Roar on Apple review: You'll never look at ducks in the same way again
Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo and more star in the adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's short story collection.
The TV landscape is saturated with adaptions of best-selling, critically-acclaimed books, so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking original ideas have fallen dramatically out of fashion. Several of Netflix's most-watched shows in its history (Bridgerton, The Witcher, 13 Reasons Why, Maid and You) were all lifted from the page, and the book-to-TV pipeline shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, with some of this year's most hotly anticipated titles all beginning their lives as novels.
Roar, the newest addition to the Apple TV+ roster, is an anthology series based on Cecelia Ahern's short story collection of the same name. Like the source material, it explores several stories, each with its own female protagonist, that will resonate with much of its female viewership.
Regardless of age, race, relationship status, career and myriad other factors, the through line remains the same: being a woman is hard and no one is immune from the whip hand of the patriarchy. Whether it's the shame borne by being a working mother or the deadly impact of incel culture, domestic abuse or caregiving responsibilities, all of which disproportionately impact women, the hurdles are vast and varied, and they bear down on all women in some capacity.
But that gut-punching reality aside, the series is not without levity – there are humorous, novel and extraordinary moments scattered throughout that will stop you from spiralling into a black hole from which you'll remain trapped for eternity. One scene, in particular, is the wildest thing you'll probably ever witness on-screen, and that includes anything that happened in Tiger King. You'll never look at ducks in the same way again.
And crucially, Roar is not entirely without hope either, with a number of episodes signalling a brighter future for our female protagonists – not because the world has suddenly changed and they won't have to shoulder the same burdens, but because they're finally able to voice their grievances or have acquired the tools necessary to survive.
There's great skill in communicating just how unflinchingly cruel life can be for women without making female viewers wants to hurl themselves down a well.
There's good pedigree both in front of and behind the camera: Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch of GLOW fame created and co-wrote the series, and the cast is a who's who of female heavyweights, boasting Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae, Cynthia Erivo and Meera Syal, among others, all of whom are predictably doing good work. But the promise doesn't quite match the final execution.
While the series is having important conversations about the demands and trauma that women are forced to endure in assorted degrees for the simple crime of being women, the approach it adopts doesn't always work, with the form rather than the content often taking centre stage.
In The Women Who Was Fed By A Duck, it's impossible to move past the fact that Merrit Weaver's character is in a relationship with a bird. The physical and emotional mistreatment she suffers is intended to be the focus, but you find yourself utterly distracted by the bizarre framework in which it unfolds.
In The Woman Who Ate Photographs, Kidman stars as the titular photograph-eater who scrambles to hold onto precious childhood memories as she loses her mother to dementia. But what ensues following her consumption of those snapshots in time has the look and feel of a flashback from a soapy Lifetime drama, rather than the spellbinding effect we were promised.
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Magical realism, which works so seamlessly in Donald Glover's Atlanta, adding further layers to the storytelling, doesn't quite have the intended impact here. The absurd details are intended to amplify the commentary but instead, you're left wondering about the physical mechanics of whiling away your days on a ledge à la The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf, or just how shredded your insides would be following a sustained period of scoffing photos.
The dialogue, too, has a habit of whacking you over the head with a particular point when a pained or puzzled expression from a character, or the moment prior, would have been sufficient. There's no need to be quite so explicit when many viewers will likely be well-versed in the subject matter on the table.
But regardless of its limitations, Roar is an entertaining, timely watch that you'll gobble up, in part thanks to episodes that are no longer than 38 minutes, with some as brief as 30 – a delectable treat in an age where many creatives have seemingly forgotten that less can be more.
A willingness to engage with bold storytelling – there are much less challenging works that Flahive and Mensch could have chosen to adapt – also deserves praise.
But whether the series does anything that the novel doesn't do or goes a step further and exceeds Ahern's work, as we've seen from some adaptations, is up for debate. Even the golden age of television, with its bells and whistles, doesn't always match the magic of cracking a good book.