Review by Sean Boelman
Typically, when a would-be premiere project is released right after the end of awards eligibility, it’s a sign that something is askew. Although the star-studded cast and crew of Apple TV+’s new miniseries The Crowded Room inspired hope, it ends up feeling like little more than failed awards bait.
Loosely inspired by the 1989 nonfiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Crowded Room tells the story of a young man who is arrested for his involvement in a shooting in New York City as the investigation takes a turn when the facts of the case don’t add up. Due to an absolutely absurd list of do not reveals given to reviewers by Apple, it’s impossible to explain the story more than that.
The series’s biggest issue comes into play with how distastefully it approaches some of its themes. Although it doesn’t seem entirely intentional, there are certainly some bits of dialogue that will rub viewers the wrong way. For example, one episode contains a subplot that’s not too subtly homophobic. Other aspects of the show feel like they are milking trauma.
For the first five episodes, we spend our time with Holland’s suspect as an investigator interrogates him about the lead-up to the tragedy — told mostly through flashbacks — and this is mostly compelling. However, the show reveals its mystery in episode 6, and even though it is painfully obvious what was happening, it decides to transform into a rather bland legal drama from that point.
The main draw of this series and the reason why it is likely to get much of its attention is Tom Holland’s lead performance — his first major role in a series since breaking out in the MCU. Unlike his previous “serious” turn in Cherry, Holland actually shows a decent amount of range here. And while he never disappears into the character — the viewer will constantly be seeing it as Holland in the role — it gives the series a much-needed bit of humanity.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid, even if this is entirely a starring vehicle for Holland. Amanda Seyfried is very compassionate in her supporting role as the investigator who interrogates Holland’s suspect, trying to uncover the truth of the incident. Christopher Abbott is also a standout as Holland’s lawyer, having more than a few impassioned speeches throughout — but especially during the last few episodes.
It is also worthy of note that the series boasts some pretty impressive names as directors — Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold, Kornél Mundruzcó, and Alan Taylor — and they all do an excellent job. The series is undeniably accomplished on a technical level, doing some exciting and innovative things visually. One just wishes that it were in service of more polished writing.
The Crowded Room shows a lot of potential, and is kept afloat by strong performances and excellent technical qualities. Unfortunately, the writing is simply too underdeveloped for it to be particularly effective.
The Crowded Room streams on Apple TV+ beginning June 9. All ten episodes reviewed.