Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley play Alice’s parents © RED PRODUCTIONS/ITV

The house is so new that the skips and building rubble are still outside. Harry has built his family a “smart” home with controls for curtains, lights and other functions. In the opening scene he introduces the dream project for the first time to partner Alice and their teenage daughter Charlotte. The TV cliché of “woman sitting on the toilet” is here given a new twist: no way can Alice find the flush.

Another quirk of the house is the lack of a banister on the minimalist staircase, a specification Harry will not live to regret. On emerging from the bathroom, Alice finds him sprawled lifeless at the foot of the stairs. An avalanche of problems swiftly descends, from pin numbers to finances to locating the damn fridge. 

Keeley Hawes gives the central role in the series some topspin. Alice is a mixture of the charm of her father, Roger, and the acerbic frankness of Sarah, her mother. Though Alice’s disarming smile and widow status give her some leeway, she can be brusque in her dealings with those whom death brings into her orbit. Daughter Charlotte is a classic Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous: Isabella Pappas brings out the pathos of a teenager prematurely thrust into a quasi-parental role towards a wayward mother.

Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley make the perfect lemon-meringue-pie contrast as Alice’s parents, one sharp, the other sweetly fluffy. Builder Harry evidently came from a different social class. Gemma Jones plays Harry’s tremulous mum Minnie, while theatrical living legend Kenneth Cranham brings a growly Pinteresque gangsterism to the role of Gerry, Alice’s suspicious father-in-law. 

The smart house is practically a character in its own right: wilful, withholding, occasionally hostile. Here’s where the overall tone of Finding Alice is difficult to determine. The front door opens by code, not keys; who else can get in? The buzz of the doorbell is usually the prelude to some new shock or eerie apparition. Harry has been concealing crucial aspects of his past; there’s something strange going on at his company. The police are fishing around, clearly unhappy about the old “he fell down the stairs” chestnut. 

Varying elements of house-horror, whodunnit, passage to self-knowledge narrative and psychological thriller are overlaid by straightforward family drama. In the case of Harry’s lengthy obsequies, it truly feels as though we are intruding on private grief. There’s a hint of romantic interest in the unlikely form of morgue worker Nathan (Rhashan Stone), easily as rebarbative and stubborn as Alice herself. His little touch of thoughtfulness with a Spurs scarf sums it up: juxtapositions that ought to be discordant somehow work. 

★★★★☆

On ITV on January 17 at 9pm

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