The Crowded Room Tom Holland Apple series
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv ‘The Crowded Room’ review: Tom Holland’s Apple drama is well-meaning but infuriating

‘The Crowded Room’ review: Tom Holland’s Apple drama is well-meaning but infuriating

The Crowded Room Tom Holland Apple series

What limits and ultimately brings down “The Crowded Room” isn’t just a bad decision. Overlong and visually repetitive, the 10-episode limited series starring Tom Holland and Amanda Seyfried lacks the dramatic clout to justify its length, nor is its storytelling carefully crafted to build momentum. Holland’s lead performance is solid, if hopelessly hampered by the structure of the story, and Seyfried’s is a bit sharper, though that may be because she’s able to do more with less. Her message—which I can’t even elaborate on for reasons I’ll divulge shortly—is meaningful and heartwarming, which makes the way it’s delivered wish it were that much stronger.

But there’s one key creative decision that connects all of these issues; a choice so frustrating before it’s understood and infuriating once it’s explained that you can’t help but wish writer-creator Akiva Goldsman could go back and remake “The Crowded Room” before anyone has to deal with the bad version. I’ll tell you what that choice is, dear reader, but I also have to respect the creator’s wishes. Goldsman has written a letter to critics, included in our advanced screeners, asking us not to screw up a handful of key plot points… as well as the basic premise of the series about him.

While I tend to be extremely sensitive to spoilers – trying to avoid anything that, as a viewer, I’d rather discover on screen than read in a review – what’s being asked here is nearly impossible. Exactly what makes “The Crowded Room” fundamentally admirable and sporadically engaging is inextricably linked with what makes it habitually flawed and too boring (again, because it’s the show’s show central concept). Not to discuss it would betray my review’s purpose and value to readers, just as “The Crowded Room” withholding it does a disservice to its own purpose and value to viewers.

So, here is my fix: Below you will find two reviews. The first is what Goldsman and Apple consider spoiler-free. The second is what I consider spoiler-free, which will include the show’s premise (but not its ending or many “twists”). Choose your adventure. And if you can’t choose, scroll to the bottom to vote. Unless you’re already set on watching (or not watching), that might be all you need, anyway.

Review no. 1 – No spoilers, no premises

Danny (Tom Holland), a young man with the worst haircut you’ve ever seen this side of a sketch comedy, emerges from the 50th St. subway stop with her friend Ariana (Sasha Lane). Having spotted their target, Ariana interrupts and Danny pulls a gun from a brown paper bag, aiming it at the unseen pedestrian. But he can’t do it. Danny freezes. Ariana yells at him, begging him to shoot, but he won’t, so she grabs her gun, chases after the man, and shoots until he’s out of bullets. So she drops the gun and goes after the still unknown victim. Danny, coming out of his stupor, takes the gun and runs away.

Cut to: Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried) is talking to the police about Danny’s case. From what they’ve been told, Danny and “the girl” were just planning to scare someone – the man is injured but fine and no one has been killed. However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear at the moment, one of the detectives (Thomas Sadoski) seems to think he’s caught a serial killer, and asks Rya to go talk to Danny and find out what else he might have. Done. So he does, and eventually Danny begins to tell the story of his life.

From there, “The Crowded Room” bounces between his flashbacks and their conversations. Turns out Danny was “sad and moody” as a teenager, which alienated himself from his peers and pissed off his jerk stepfather, Marlin (Will Chase). He has a few loyal friends and they help him out whenever they can, hiding weed from the principal, helping him get a date with the cute new transfer student, and protecting him (whenever possible) from bullies.

Just a “curious interrogator” and an inmate, talkingCourtesy of Apple TV+

Danny’s adolescence isn’t all that different from many teenage experiences (and not that compelling in its own right), until he stumbles upon The Ghost House, a long-vacant house near his mother’s house that soon gets a new tenant : Yitzhak (Lior Raz). Quiet and sturdy as an ox, Yitzhak and Danny don’t really talk until one day he gets into an argument right outside The Ghost House. Yitzhak steps in, scaring off Danny’s tormentors, and quickly invites Danny to move in with him. Though a strange, even dangerous choice for outsiders, Danny sees Yitzhak as his protector, not just from bullies, but from his evil stepfather as well.

“Didn’t you ever think it was strange that this man showed up and saved you?” Rya asks Danny, when she first hears this part of her story. “Nope,” Danny says. “I did not. Not at that moment. Curiosity-provoking observations like these are peppered throughout the opening episode, inviting questions that aren’t given a clear answer for some time. The stilted sequences – where the dialogue seems selectively truncated or which start and end in strange places – give the same covert effect. Yet “The Crowded Room” goes on, as Danny makes new friends at The Ghost House and even goes in search of his biological father.

