Roar: Season 1 Review – IGN

Roar premieres on Apple TV+ on April 15, 2022.

In “The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf,” Betty Gilpin plays Amelia, a model who moves in with a wealthy businessman who builds a shelf in his mansion where she can sit on display — becoming a literal trophy wife. This is the level of subtlety found throughout the eight-episode first season of AppleTV+’s Roar, an anthology series based on Cecelia Ahern’s short story collection of the same name. Yet while the episodes typically take too long hammering home their blunt premises about womanhood, a star-studded cast and alternating team of talented directors brings just enough punch to each episode to make them worth watching.

GLOW creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch serve as Roar’s showrunners, and Gilpin is one of several alumni of the tragically canceled Netflix show starring in Roar. But while Gilpin provides brilliant physical humor as she perches, preens, and tries to get comfortable on her shelf de ella, Alison Brie and Chris Lowell ca n’t redeem “The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder.” With a reference to Se7en and the casting of Hannibal star Hugh Dancy as a homicide detective, the episode has the noble aim of criticizing how crime dramas anchor their focus on the pain of male protagonists and relegate women to sexualized victims. Unfortunately its preachy monologue about incels and bland conclusions to have more heroic female investigators make the entire story fall flat.

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Roar’s episodes often feel like a feminist spin on The Twilight Zone where there’s no twist and the arc is obvious within the first few minutes if not revealed just by the flashing of the title card. The predictability is exacerbated by the fact that they all end on a mostly optimistic note, the titular woman finding some combination of internal strength and external support that allows her to get through the struggle she was facing, no matter how terrible or strange it was.

Yet the surreal and sometimes horrifying journeys can still be captivating. Rashida Jones directs the thick body horror of “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin,” where Cynthia Erivo plays a new mother quite literally eaten alive by guilt when she returns to work and eventually finds support in a group of other moms who bear similarly grotesque scars. Merritt Wever stars in “The Woman Who Was Fed By a Duck,” a bizarre cautionary tale about toxic relationships with Justin Kirk voicing an abusive bird. The writers turned Ahern’s story “The Woman Who Disappeared” from a medical drama to a meta, racially charged tale about a Black writer trying to stay involved in the adaptation of her memoir only to be ignored by the white men taking control of her work, led by Nick Kroll who steamrolls her with insincere kindness.

The biggest problem is that the half-hour episodes mostly overstay their welcome. It’s easy to imagine a stronger version of the series that stuck to the tighter 15-minute limit of Love, Death + Robots, which also has the advantage of providing more variety in its subject matter and execution. There’s a lot of charm in the concept of “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband,” which features a big box store where men mill around wearing oversized price tags and hoping to wind up in a shopping cart, but it drags in the middle before the unavoidable happy ending.

The padding is especially obvious in episodes that were directly cribbed from Ahern’s book, like “The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf.” The original story ends with the woman making a change, while the show’s version adds a dance number in the style of a ’50s musical before Amelia’s euphoria comes crashing down with a literal splash of cold water. It then tacks on a somewhat ambiguous ending that both blunts the power of the story’s original conclusion and feels less profound and more like Mensch, Flahive, and director So Yong Kim couldn’t really decide what they wanted to say about the appreciation of beauty.

There’s something to appreciate in its quirky concepts and the overall strength of the season finale.

Roar’s final Season 1 episode, “The Girl Who Loved Horses,” is ironically its best because it pushes away from the strange fable structure of the others to instead present a western in miniature. Not a moment of the tale, which was written by Mensch and directed by Kim and resembles a hybrid of Winter’s Bone and True Grit, feels wasted. Its performances are top-notch, with Fivel Stewart playing the titular horse-crazy girl on a quest for vengeance with the help of a fast-talking preacher’s daughter (Moonrise Kingdom star Kara Hayward) that leads to a surprising confrontation with a brigand played by Alfred Molina. By not front-loading its moral, the episode delivers the season’s most profound message, delving into how girls are pushed to put aside their passions in favor of duty while also showing the power they can achieve by not following the scripts prescribed by men. It’s a template that Roar’s creators would do well to replicate should the show get a second season.

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