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TV Review – ‘The Crowded Room’ Has Promise but Doesn’t Know How to Deliver It

The opening scene of the Apple TV+ drama The Crowded Room is meticulously-paced and thrilling. Danny Sullivan (Tom Holland) and Ariana (Sasha Lane) prepare for what feels like a heist before chasing after a man who is their intended target. When Danny freezes and fails to shoot him, Ariana grabs the gun and begins firing. That amped-up start quickly gives way to a procedural investigation that’s told mostly through flashbacks, grasping at something exceptionally interesting but taking far too long to get there with almost purposeful delay.

Much of the suspense built up in this series is dependent on the unfurling of its mystery, one whose nature is spoiled by the title of the book on which it’s based, Daniel Keyes’ The Minds of Billy Milligan. At numerous points throughout his interrogation with Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried), Billy stops to ask her what it is she’s really trying to get at, seemingly clueing in the audience that they too should be wondering if the story he’s telling actually played out the way he claims it did. It’s a mixture of hand-holding and deliberate misdirection, neither of which feels necessary in a limited series with this caliber of cast and a meaty real-life premise.

The Crowded Room
Amanda Seyfried and Tom Holland in “The Crowded Room,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

This is notably the first major TV role for Holland since Wolf Hall in 2015, and it comes at the peak of his stardom following his headlining of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man films. He’s a talented actor who does solid accent work, and his young age of twenty-seven allows him to portray both a struggling teenager and a troubled young man living an independent life. His performance isn’t quite as strong as the one he delivered in Cherry, another adult-oriented film also produced by Apple TV+, and this isn’t a part that allows him to really have fun, something that’s made his Spider-Man so watchable.

This is also a peculiar follow-up to Seyfried’s celebrated turn in The Dropout, which offered her a chance to deliver a layered interpretation of a highly controversial real-life figure, Elizabeth Holmes, and netted her numerous awards. In contrast, Goodwin is a straightforward character who feels less than dynamic, there purely to stand in for the audience and given little to do other than feed questions to him that lead into flashbacks to tell the far more interesting story of how they got to this point. It’s a disappointment given the enormous potential Seyfried showed for the future in her most recent TV gig.

The Crowded Room
Sasha Lane in “The Crowded Room,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

The strongest asset in The Crowded Room is an actress who has established herself as a standout television mainstay in the relatively short time since she made her onscreen debut in American Honey, Lane. Following appearances in Utopia, Loki, and Conversations with Friends, Lane once again proves herself capable of tackling radically different material and making the people she plays exponentially more engrossing than they might otherwise have been. Her scenes are memorable, and she and Holland have effective chemistry.

The cast of this ten-episode limited series, which drops episodes through the end of July, also includes Lior Raz (Fauda), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom), Emmy Rossum (Shameless), and many other familiar faces. The enlisting of such talent makes for a highly marketable experience, one that may well prove worth it by the end of its run but feels needlessly tedious even just through the first three episodes that were debuted all at once to launch the show. Letting the story tell itself rather than attempting to guide the audience in a deliberate circle to arrive at a predictable truth weakens a concept that could very much have been worth adapting for the screen.

Grade: C+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

New episodes of The Crowded Room premiere weekly on Fridays through July 28th on Apple TV+.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzerhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.

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