Nicole Kidman and Cynthia Erivo in Tame Apple TV + Drama – The Hollywood Reporter

Apparently what’s at the heart of Apple TV + Roar are a series of essential truths about femininity today – or at least the essential truths about femininity as understood by a particular type of woman (mostly hetero, most middle class, most American) today. All eight half-hour episodes of the anthology are created by women and center on female characters dealing with issues such as mother guilt or misogyny or violent relationships, with a touch of magical realism to elevate these everyday worries to fables.

But in his attempts to universalize these intensely personal experiences, Roar lose a lot of heart that makes them worth worrying about to begin with. It’s not that the series is lazy; every episode seems carefully planned and polished, and even the worst have some eye-catching moment of wit or beauty. It is that in trying to speak for so many, Roar end up saying very little at all.


The bottom line

Terribly tame, despite its fierce title.

Release Date: Friday, April 15 (Apple TV +)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae, Betty Gilpin, Cynthia Erivo, Merritt Wever, Alison Brie, Meera Stal, Fivel Stewart, Kara Hayward
Creators: Carly Mensch, Liz Flahive

Almost all narratives are packed in the same way, with a title that suggests an old folk tale, a familiar situation with a whimsical spin and often a concluding bit of dialogue that sums up the themes of the story for anyone who still does not understand it. From there, Roar varies in style and tone – although the series as a whole was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (EMBER) and based on the 2018 short story collection by Cecelia Ahern, each episode is led by a different combination of stars, writers and directors.

Most of the amazing blossoms come from a common metaphor that is done literally. At best, they help deepen the characters and stories we see. In “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband”, easily the most moving episode of the entire season, the marriage market – by which I mean a real time in a big box – becomes a way for Anu (Meera Syal) and Vik (Bernard White) to reevaluate their 37-year-old relationships, and for us to better understand the restlessness that has driven them apart.

And even less successful contributions can provide moments of disarming beauty or strangeness, like the dreamy montage of memories that flood a motel room when a mother (Nicole Kidman) devours family photos in the otherwise flimsy “The Woman Who Ate Photographs.”

But all too often, Roar does not seem to have much to add to the metaphor that the metaphor itself has not already conveyed. It’s a smart idea to make Wanda (Issa Rae), the literary hotshot protagonist of “The Woman Who Disappeared”, realize that she’s not just feel invisible to the white male leaders adapting her latest bestseller, she is actually invisible to them. Or to make Ambia (Cynthia Erivo) from “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin” discover that her all-consuming guilt over being a working mom leaves bloody wounds (including one so horrible, wonderfully grotesque that I had to to ward off my eyes). But the concepts disappear before they can be hit another notch or find themselves undermined in unexpected ways.

In any case, it is easy to see what the premises went for. “The Woman Who Was Fed By a Duck” is a fairly straightforward drama about an increasingly toxic romance, or it would have been if not for Alisa (Merritt Wever) dating a gray duck (with the voting rights of Justin Kirk). What is achieved by turning her love interest into a waterbird is unclear, as their relationship still unfolds more or less along the same dynamics as it would have been if he had been a human man – only with the extra layer of confusion and discomfort that comes from seeing Wever (who deserves so much better) trying to make the bedroom see a duck.

What does Roar so frustrating is it that it is not quite bad. If you look at them piece by piece, many of the choices it makes seem quite good. The cast is unassailable; even the smaller roles are filled with popular and beloved artists like Daniel Dae Kim, Jake Johnson and Jillian Bell, not to mention its star-studded lead roles. Each story has a distinct tone and aesthetic – whether it’s the spiked cupcake pastel from “The Woman Held on a Shelf”, a fairy tale about a beauty (Betty Gilpin) put on a pedestal or the morbid dirt from “The Woman” , who solved his own murder, “a Se7en-like thriller starring Alison Brie. There are lines that made me shake for recognition, and pieces of physical comedy that made me laugh out loud.

But the episodes feel like less than the sum of their parts. The whole series, even more. Roar‘s reach for the universal comes at the expense of the specific. Its characters are flattened into paper puppets that play out crooked little fables designed to convey broader, more profound revelations, rather than being shaped into three-dimensional individuals with arches worth worrying about in their own right. Which, I suppose, is another of the relatable women’s experiences: the disappointment that comes from seeing even well-meaning, painstakingly crafted, seemingly empowering media reduce our stories to what they “mean”, instead of seeing us for it strange, complicated unique individuals we actually are.

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