‘Dear Edward’ review: Apple TV+ series wants to be ‘This Is Us’ 2.0
The star and showrunner reunite for the first time since “Friday Night Lights” in a grim adaptation about the sole survivor of a commercial plane crash.
Thanks to nearly 100 episodes of “Nashville” and five seasons of “Friday Night Lights,” Connie Britton is often associated with the South. Few fans of the ABC country music drama will forget her crooning duet of “No One Will Ever Love You,” and even fewer will forget Tami Taylor’s fierce yet loving hip-hop she gave those Texas school kids (not that she’s stubborn, I should mention her football coach husband). Growing up, Britton lived in Virginia, which she said easily slips into the accent when she hears it. But he was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and lived in Maryland before moving one state down and traveling back north when he went to Dartmouth College.
The purpose of this truncated biographical travelogue is simply to prepare you, dear readers, for Britton’s work on “Dear Edward,” the Apple TV+ drama from “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” showrunner Jason Katims. Britton is just one of an expansive, diverse cast, and his role is far from the most integral to the core story — which follows the recovery of family and friends lost in a commercial plane crash, as well as survivor Edward. Colin O’Brien). Based on Ann Napolitano’s novel of the same name, “Dear Edward” stretches itself too thin. There are too many characters, as evidenced by redundant storylines (two separate people sleep with the love of their dead brothers), unresolved plot points (why do we need to know that the first emergency worker at the scene of the accident is also a crack addict?), and a mixed bag of fascinating arcs.
But Britton is biding his time. As Dee Dee, a wealthy wife and mother whose husband dies on the doomed flight, leaving her to sort out a mountain of surprise paperwork, the actor navigates the choppy waters of grief with clear eyes and a full heart. (I’m sorry, really, but an accurate description!) She’s alternately scared and angry, broken and driven, lost and singularly focused as she embarks on a clichéd investigation into who her husband really was. His emotional journey is aptly messy, but Britton’s embodiment of the sudden waves of pain and relief make sense moment by moment (the same goes for Edward and only a few other characters). Even better, his performance is a ton of fun in a series that seriously wants more.
“Dear Edward” devotes its entire premiere to a literal funeral procession as passengers head to the airport and board the fateful plane, while their loved ones say the kind of goodbyes you know, regret or cherish as viewers. Gary (Johnny Link) and Linda (Amy Forsyth) tenderly share the security line before he goes ahead and she misses a later flight. Adriana (Anna Uzele) tries to quit her job as a congressional assistant while getting her boss—and her grandmother—out of LaGuardia. An unnamed man in distress is briefly heard calling out for his fiance Amanda (Brittney S. Hall) and only orders a Jack & Coke on board.
Fleeting, seemingly inconsequential moments like this one provide answers to small mysteries that are solved over the course of subsequent episodes as the bereaved gather for group therapy sessions and share their stories. Although Katims and his writing staff are smart not to overload the audience with introductions – saving certain introductions for later – the open questions are not always teased out well, and there is still an imbalance in those tied to the answers. (Amanda and her future brother-in-law Steve, played by Ivan Shaw, feel like they’re on their own show, despite the writers’ best efforts to connect them.)
But let’s not ignore the title character. Edward is already distraught the day he leaves for the airport. His mother (Robin Tunney) got a job in Los Angeles, so the family had to leave their first and only home in New York. Not only that, but Eddie’s older brother Jordan (Maxwell Jenkins) has decided to go to public school instead of being homeschooled with his ‘sober’ brother. Throw in a father who is nice but a bit overbearing as a teacher (he gives them homework on the machine) and Edward already feels isolated, afraid and unsure of himself.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
After the accident, Edward lives with his aunt Lacey (Taylor Schilling) and uncle John (Carter Hudson) in New Jersey. He makes a friend in his bossy neighbor Shay (Eva Ariel Binder), but that’s about the only positive. Edward struggles with everything from maintaining his appetite to learning in his first classroom environment. To the show’s (and presumably the book’s) credit, Edward’s development seems realistic. Much of what he goes through takes place in his head, and the exposure is limited enough that he never feels like a TV kid engineered in a lab to be likable. O’Brien is also strong in the scenes where he is asked to express a range of feelings without words that Edward himself probably doesn’t really understand.
Still, 10 hours is a long time to spend in such a tortured mindset, and that’s what makes Britton’s turn so vital. My favorite part—among the buffet of dignified indulgences, from how decently she navigates social interactions to the way she sings soulfully with Bruce Springsteen—is how Dee Dee’s accent changes depending on the situation. When times are good and living large, a WASP-y is entitled to a bustling life of shopping, dining and drinking. (Britton continues his wealth on the screen tradition almost constant drinking.) His expressive tone is always louder, faster, and more arrogant than it should be – to the point that if this had been the character during “Dear Edward”, it would have been unbearable in Part 2. But when Dee Dee’s fortunes take a turn and she has to fight her way out of a corner, Britton drops her vowels. His pronunciation sounds like a cross between a Long Island fisherman and a Boston barman. The series gives little explanation for the choice, but it’s enough: Dee Dee wasn’t born rich, she just got used to the lifestyle. So as you feel that your lavish habits are slipping into the rear view mirror, Dee Dee’s adopted mannerisms do the same.
Both a big boost and a thoughtful choice, Dee Dee’s accent adds to the entertainment value of “Dear Edward” without distracting from its tear-jerking intentions. While Katims’ best shows (“Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood”) lean more toward inspiration than tragedy, this one is a bit overcommitted to dealing with its characters’ grief. When that loss deserves its time—as Edward and Dee Dee do—witnessing such emotional separation can be endearing, even rewarding.
But too many characters skip over the tragedy too quickly — like Idris Debrand’s Kojo, who loses his sister in flight but gets over that death by falling in love with another main character (who conveniently ignores his own pain while career aspirations priority). Still others are lost in a sea of senseless grief. Lacey and John in particular needed significant refinement. They’ve had multiple miscarriages, their marriage is in trouble, and yes, her sister’s family is dead. Instead of addressing each one properly (or, god forbid, backtracking from the beginning), the whole mess freezes into an inaccessible sack of sadness. (Side note: A lot of Apple shows seem to fit the tech company’s sleek gray aesthetic, but this one makes grayscale an aptly unkempt version of the look. It’s not pretty or very pleasant to live with, but hoo boy is it a Bummerville (U.S. ) accurate representation.)
If you’re in need of a good shout-out, the vague biopic of “Dear Edward” will probably do the trick. But even with Britton at the helm, I’m not sure his last film was made for more than five episodes, let alone 10.
“Dear Edward” premieres Friday, February 3rd on Apple TV+. New episodes are released weekly.
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