To say that what’s happening doesn’t always add up is the least of the show’s problems. It rarely feels like the show doesn’t know what it’s doing, as much as it is clearly withholding key information from the audience. If what these chosen events had momentum on their own, that would be fine, but “The Crowded Room” is too low-stakes, too obscured, and too drawn-out to hold interest in Danny alone. (And watching 27-year-old Holland play another teenage geek, with no superpowers or embarrassing charm, isn’t exactly a treat.) Why is this kid worth so much time? What makes a non-fatal shooting – where he didn’t even pull the trigger – so important to police? How can whatever it is Not telling us to compensate for the mundane nature of what he shared?

Goldsman, who wrote each episode, tries to drop red herrings that Danny is a serial killer, but there’s an identifiable lack of conviction in the claims. After the first hour, if not long before that, the only reason to keep watching is to figure out what the hell it is Truly it’s happening, and when the answer comes, it’s both obvious and maddening. “The Crowded Room” is compassionate and substantial, but only for reasons that emerge too late in the 10-hour series – and which I can’t go into here.

Review no. 2 – With spoilers for the premise!

The Crowded Room Amanda Seyfried is a professor
Apple says it’s a spoiler, but I bet you can already guess this person’s profession.Courtesy of Stephanie Mei-Ling / Apple TV+

What Goldsman and Apple don’t want you to know, for reasons that defy logic, is that “The Crowded Room” is inspired by Daniel Keyes’ 1981 non-fiction book, “The Minds of Billy Milligan.” Although the novel’s real-life subject matter is very different from Danny’s, the fundamental link between the two is that they both suffer from dissociative identity disorder (often referred to as multiple personality disorder), and both must prove that their diagnosis is correct. real in a court. If they can’t, they will go to prison for a long, long time. If they can, they will get the mental health care they so desperately need.

Now, film and television have tackled DID so often that it tends to elicit more groans than gasps when used as a plot twist. From ‘Sybil’ (which is rebranded to ‘The Crowded Room’) and through ‘Primal Fear’, ‘Fight Club’, ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Identity’, ‘Shutter Island’ and dozens more, audiences have is been trained to be on the lookout for characters that exist only in the lead character’s head, and a lot of alarm bells go off in the early hours of Danny’s story. For one thing, it’s clear from the start that when he’s talking to Rya, he’s not talking to a cop; he is talking to a psychologist. For another, when said psychologist asks him question after question about how convenient it is for a new friend to show up just when Danny needs it, or how these friends have been able to know things only Danny knows – it’s pretty clear what Rya believes.

For Apple and Goldsman’s explicit effort to keep people from talking about their show’s central conceit, “The Crowded Room” isn’t all that concerned with hiding it in the narrative. The serial killer theory is so absurd that I almost forgot it existed. Hints as to what’s really going on are given so quickly and unequivocally, I believed Danny was DONE long before the “twist” was revealed – and the revelation itself is hardly emphatic. “Fight Club” is not. Danny’s disorder is revealed so slowly, one could argue that confirmation comes eventually multiple episodes, which not only dull their impact, but go against the central message of the show.

The back half of the series serves as a rebuttal to all those other movies and shows that use dissociative identity disorder as a cheap hook. Originally envisioned as an anthology, where each new season would examine a different mental illness, the story goes to great lengths to address how the general public (and even the medical community) can be quick to dismiss what they don’t understand. Rya’s arc can feel like filler at times, in order to confirm an Emmy-winning talent like Seyfried’s involvement, but at best, she’s educating the audience while helping her patient. Her bond with Danny goes beyond the obligation to this specific case and she talks about larger issues in psychology, from institutionalized sexism to widespread acceptance of her legitimacy.

Mental illness is not like a physical disorder; you can’t see the healing happening with your own eyes, and the patient also doesn’t always feel better during the healing process. “The Crowded Room” understands this and can convey its complicated nature with clarity and force. Goldsman’s letter to critics also includes the line, “I created ‘The Crowded Room’ with a singular purpose: to engender empathy for those suffering from mental illness.”

So…why bother hiding it? Honestly, “The Crowded Room” is trying to have its cake and eat it too. It is meant to be the corrective to all those lazy DID tales, while still indulging in their meandering storytelling. Had the series simply leaned into its own raison d’etre, Holland would have had ample opportunity to showcase its range (any actor’s dream taking on a role with so many identities, physical quirks, and heavy accents), and the series may have been intriguing from start to finish, rather than haphazard jerks. Maybe it might even have had the impact he craves. Instead “The Crowded Room” seems destined to be buried by its own secrets.

Grade: C-

“The Crowded Room” premieres Friday, June 9 with three episodes on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released every week.

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