Adaptations are all the rage right now; from newspaper columns to books and short stories, almost everything on TV is based on other source material. Apple TV+’s latest offering, Roar, is another spoke in that wheel. The feminist anthology series is based on the Cecelia Ahern short story collection and takes on a surrealist tone: think a female-focused Black Mirror. Ahern’s book featured 30 stories, while the anthology series adapted by Glow creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch only features eight of them on screen.
Each episode includes high caliber actresses like Issa Rae, Nicole Kidman, Merritt Wever and more, and zeroes in on issues and anxieties that women face in the world today and makes them literal. After childbirth, a career-woman is literally eaten alive by her many responsibilities and guilt; a student takes up a relationship with a duck she meets at the park after a string of failed relationships, only to find out that he’s not any better than his human counterparts. Each chapter examines the trauma that women often endure silently, finally holding space for females to unpack it.
For many of the stories (over eight episodes, all of which were available for review), the slip into the surreal is subtle. In the Rae-led episode, she plays an author whose book is being optioned for an on-screen adaptation. As she takes meeting after meeting with white male executives, she finds not only her ideas disappearing from the project but also her literal self, culminating in a party in which no one can see her. It’s a story about agency and how women often feel in the workplace: invisible and afraid to take a stand for fear of retaliation.
Betty Gilpin’s episode about a trophy wife housed on a literal shelf in her husband’s office harps on fears that women are often judged based on their looks or have to reconcile their beauty with their intelligence. Gilpin plays the role note perfect, oscillating between excitement at being her husband’s prized possession and boredom in no longer living a life of her own. Her magnum opus when she breaks out of her prison takes a little too long to reach its climax, but ultimately conveys the feelings of freedom that many women have felt after leaving abusive situations.
Other standout episodes delve into issues of stepping out from behind your family’s shadows and feeling thankful for your partner’s quirks, aided by a The Ultimatum style husband-swap. But not all of the episodes land. Kidman’s vignette “The Woman Who Ate Photographs” aims for existential dread as it centers on a mother who can’t connect with her teenage son nor her ailing mother, and resorts to literally eating photographs to bring her back to happier times. But the vehicle by which the issue is delivered—her photo eating habit—feels less poignant than other episodes’ gimmicks and less connected to the larger story. The resolution also doesn’t really indicate her character’s path forward, as many of the other iterations do.
While the show brings a lot of pertinent issues into focus through its absurdist premise, it’s not always actually saying something at the conclusion. There are some brief moments that hint at power shifts or peace of mind or the ability of the character to take solace in the relationships around her, but the series doesn’t really offer any answers to these existential questions or add anything more to the story beyond the metaphor come to life.
So, while stylish and provocative, the series ultimately falls a little flat in its message. If a woman’s plight is to suffer, then Roar doesn’t end up giving its women a way out.
Roar premieres Friday, April 15th on Amazon Prime Video.
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, Vulture and more, and is featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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