“The Woman Who Ate Photographs”, “The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder”, “The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck”. A cursory scroll through the episode titles of Roar may give the wrong impression. This new eight-part anthology series isn’t a catalogue of offbeat human interest stories but a work of inventive, feminist fiction.
Developed by Glow co-creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive (and adapted from Cecilia Ahern’s 2018 short-story collection) for Apple TV Plus, Roar tells uncanny tales about our modern world that lay bare the absurdity of the stigmas and obstacles that women encounter in everyday life. It is also a daring foray into the surreal.
Each self-contained, female-led episode is only half an hour long and each serves less as a fleshed-out standalone tale than a pithy allegory. The show is ready to spark discourse around issues that society (particularly men) broaches with difficulty and reluctance — if at all.
The show’s fabulist approach can have a striking, disarming effect. One story about a young woman (Merritt Wever) who starts dating a talking duck begins as a whimsical comic fantasy, only to descend, unexpectedly, into a disturbing portrait of how someone ostensibly sweet can become abusive. Powerful commentary and playfulness also intersect in an engaging tale in which a ghost of a murdered woman (Alison Brie) exasperatedly watches on as two cops let their sexist prejudices guide the investigation.
An episode starring Nicole Kidman (who also executive produces) is far more muted, using the strange conceit of gorging on photos to address the fragility of connections to ageing parents and growing children.
Roar is too inconsistent to be truly satisfying. The opening episode — which follows a black author (Issa Rae) who becomes invisible when her personal memoirs are turned into a cheap empathy-inducing VR-experience for white consumers — ends too abruptly to explore its weighty themes. The closing instalment, a True Grit-style revenge Western, is much too slight.
Strong performances jar with writing that frequently lacks nuance. In one episode, a woman is kept as a mantle ornament by her husband in a painfully literal take on objectification and the trophy wife. More imaginative set-ups (such as an exploration of motherhood as body horror) are saddled with heavy-handed summaries. A metaphor, like a joke, dies when it’s followed by an explanation.
Then again, the famous debate in Woody Allen’s Manhattan comes to mind. Can trenchant satire ever compete with bricks and bats in a fight for a just cause? That Roar so openly adopts the latter tack suggests perhaps that subtlety hasn’t been overlooked, but sacrificed. Spelt out, its urgent messages can’t be missed.
On Apple TV Plus from April 15
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