Spoilers are a very tricky thing, and Apple TV Plus series The Crowded Room is full of them. Too full, I'll argue, as I could see a much better version of this show that didn't make you ask a bunch of questions you may already know the answers to. One that would have earned a spot on our list of the best Apple TV Plus shows.
This is the latest edition of a column where members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're watching and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great shows and movies that you may have missed. We previously covered Silo.
At first, I strongly recommended The Crowded Room. Now, having watched all 10 episodes that Apple TV Plus made available to the press, I'll admit I have some complicated thoughts about this complex show.
There's a fantastic version of The Crowded Room that exists in my imagination, one where creator Akiva Goldsman adapted Daniel Keyes' book differently. I dance around the name of that non-fiction novel because it in itself could be seen as a spoiler. Don't look it up, trust me.
Speaking of spoilers, this is an explicitly spoiler-free review. I will mention that there are twists, and talk about their impact on the show, but I will not dare explain more. Consider this my advice to anyone curious about watching The Crowded Room, to prepare them for the series as it exists, and what it could have been.
The Crowded Room is too full of secrets
Watching The Crowded Room felt akin to riding a rollercoaster. My opinion on the show soared high, then dipped, then rose back up. And its structure has a lot to do with that fact.
The series primarily follows Danny Sullivan (Tom Holland), who's been arrested for his involvement in a shooting that took place at New York City's Rockefeller Center in 1979. We then see Danny's troubled and mysterious past, and how it led him to that day in midtown Manhattan, thanks to the help of Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried) who interrogates him while he's in custody.
Trying to explain The Crowded Room's twists and turns here wouldn't do anyone any help. Especially when you may very well see some of the big twists coming. And the earlier you anticipate the twists (and longer you wait for them to happen), the more likely you may be to wonder "wait that's it?" At that big reveal, you see how The Crowded Room used a trope too often, to the point of reducing the return on investment.
Which is why I write this story right as The Crowded Room is about to hit its half-way mark at episode 5 (debuting Friday, June 23rd). If you got this far and still feel engaged with the series, I implore you to press on. Danny's life may be dreary and depressing, but you're close to the great part. I was annoyed when the twists hit, but I'm more than happy I pressed on.
In the aftermath of the reveal, truly powerful and emotional performances emerge, and Holland and Seyfried aren't the only stars of this section, either. I'll call out Christopher Abbott (Girls, Sanctuary) and Emmy Rossum (Shameless) in particular for their fantastic work as, respectively, Danny's public defender and his mother.
That said, I give Holland the lion's share of credit for his fine, metered performance here. He's got a difficult role to play, and he does so with more grace than you expect from an action movie hero. The drama of The Crowded Room provides Holland with an opportunity to do more than is needed, but he thankfully instead opts to deliver a more natural performance.
Outlook: The Crowded Room could have been better
What if Goldsman didn't position The Crowded Room as a mystery to be unpacked? If The Crowded Room opened its secrets up front, and didn't make you wait to discuss its true topic? I checked out the book that it's based on, and found that it didn't hide its truths.
The looks on Amanda Seyfried's face as Rya pulls at the details of Danny's narrative may reflect your own if you have difficulty with the earlier parts of the series. Many may not get to the meatier and more fulfilling parts of The Crowded Room, and that's a shame.
But take it from someone who finished the 10 episode run: I'm glad I did. I just wish it wasn't such a wobbly ride.