Entertainment

‘Roar’ Features Nicole Kidman Eating Photographs Yet Still Comes Up Short

what if Merritt Wever had sex with an anthropomorphized duck? what if Betty Gilpin was a real-life Barbie doll? what if Nicole Kidman swallowed photographs? What if Cynthia Erivo was slowly being eaten alive? what if Alison Brie was a mystery-solving ghost?

Apple TV+’s new anthology series Roar, which premieres today, takes on the gratuitous task of depicting these bizarre, BlackMirror-esque scenarios, plus more, in an attempt to illuminate the anxieties, systemic hurdles and occasional pleasures of being a woman in patriarchal society. It marks the first project from creative duo Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch since the egregious cancellation of their exceptional Netflix series GLOW in 2020 and includes a few of the show’s main cast members. Like Cecelia Ahern’s short-story collection from which the series is adapted, there’s not much of a throughline connecting these feminist tales aside from the show’s magical realism and the broad observation that women experience things. Likewise, the results of these surreal endeavors are extremely unsubtle, kind of cheesy, mostly watchable, and occasionally singular.

The eight-episode series is, first and foremost, a great opportunity to see your favorite prestige-television actresses (and a few male heartthrobs) flex their performing muscles and demonstrate why they deserve to star in blockbuster movies—if they already haven’t —instead of getting lost in the current sea of ​​streaming programs.

Speaking of which, the ultimate queen of streaming Nicole Kidman, who serves as an executive producer, stars in the series’ most poignant episode, portraying a woman who watches her mother (played by Judy Davis) suffer from dementia and attempts to reclaim her own memories by consuming her childhood photos. Despite these strange, dramatic setups, the fables told in Roar are largely anticlimactic and often struggle to find satisfying conclusions. However, this bug is convenient for this slice-of-life vignette, which succeeds as an impressive showcase for two acting titans. Who doesn’t want to watch 30 minutes of Kidman and Davis having tense, occasionally sentimental exchanges on a road trip? In other cases, it feels like Flahive and Mensch are simply plucking ideas from the modern feminist lexicon and highlighting them over and over without actually saying much.

For instance, in “The Woman Who Disappeared,” starring Issa Rae, and “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin,” starring Cynthia Erivo, the series showcases an understanding of the specific issues affecting Black women. In Rae’s episode, she plays a successful author whose memoir is being adapted for a film. While attending meetings in Los Angeles, she gradually becomes invisible to the white people surrounding her, notably a group of male producers—one of whom is played by Nick Kroll—who want to turn her experiences with racism into a virtual-reality experience for white audiences, despite her objections. The series does not know what to make of her dissolution of her by the end of the episode and inadvertently co-signs her state of being unseen and unheard. Erivo’s episode similarly nods at Black women’s medical needs being systematically neglected, but she is not interested in exploring the issue beyond an act of lip service.

Additionally, there’s not much rigor applied to “The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf,” in which Betty Gilpin plays a trophy wife who gives up her modeling career to be displayed in her home for her wealthy husband (Daniel Dae Kim). It also forgoes the slightest examination of the racial dynamics at play in favor of centering a white woman’s oppression. Ultimately, Gilpin’s immense talent is wasted on a very obvious, extended metaphor that stops short of asserting that society values ​​women for their looks over their intelligence—nor is it captured in a way that’s particularly fascinating visually.

“The series doesn’t know what to make of her dissolution by the end of the episode and inadvertently co-signs her state of being unseen and unheard.”

Oddly enough, the best-conceived episode turns out to be “The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck,” which has a logline that sounds like it was formulated to go viral on Twitter for a week. Written by Halley Feiffer, it combines a familiar story about sisters at different places in their lives and, yes, bestiality, which is captured in a very cartoonish, fantastical and comedic way that prevents it from feeling totally disgusting—on top of the fact that it seems clearly imagined. Out of all the series’ attempts to go to a genuinely weird place, this one sticks the landing and still manages to sidestep a tidy conclusion. Of course, only an actor as charming and winning as Wever could pull off portraying a protagonist wooed by a talking duck.

Alison Brie is equally impressive playing the ghost of a murdered woman who solves her own case while it’s being poorly handled by two misogynistic investigators (played by Chris Lowell and Hugh Dancy). The episode is another interesting subversion of a genre that usually doesn’t depict women in their entirety. Other episodes, like one featuring an older woman (Meera Syal) who literally returns her husband to a store like a defective TV at Best Buy, can mostly be described as delightful and cute.

Overall, I walked away from Roar with the same reaction I had to the HBO Max series Minx, about the creation of a women’s porn magazine in the 1970s. With the exception of a few episodes, it’s the type of shallow, feminist television that demands credit for presenting progressive, purportedly radical ideas without illustrating any of those concepts in ways that are fresh and incisive. in that way, Roar as a project seems a little self-congratulatory, like it primarily exists as an example of the type of “nuanced,” “diverse” stories women are allowed to tell on TV currently. (It should be said that the series doesn’t feature any unambiguously queer stories or representations of trans women).

Maybe we should be excited that Merritt Wever is allowed to romance a duck on television. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite justify Roar‘s existence.

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