The new woman-centered Apple TV + anthology series “Roar”Is extremely literal. Across her eight episodes, a trophy wife lives on a shelf, an ignored woman disappears, and a frustrated wife returns her husband to a large checkout store. Its short fables are so on the nose that if the words of this review were somehow incorporated into one of the episode’s scripts, viewers would likely see a woman with the series title balanced just above her nostrils.
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“Roar” draws inspiration from a collection of short stories by “PS I love you”Author Cecilia Ahern. Ahern’s collection includes 30 stories with titles such as “The woman who ate photographs” and “The woman who ordered sea bass special”. Each tries to share another woman’s perspective, often with a magically realistic inclination. The new series of “EMBER”Co-creators Liz Flahive and Carly Menschwhich counts Nicole Kidman among its producers, mines from several of these stories in half-hour intervals, with strange, very mixed results.
Episodic anthology programs are almost always doomed to have a few lows, but since each of them draws from the same source material, almost every episode of “Roar” suffers from the same issues. The show is crazy and often interesting, but it’s rarely as insightful as it gets. Episodes often do not end with resolution, but with the kind of ambivalent narrative punchlines that simply suggest deeper complexities that must have been lost in the translation. Ambitious and deeply strange, “Roar” is at times overwhelming despite its abundant shortcomings.
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Most of the series’ eight episodes are not exactly direct misfires: rather, their repeated attempts at ingenuity and ingenuity culminate in a season that is less than the sum of its parts. Most of the show’s quasi-feminist independent parables are perfectly okay, but they tend to come out a little undercooked. In the first paragraph, Issa Rae plays an author whose deeply personal memories are chosen by Hollywood greats. In a room filled with white men, she suddenly loses the ability to be heard. This “Twilight Zone”-Like predicament continues for the rest of the episode, but not much actually happens after its beginning. Much of “Roar” is this way: the show presents a piece of an idea, and then lets it unfold, exactly as expected, for much of its duration. “The woman who ate photographs,” for example, spends a disproportionate amount of time showing Kidman actually pushing picture after picture into her mouth.
Kidman’s characters’ penchant for swallowing snippets from photo albums, a reaction to her family’s changing dynamics and her mother’s dementia, is not even close to the strangest thing “Roar” puts on screen. That price would go to “The woman who was fed by a duck.” This is, without a doubt, the half hour that tilts the scale of the great experiment that is “Roar” in the direction of failure. The less is said about the episode, the better, but it is worth noting that it begins with a woman (Merritt Wever) strikes it up with a charming stranger (Justin Kirk), who happens to be a duck. Like a real duck. The feathery aquatic bird. As expected, any life lesson intended to be collected through human-and-romance misses its mark. The episode deviates wildly from the short story it is based on. It also manages to somehow make two of the most likeable, underrated actors working today completely unattractive to watch (or, in Kirk’s case, listen to).
On the other end of the quality spectrum, there is “The woman who found bite marks on her skin.” Cynthia Erivo leads the season’s best episode, with Rashida Jones instruction. It’s the fourth episode of the season, and the first to take a detour from the frustrating literal storytelling that plagues the first half of the series. Erivo’s character, a new mother, finds bite marks on her skin, but their meaning is more hazy and ultimately powerful than any of the series’ more precious metaphors. Jake Johnson plays the newlywed mother in an episode that explores the complex emotions of parenting, in this case amplified by a demanding full-time job and a health system that regularly fails black women. It is the narrative specificity that helps this episode rise above the rest: these characters feel like real people with real struggles, not avatars for a broad female archetype.
Despite its continuing bumps, the back half of the series at least delivers episodes that give viewers more to chew on. A semi-jokey commentary on the function of dead women in crime stories Alison Brie like the ghost of a victim who is quickly hit by macho detectives (Hugh Dancy and Chris Lowell). This is one of the only times the show achieves the dark humor it aims for: There is something heartbreaking about hearing a dead woman shout – albeit uselessly – at the men who use her as a starting point for their own selfishness. The episode drives a bit home, thanks in part to Dancy’s commitment to his character’s melodramatic mood. Yet, like so many other chapters of Roar, the end of this episode is so ridiculously sharp that it should come with a warning sign.
It is somewhat mystifying that “Roar”, despite his talented cast and obvious creativity, leaves so much to be desired. Mensch and Flahive have already created an empowering, entertaining, female-dominated world with “GLOW”, which was cut down in its prime after three seasons on Netflix. Yet almost everything that made that series dynamic is missing in this one, despite several “GLOW” crew members making memorable appearances. How did “Roar” end so overwhelmingly?
Ultimately, the biggest problems with “Roar” may be failures, not by the filmmakers, but by the medium itself. Some short stories simply work better on the page. Ahern’s tales seem to flash with bias and wit, but they also serve as a collection of fables, dark bedtime stories that deliberately use simple metaphors and follow familiar patterns. They are meant to leave readers fascinated, to spark the imagination. But on the screen, told in order, some of their wit falls and their magic disappears for the most part. [C]