THE CROWDED ROOM. As good as promised? We review the first 3 episodes
Many people have been waiting for this series for years. Including me, who to this day considers the book The Minds of Billy Milligan, which Akiva Goldsman (author of the screenplay for A Beautiful Mind from 2001) was inspired by while creating The Crowded Room, considers to be one of the best reports I’ve ever read. After Amanda Seyfried’s fantastic (Emmy-winning) performance in The Dropout and the fairly high-profile media storm surrounding Tom Holland’s mental health problems allegedly contracted while working on the production, The Crowded Room landed at the top of my personal must-see list as soon as possible.
The screen adaptation of such brilliant literature deserved its quality and precise, respectful exploration of the emotionality of the main characters, which from the very beginning was the mainstream of the book, based on the story of the serial killer Billy Mulligan suffering from multiple personality disorder. So answering the question of whether the creators of the series after the first three episodes managed to meet my and thousands of other viewers’ expectations and match the original by Daniel Keyes, I still have extremely mixed feelings, which in itself may lead you to the fact that not everything turned out so well in the end as we would like. What was missing and what has worked so far in this highly anticipated Apple Original series?
Difficult childhood, secrets and this one moment at Rockefeller Center
Danny Sullivan (Tom Holland) is an everyman, a boy with whom thousands of teenagers who are bullied in high schools can relate. He definitely prefers his own company to a group of friends, his loneliness is best soothed by painting portraits of people he meets on his way, but as we can guess – in a house where his stepfather constantly abuses him mentally and I completely control his mother, there is no place for appreciation boy’s talent. Danny falls unhappily in love, gets into trouble selling marijuana to his schoolmates, and when caught red-handed, he decides to quit school and move out of his toxic home. He is sheltered by the mysterious Yitzhak (Lior Raz) and Ariana (Sasha Lane), the latter playing an important role in his life from the beginning. Alienated, Danny makes a connection with her, the girl confides in him about her complicated and painful past, and finally persuades her to commit a crime, which we witness at the very beginning of the first episode. Danny and Ariana stage an armed robbery in the heart of New York City. That’s why the boy ends up in custody and is interviewed by police psychologist Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried). It is thanks to flashbacks that we learn about Danny’s past, we observe what led to the decision to take the shot, why he is now in handcuffs, and Ariana has vanished without a trace. We look for answers to these and many other questions in the premiere episodes of The Crowded Room, which, unfortunately, is not the best start to this story.
Why so little, why so empty
The first thought that comes to my mind after watching the premiere episodes of The Crowded Room is why from such a strong and emotionally rich story it was decided to show us only a fraction of its true potential. For viewers unfamiliar with the biography of the character played by Tom Holland, both his acting portrayal and the script itself may seem bland and even boring. After reading the short description of the production, we expect a psychological portrait of the murderer, maneuvering between what is real and what happens only in the criminal’s head. What we get ultimately can be compared to a melodrama about a boy who has been wronged by life, not a bit indicating that he may be mentally unstable. It was not decided to throw us even a bit of uncertainty, riddles that will be solved in the next episodes – Danny Sullivan played by Holland is a character with practically zero charisma, which, considering the potential of his character, probably hurts the most after the screening. Another point that fails so far is the total waste of the heroine, played by Seyfried – a psychologist trying to get details from Sullivan about the attack on Rockefeller Center. The show she gave in The Dropout suggested that maybe this time her talent will be appreciated by the director – but she is only Danny’s shadow, she gets relatively little screen time, which hopefully will turn into a plus in the upcoming episodes.
Real tension is only served to us in the pilot, in which the rapid pace of the action is accompanied by uncertainty, an unsolved puzzle and a more or less successful attempt to explain it. The further the plot goes, the more we delve into the past of the main character, the more tedious and troublesome it becomes to follow the series closely. I still believe that this underutilized beginning is just a warm-up for the actual chapter of Billy’s story that will open up in the coming episodes. So far, The Crowded Room is closer to uncomplicated morals than to the suspenseful psychological series it was supposed to become. The cinematography by Ksenia Sereda and the intriguing soundtrack by Trevor Gureckis will surely impress the viewer. At the moment, these are the only noteworthy elements of the production, which seems to take too long to get going, and, what I’m most afraid of, deviates from the direction it should follow from the first minutes.
Not surprisingly, positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes are rare. Danny’s story seems to drag on mercilessly, so far having basically nothing revealing to say. Given that the series will have 10 episodes, my concerns are growing as to whether the next parts will be able to rehabilitate a bit and give viewers reasons to wait for the continuation. Tom Holland doesn’t seem to bring anything innovative to the character of Danny, with each subsequent quarter we wonder what we are really looking for in this story and why it takes us so long. I give credit to the next episodes, although I am already aware that The Crowded Room started completely wrong, which does not bode too much luck for the rest of it.