“The Big Door Prize” review: The Apple TV+ series is a thoughtful wizard

Chris O’Dowd stars in this Apple TV+ comedy about a small-town husband and father whose happy life is turned upside down by a mysterious machine.

What are your options?

It’s not a question you hear very often—at least not since you’ve sat in front of a high school counselor or an outspoken parent—but it’s certainly a question that crosses your mind when you’re making decisions. Is my job satisfying enough? Should I move to another city? Other country? Even when you’re thinking about partners or children, you might wonder how who you choose might define the rest of your life—whether it expands what you’re capable of or limits it.

Based on MO Walsh’s 2021 novel of the same name, the Apple TV+ comedy “The Big Door Prize” puts the spotlight on the question when a mysterious machine appears (seemingly out of nowhere) at a small-town convenience store. Glowing with blue light and built like a ’90s arcade game, the ‘Morpho’ machine invites visitors to sit down in front of its touch screen, enter some information and receive a card showing their ‘real vitality’. Some cards can connect the recipients with what they already know: a good “father” or “entrepreneur”. Others are nearly impossible to reach, which can frustrate people who feel far from their brightest future. Even more of the pretty little blue cards are strangely opaque: just nouns are listed, seemingly at random, as if one could work hard to become… “chair,” “ice cream,” or “moose.”

From writer/creator David West Read (“Schitt’s Creek”), the series wisely sets the action to the fictional town of Deerfield, exploring how the tight-knit community responds to such profound disruption. Instead of devoting its half-hour episodes to understanding the Morpho machine — no one knows where it came from, how it works, or who (if anyone) is behind it — “The Big Door Prize” gives its characters just enough information to invest. in what the machine is telling them, and begins to wrestle with questions about our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, and our communities when it comes to realizing our true potential.

Big Door Prize Apple Series Chris O'Dowd

“The Big Door Prize”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Anyone more invested in getting answers about Morpho might be disappointed, and if it weren’t for Walsh’s novel, I could have convinced myself that “The Big Door Prize” was cooked up in an Apple lab by “Ted Lasso” and “Ted as a hybrid of Lasso”. Final satisfaction.” But the 10-episode first season proves charming, thoughtful and resonant. It always prioritizes the ensemble of characters, bringing out the best in an amiable cast, and while their conversation about what it means sometimes sounds like listening to a philosophical debate, the serious exploration of broad issues remains based on who’s speaking. . .

Take Chris O’Dowd. As Dusty, a school teacher, husband, father and generally likeable guy, the Irish actor makes the ideal Joe Six-Pack. But Read and his co-writers give Dusty a specific backstory and clear characterizations so it doesn’t feel too broad or boring. Like many people who reach middle age and start to enjoy themselves, Dusty just wants to enjoy his life. He has a wife, Cass (Gabrielle Dennis), whom he loves and likes in equal measure. Despite her teenage years, her daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara) still loves her parents. She enjoys her job at the local high school and greets almost everyone she meets with a smile and genuine interest in her life.

But what if… that’s all you had to do? OK? It is enough? And what if you could do more? Much even more, and you just never thought about continuing it? What would this mean for your family, work and life? The arrival of the Morpho machine and its promise to crush Dusty’s dreams is more than the Irish immigrant can handle. Having adapted to a completely new culture once and having a great time doing it that way, he refuses to do it again.

Fortunately for Dusty and the audience, the answers aren’t entirely up to him. “The Big Door Prize” features a new character in each episode. Dusty and Cass remain at the heart of the series, but each subsequent half-hour makes sure to add wrinkles to the city’s journey by appreciating the true potential of one more citizen. As with any ensemble, some arcs are stronger than others, but Read balances the episodes so that even if the new focus isn’t perfectly polished, the main characters are there to keep things from humming along. More importantly, each additional perspective helps you assess all the aspects necessary to answer the question (“What is your potential?”) without a definitive answer.

Well, unless you believe in the Morpho card.

grade: B

“The Big Door Prize” premieres Wednesday, March 29 on Apple TV+ with three episodes. New episodes are released weekly.

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