Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Roar’ On Apple TV+, An All-Star Anthology Series Where Feminist Stories Are Told In Unique Ways – Decider
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Anthology series, where every episode has a different story, are tricky because the show’s writers may want to cram as much information as possible into the half-hour or hour episode. But the simpler the story, the better, especially if the episodes contain some sort of strange or supernaturalish element. A new series on Apple tells stories with a feminist bent to them.
Opening Shot: A woman (Issa Rae) exits an airport terminal; she sees a woman reading a book with her picture on the back, and asks “how is it?” The woman reading has no idea she’s talking to the author.
The Gist: Roar is an eight-episode anthology series, created by GLOW’s Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, where each half-hour episode tells a story that explores feminist themes in some strange but interesting ways. Rae is but one of an all-star roster of actors who are featured in these episodes; other episodes star Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Merritt Wever, Meera Syal and Fivel Stewart.
The episode titles literally describe the strange thing that actually happens: “The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck,” “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband,” “The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf.” You get the idea.
The first episode is called “The Woman Who Disappeared.” The unnamed author played by Rae is in Los Angeles to make a movie deal for her novel. It’s a new experience for her, and when she’s picked up by the assistant she’s been corresponding with (Griffin Matthews), she’s shocked when he takes her to an amazing house the studio paid for her to stay in. She’s preparing her notes for the meeting, but her friend back in New York (Lauren E. Banks) encourages her to enjoy herself, which she does by the infinity pool.
At the meeting, the main executive (Nick Kroll) tells her that they want to make her deeply personal book about experiencing institutionalized racism into a virtual reality film. She tries to give input, but they are pretty sure that this will be a hit. The author starts to feel like she’s disappearing; someone sits on her in the lobby by mistake; she’s ignored at the register of a boutique; she’s even ignored at her viewing party. Will she be seen again?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The anthology format of Roar and some of the weirdnesses in the episodes reminded us of the Prime Video series Solos. Of course, every show like this is compared to Black Mirror, so we’ll do the same.
Our Take: Roar is based on the collection of short stories by Cecelia Ahern, all of which examine feminist themes and revolve around a strange thing that enhances those themes. Based on the first episode, it seems that Flahive and Mensch have translated these stories to the screen quite well. It’s sometimes hard to interpret some of the weird happenings on a printed page into something that makes visual sense, but it looks like they’ve done so here.
Of course, it helps when you have stars with the chops of Rae and the rest of the all-star roster at the center of each episode. Rae is able to handle the fact that she has to pretend to be excited that this room full of white men are taking her deeply personal narrative about racism and making it into something that sounds terrible. But the fact that, starting at that meeting, she literally starts to disappear makes sense. She’s literally not being heard and barely being seen.
The fact that she literally disappears is a pretty powerful message. It does feel like, given the half-hour format, the story gets short-circuited a bit; there are a couple of examples of the author feeling like she disappears but they mostly seem benign. And the conclusion to the story just seems to be placed there because the episode ran out of time more than anything else. But that’s something that’s endemic in most anthologies like this. The story up until the ending was definitely effective, in a way that’s simple and doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with messaging.
Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.
Parting Shot: “Fuck this,” the author says to the assistant. “I’m going back in there.”
Sleeper Star: Griffin Matthews is fun as the assistant, perhaps the only person who sees the author for who she is, maybe even more than she sees herself.
Most Pilot-y Line: When the author tells the team that experiencing racism in her shoes isn’t how racism works, the VR exec says that they’ll spell it out for the viewer “In 360 degrees, with some pretty sick parallax. It’s meant to be a douchey statement, but it’s supremely douchey.
Our Call: STREAM IT. By keeping the stories simple, Roar is able to send its messages without hammering it over viewers’ heads. Could some of the episodes stick their landings better? Sure. But the storytelling in the series mostly solid.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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May 15, 2022 at 04:54PM