didn’t really play fair. There were too many loose ends and unbelievable plot points. You also spent half the time wondering why everyone’s accent kept changing; Nicole Kidman, in particular, seemed to forget she was playing an American.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying The Undoing was a bad show. Quite the opposite: despite its underwhelming ending it was perfect pandemic TV. Many us have been spending lockdown looking at property porn, imagining all the glamorous places we could be quarantined if only our budgets allowed, and The Undoing was full of fabulously wealthy New Yorkers in extremely fancy homes. You got to marvel at the 1%’s mansions while simultaneously feeling glad you weren’t one of them because they were all so sad or sociopathic. I also enjoyed watching Kidman strut around Manhattan in her collection of fancy coats. It’s weird to feel homesick for the city that you live in, but seeing New York in all its pre-pandemic glory did exactly that.
Perhaps the best part of the Undoing, however, was its length. The six-part limited miniseries was long enough for you to get invested in it; short enough not to get tedious. 2020 feels like it is dragging on and on – giving me a new appreciation for TV shows that know how to swiftly wrap things up.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist