The Big Door Prize Review: The Most Thought-Provoking Comedy Since The Good Place – AppleTV 4 Jailbreak (appletv4jailbreak.com)
Gabrielle Dennis, Chris O’Dowd, and Djouliet Amara, The Big Door Prize
The existential cluelessness of humanity may not sound like a great starting point for a heartwarming comedy, but Apple TV+’s new series The Big Door Prize takes our general nervousness about life and apprehension to dream big and repurposes them into one of the best comedy debuts in years. Part small-town hangout comedy, part sci-fi mystery, and all philosophy generator, The Big Door Prize asks big questions while delivering even bigger laughs and feelings, and it’s a serious contender for best new show of the year.
Creator David West Read (Schitt’s Creek) adapted M.O. Walsh’s 2020 novel of the same name about a small town called Deerfield (Louisiana in the book; Anywhere, U.S.A. in the show) where everyone’s life is disrupted by the sudden and mysterious arrival of a photo booth-looking machine called the Morpho, which promises to deliver a user’s life potential by way of a simple blue card that contains a single printed word or phrase. For one, it’s “guitarist.” For another, it’s “candlemaker.” One older man even gets “male model.” What happens next? Citizens of sleepy Deerfield hammer power chords, get wax all over their hands, strut around like they’re on the catwalk, and do whatever their cards tell them they’re supposed to do, despite never having an inkling to do so beforehand.
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But The Big Door Prize‘s revelatory moments come from its characters attempting to decipher the true meaning of the more cryptic Morpho cards, leading to huge changes in their lives and relationships. “Guitarist” might be self-explantory, but what happens when the local gossip gets “storyteller”? What does “superstar” mean to the former high school jock and pro hockey player whose career was cut short by injury? In the real world, people all over the country are influenced by purposefully vague pseudoscientific and just plain dumb predictors of fortune: astrology, Buzzfeed quizzes, and religion have made smart people do stupid things. The Big Door Prize capitalizes on similar mania to explore what potential means, how people search for (and find!) answers in places where answers aren’t meant to be had, and the truth and fiction behind self-fulfilling prophecies in both hilarious and touching fashion.
The Big Door Prize
- The philosophical questions keep you thinking
- Superb cast keeps things interesting
- Central mysteries keep you hooked
- Great humor keep you laughing
- The season ends rather abruptly and without closure
Though it’s truly an ensemble cast, the center of The Big Door Prize‘s universe is Dusty (Chris O’Dowd) and Cass (Gabrielle Dennis), high school sweethearts in their third decade of being a couple. The Morpho’s arrival coincides with a key moment of Dusty’s life — his 40th birthday — but Dusty, an easygoing but pragmatic history teacher at Deerfield High, isn’t feeling the midlife crisis until the town’s interest in the Morpho machine and life potentials reaches a fever pitch. Things were going well for him! But now everyone is searching for more, and that rightfully bothers him. And it’s only magnified when he compares his card to Cass’s, which appears to be diametrically opposed to his.
This is the magic of The Big Door Prize. Established connections become threatened by nascent ideas spurred by something unexplainable, bringing up the question of whether we as individuals are cheating ourselves out of something greater because we’re cozy in our comfortable ruts. By all appearances, Dusty and Cass were happy in their relationship, but any tiny seed of doubt becomes an oak tree with the Miracle-Gro of the Morpho.
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Other characters face similar crises. Teen Jacob (Sammy Fourlas) thinks the entire Morpho experience is bullsh–, but is it because his card indicates his potential is to come out of and overtake his twin brother’s shadow, or is it because he doesn’t think he’s worthy? Cass’s mother and Deerfield’s mayor, Izzy (Crystal R. Fox), gets a card that only reminds her of the past she gave up, sending her into a tailspin of regret (and interpretive dance). And Father Reuben’s (Damon Gupton) Morpho card is a nuclear bomb, making him question every decision he’s ever made in his life in heartbreaking fashion.
I’ve purposefully refrained from saying what the cards say, because that’s a huge part of the fun. The Big Door Prize is structured like many ensemble comedies, with episodes highlighting specific characters and their arcs, prompted by the reveal of what their card says at the end of one episode and spending most of the next episode showing how they handle what it reads. This device brings the town and its people to life through surprising character revelations while also approaching the series’ central question from different angles. This isn’t a show that wants to give an easy solution to the meaning of life, and the varying cards and their interpretations instead present multiple answers that reflect the different paths we’re all on.
Chris O’Dowd, The Big Door Prize
That journey is carried on the shoulders of a stupendous cast who make great writing better with excellent performances across the board. O’Dowd, familiar internationally as the slacking goof from the legendary U.K. comedy The IT Crowd and in America from Bridesmaids, embodies the yearning of the forever average man, nailing Dusty’s comedic reactions while also impressing in the show’s more dramatic moments. Dennis is perfect as Cass vacillates between wanting more and sticking beside her love, and the unlikely pair ooze chemistry and become one of TV’s most endearing couples. Fourlas, as Jacob, and Djouliet Amara, who plays Dusty and Cass’s daughter Trina, give me hope for teenagers on television. Josh Segarra is his usual hilarious self but is given more material than he’s ever had to show his range, and Gupton carries a sincere earnestness that gives the series weight.
In addition to all the great performances and character work, the looming mystery of the boxy blue Morpho machine runs parallel to the characters’ changing lives. Is it a high-tech data-mining flash in the pan? Was it dropped from the cosmos by higher life forms? Is it a mouthpiece for a divine figure? Is it just a meaningless scam? Is it just a plot device? And really, does it matter? Though most of The Big Door Prize is all about the characters, the series does tease big things to come from the machine, with its origins and future looking like they will be a big focus of a potential Season 2. The thing is, the rest of the show is so good that it doesn’t need anything from the Morpho, but the added intrigue, accompanied by a delightfully magical original score, makes things even better.
If there’s one knock on The Big Door Prize, it’s that Season 1 doesn’t end with a whole lot of closure as it sets up a Season 2. But the potential of the series is clear: The Big Door Prize could be your new favorite show.
Premieres: Friday, March 29 on Apple TV+ (first three episodes, followed by new episodes weekly)
Who’s in it: Chris O’Dowd, Gabrielle Dennis, Damon Gupton, Josh Segarra, Crystal R. Fox, Djouliet Amara, Sammy Fourlas
Who’s behind it: David West Read (creator)
For fans of: Waxin’ philosophical, The Good Place, heartfelt comedy
How many episodes we watched: 10 of 10
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