Apple’s anthology Roar displays some real promise but is consistently uneven.

by | Apr 15, 2022 | All, Reviews

AppleTV+ have been quietly putting out a stable of consistent anthology series to go with their mammoth dramas – Little America was one of the best series of the year it came out closer to the streamers’ launch, and now, with its star-studded talent that fills to the brim both in front and behind the camera, Roar arrives offering inventive, bite-sized 30-40 minute stories spread across six chapters for a limited series that showcases just how much money AppleTV+ have to get stars like Nicole Kidman, Merritt Wever, Cynthia Erivo, Alison Brie and Issa Rae on board for an episode each. It’s a mixed bag of a series that has plenty to offer but also – like with most first season anthology shows – struggles with finding a consistent voice and tone.

It’s a genre-bending piece – based on Cecelia Ahern’s novel of the same name and each of the stories bounce off each other in a wide variety of genres that cover a collection of feminist tales. To put it plainly, it’s a strange show. That range from a Black Mirror inspired psychological drama about a woman who disappears in a high tech environment world (not afraid to take potshots at current affairs with every line of dialogue perfectly chosen). There’s magical realism in the next – Roar benefits from a tightly constrained length for its episodes.

The Woman Who Disappeared is an excellent start that’s rarely ever topped for the rest of the series, handled by Miss Juneteenth director Channing Godfrey Peoples and written by Watchmen writer Janine Nabers, bringing an air of experience behind the camera as much as in front of it – avoiding potential exploitation in favour of a story with something to say as it tackles a writer played by Issa Rae finding herself literally erased from her own narrative by a Hollywood executive played by a never calmer Nick Kroll in a horrifyingly uncomfortable way – there’s a relative ease as to how quickly Roar moves into horror territory from the get-go.

This is a reunion of sorts for GLOW creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and Alison Brie after GLOW’s untimely cancellation and it feels like a series that fans of the Netflix drama will instantly fall in love with. Each standalone story has enough personality to sustain a whole series – the quirks of the characters are distinctive and the series places ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances at the heart of it all – showcasing these characters in their normal lives at the start of the episode before peeling back the layer and developing the plot as the series goes on, “exploring what it means to be a woman today” – according to the press release.

Nicole Kidman stars in one episode of Roar.

The episode titles give you very much ideas as to what to expect – the Nicole Kidman fronted, The Woman Who Ate Photographs, for example, is a surreal tale that does what it says on the tin – Kidman’s transformation from movie star to A-List TV actor ensures that AppleTV+ will no doubt give individual actors a push at the Emmys on the back of runs like Top of the Lake and Big Little Lies; Kidman makes a surreal storyline such as this one feel completely natural due to her star power but is let down by a less successful narrative that surrounds her.

All this cast feel naturally at home – whether they’re dating ducks or vanishing from existence. The characters all feel like they exist in this world because of how relatable and real the themes that the story is grappling with are – no matter how surreal it gets Roar’s big accomplishment is that there’s always something to grab and hold onto. Kidman’s story doesn’t quite hit hard as The Woman Who Disappeared as it kind of falls away after a very strong start – but regardless of the quality of the storyline – there’s a consistent level of thought-provoking poignancy in here and this fits in with AppleTV+’s bid to become the streaming version of Peak HBO; where it is rare a week goes by without a quality release.

The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf stars Betty Gilpin as a very literal trophy wife for Daniel Dae Kim – it’s a fun, quirky and whimsical tale with a surreal twist to a normal scenario that fits with the more outlandish storyline of the piece. Some are strange, bizarre – others grounded in the every day. The themes within the six episodes range from motherhood to authorship and Roar’s sense of identity and purpose is one of its biggest strengths – the more authentic the story feels the stronger it is – for all its outlandish storylines it’s the recognisably real ones where the biggest strength of the show lies.

The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin is a high point for the series too – perhaps the best episode – and Cynthia Erivo excels in her role. Directed by Rashida Jones,  this one avoids the trap of the almost too literal and on-the-nose storytelling that often befalls the weaker episodes of the season. It leans into its Cronenbergian body horror incredibly grotesquely.

It’s a fascinating exploration of the flaws in the US healthcare system that feels like an exploration of real characters facing these problems rather than gimmicks – and that’s why it rivals The Woman Who Disappeared as the best in the series. Unfortunately; it is then followed by the most outlandish story of them all – The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck, which doesn’t quite work as well as its novelty premise suggests – a real shame considering the brilliant Merritt Wever who spends her time talking to a duck by a pond and puts in as expected; another great performance opposite the charmingly awkward Jason Mantzoukas. But performance is never the problem with this series – and it can often lead to great actors feeling wasted on sub-par scripts.

I don’t feel like dropping Roar all at once may have been the best idea for AppleTV+ as this series can feel a bit too disconnected for a binge given its status as an anthology, and it does risk being caught in the shuffle with the bigger name – more established series that are everywhere you look on the series at the moment – and what makes this series walk before it can run is the wide variety of creative voices that means such a series feels instantly mismatched; for every good story there is a bad one – sometimes Roar can feel a bit too artificial – and never quite there. At least – for every weaker entry a good one normally follows – Anya AdamsThe Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder feels like a comedic take on the video game Murdered: Soul Suspect with Alison Brie solving her own murder when she finds her own body dressed up underneath a tree being investigated as part of a crime scene, and is one of the better executed does-what-it-says-on-the-tin storylines, and ending with a St. Vincent’s Fast Slow Disco needle drop can’t hurt anyone.

Though uneven these six episodes demonstrate that there’s plenty of room for Roar to find its voice as a magical realist series – and having a star-studded talent such as this in its roster can’t hurt at all. It can feel like at times this is AppleTV+ just throwing money around because it can throw money around – but there is plenty for the audience to find rewarding moments in an anthology that feels a lot more hopeful than the inevitable Black Mirror comparisons it will receive due to its similar structure. At least with the anthology, select episodes can be watched out of order giving the audience almost complete freedom to pick and choose the high points of the show or just watch one by one. But that said – unfortunately, despite the individual aesthetic of some of the storylines the broad feel of Roar almost gives it the most algorithmic structure that an AppleTV+ series has had yet – on a streaming service in the middle of a resurgence that prides itself for non- paint-by-algorithm storylines this can feel like a wasted opportunity on the basis that it is just fine, failing to maximise having a talent that most networks could only dream of.

 Roar is available in full now on AppleTV+

Milo Milton-Jefferies

Milo Milton-Jefferies

15/04/2022

Milo is a TV critic who regularly spends way too much time at the cinema. His favourite shows are Doctor Who and Twin Peaks.

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