Synopsis: An insightful, poignant, and sometimes hilarious portrait of what it means to be a woman today. Featuring a unique blend of magical realism, familiar domestic and professional scenarios, and futuristic worlds.
Format: Eight anthology episodes, all out now on Apple TV+
Cast: Alison Brie, Nicole Kidman, Betty Giplin, Merritt Wever, Cynthia Erivo, Fivel Stewart, Issa Rae, Meera Syal, Jake Johnson, Hugh Dancy, Daniel Dae Kim, Kara Hayward, Judy Davis, Justin Kirk, Bernard White, Griffin Matthews, Simon Baker, Julie White, Christopher Lowell, Alfred Molina, Riki Lindhome, P.J Byrne, Lauren E. Banks, Nick Kroll, Jason Mantzoukas
Directors: So Yong Kim (episodes 3 & 8) , Anya Adams (episode 4), Liz Flahive (episode 6), Kim Gehrig (episode 2), Rashida Jones (episode 7), Channing Godfrey Peoples (episode 1), Quyen Tran (episode 5)
Writers: Cecelia Ahern(based on the book by), Liz Flahive (created by, episodes 1-8), Carly Mensch (created by, episodes 1-8), Halley Feiffer (episode 5), Janine Nabers (episode 1), Vera Santamaria (episode 7)
Streaming on Apple TV+ now, Roar is a brand new feminist anthology series from the executive producers behind Netflix’s wrestling drama, GLOW (cancelled all-too early) and based upon the book by Cecelia Ahern. There are thirty short stories in that book and eight episodes here, so there is plenty of room for me.
The first season stars Alison Brie as a girl who solves her murder, Nicole Kidman as a woman who eats photographs and Betty Gilpin as a trophy wife who sits on a shelf. The title of each episode tells you exactly what the story is going about, and the metaphors aren’t figurative; they’re literal.
Like any anthology series, I expected a few episodes to be bigger hits than others, but overall I was pretty impressed with what’s here. I don’t think there’s a bad episode amongst the bunch, although the premiere, “The Woman Who Dissapeard”, doesn’t start things on the best foot. Its ending will leave many confused, even if I think the point of that episode is obvious about halfway into the story. Still, it’s followed up by “The Women Who Ate Photographs,” which is my favourite of the series, even if there are some Australian biases on show here.
I decided to rank each episode as I went, so I’ll give my quick thoughts on each below in that order.
8.) “The Girl Who Loved Horses” (Episode 8)
Director: So Yong Kim
In this western story, Fivel Stewart stars as a girl who loses her father, and things start to go down an a-typical western route before they take an interesting turn in the final act. Kara Hayward comes along for the revenge mission to stop her friend from doing something she may regret, and she’s a lot of fun.
I have this last because I thought it dropped the most out of all the episodes in the series. I appreciate the final direction the story takes, and I think I get what the point was here, although I think it’s open to a little more interpretation than the other stories on show here.
7.) “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband” (Episode 5)
Director: Quyen Tran
A fun and simple story stars Meera Syal as a wife fed up with her husband, played by Bernard White, who learns that you can return them to a Walmart-like store in America.
It’s a relatively straight forward thirty-minutes with the age-old proverb about being careful what you wish for being the key takeaway. It’s enjoyable, but compared to the rest of the stories in the show, it’s the least interesting, even if the performances and some cameos make it quite fun to watch.
6.) “The Woman Who Disappeared” (Episode 1)
Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Issa Rae stars as a fresh black novelist whose hit memoir has led to her being invited to sit down and have a conversation with a bunch of white Hollywood executives about adapting her book, one of which is played by Nick Kroll. However, soon after arriving at the meeting and learning, they want to turn her story into a VR game so people can have the “true black experience,” no one can hear her speaking, and she slowly begins to disappear.
The focus here is on a black woman having her story taken from her and being told by white people, who have turned it into the most cringe-inducing concept with a VR game. The point is obvious, and I like the idea, but I thought the ending isn’t strong enough to hit those who somehow miss the point or land the power move for that, like myself, who got it but wanted something more significant from the final minutes.
5.) “The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf” (Episode 3)
Director: So Yong Kim
Betty Gilpin stars as the trophy wife of Daniel Dae Kim’s character, who decides to literally put his wife on a shelf, and she agrees. “Why work? You hate being a model,” he says as he introduces the concept and leads Gilpin up a ladder to sit on her new throne. His desk is placed perfectly across the room to look up at his prize, his muse, as he works away each day. But years later, he’s ignoring her, his desk has moved to face outside, and she’s simply prying to get a hello each day.
The flowers of presents in the early days as the new Husband treats his wife as a prize for a short period before relegating her to another long-forgotten trophy on his shelf is a metaphor done so bluntly it shouldn’t work, but it does. The first half of this episode is somewhat slow, which may turn some off, but the payoff is well worth it, thanks to a fantastic sequence and performance from Gilpin. However, similar to the previous episode on this list, I was let down by the final couple of minutes.
4.) “The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck” (Episode 6)
Director: Liz Flahive
In a show featuring many weird concepts, it’s the duck episode most people will surely gravitate towards as the oddest. Merritt Wever plays a young woman who’s too busy focusing on her studies to partake in dating, all to the disappointment of her best friend, Riki Lindhome. But it’s while sitting on a park bench one afternoon, that a duck (Justin Kirk) approaches and begins talking to her. Although the duck’s mouth doesn’t move, I guess it may be some form of mind-telepathy. Either way, the two hit it off, and she takes the duck home the next day, which was kinda their second date, and he soon moves in. However, as the days go by, this sweet-talking duck shows its ugly side.
All things in this episode start like a typical rom-com but soon turn into a dark and more realistic direction for the dating scene. It’s a weird night/day you have when the narrative and theme of the episode are very poignant, but you’re spending the majority of the time watching the episode wondering if you’re going to have to watch women have sex with a duck.
3.) “The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder” (Episode 4)
Director: Anya Adams
This episode starring Alison Brie is equally one of the most fun to watch, thanks to Brie and the witty writing, while also having one of the most sinister twists and reveals. Things start macabre as two detectives, played by Hugh Dancy and Christopher Lowell, begin the episode by checking out the crime scene of a discovered dead body, which belongs to Brie‘s character. However, she’s back as a ghost, and the references to Whitney Houston soon follow as she attempts to help the two self-obsessed detectives solve her own murder as best she can.
The dim-wittedness and lousy detective work between Dancy, who starred in Hannibal and Lowell, who loves to play these characters, is fun enough, but having Brie in the background narrating the whole thing is a lot of fun. But what puts this episode so high on the list for me is the final twist and reveal of who her killer is and the message behind it.
2.) “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin” (Episode 7)
Director: Rashida Jones
Cynthia Erivo stars in this story, which follows a woman attempting to return to work in a big office job, with plenty of stresses and requirements, following a prolonged period off after her latest child’s birth, a near-death experience. Soon after beginning work, though, she begins to find small bite marks appearing over her body, which soon start to spread, leading to Roar’s only episode that feels, at times, like a horror movie.
Postnatal depression isn’t talked about enough, so I think this is an important story and how the story uses its theme and takes it very literally works great. It’s scary and threatening in a way that if people could see these scars, they would probably care more. It’s a point that works, and I don’t think it could be heavy-handed given the naivety of most people on this subject.
1.) “The Woman Who Ate Photographs” (Episode 2)
Director: Kim Gehrig
In this episode, Nicole Kidman stars as the daughter of Judy Davis’ character, which was surprisingly set in Australia, and featured many Australian references and real Australian actors, which was very cool to discover. But the story is also good, focusing on Kidman’s character, preparing to have her mother come live with her following some sort of onset-dementia diagnosis. The two take a road trip on the way back to Kidman’s home, who also discovers she can eat the photographs her mother has kept, and she re-lives the memories in a euphoric way.
Having Kidman and Davis act together is a blessing, which made me happy enough, but the story here is also a poignant one. But unlike The Father, this delivers a more optimistic ending that doesn’t make dementia sound any less scary or hard to deal with as a family member but gives some form of hopeful light at the end of the tunnel, and I kind of loved that about this episode.
These stories were all great in their own way; even with the few stories that falter in their final minutes or lack better pacing, there wasn’t anything here inherently bad. The cast and directors had unique visions, with a commendable commitment to the weird and wacky narratives. Knowing more than enough stories are left in the source material is great because I’ll happily take a few more seasons of this highly digestible and intriguing anthology series.
Stream all episodes of Roar now on Apple TV+