The opening minutes of Apple TV+s The crowded room suggest a thriller.
In 1979 New York, a disturbed young man, Danny (Tom Holland), and his agitated companion, Ariana (Sasha Lane), open fire near Rockefeller Center. When only Thomas is captured – Ariana has vanished without a trace – the cop in charge of his case (Thomas Sadoski) almost salivates at the idea that they may have nailed a serial killer.
The crowded room
It comes down to
Too long sob story.
But his colleague Rya (Amanda Seyfried) isn’t so sure. During long conversations with Danny, now in jail awaiting his trial date, she begins to weave together a picture of his life – how he got where he is, why he did what he did. When his truth is revealed, The crowded room pivots from gritty crime drama to something quite sadder and sentimental, with sadly mixed results.
Part of the problem is simply that The crowded room, created by Akiva Goldsman, is too long – it has the feel of a miniseries that might have been better suited to the confines of a two-hour movie. There’s a big enough reveal midway through the ten episodes that an entire episode is devoted to following the story so far from the perspective of a completely different character. It’s only then that the central premise of the series comes into full focus, that the momentum starts to build, that we get a better understanding of what’s really at stake in Danny’s trial.
But until then, the hours can feel like a long wheel spin. The episodes are built around long conversations between Rya and Danny, in which the investigator tiptoes around sensitive spots as he gently pushes for real answers. Danny unfolds long anecdotes about his life before the arrest, which we experience as languorous scenes whose purpose is not always clear. The fact that it’s not very hard to guess the big reveal, especially if you take the initiative to Google the Daniel Keyes book that inspired the series, can make the wait more frustrating.
According to Danny, the people in his life are divided into saviors and monsters. There’s the angelic mother (Emmy Rossum) who keeps an abusive stepfather (Will Chase) under control. The dream girl (Emma Laird) who floats in and out like a cloud on a breeze. A pair of mentors – one a burly Israeli landlord (Lior Raz) who doesn’t mind defending Danny with his fists, the other a king man-esque caricature of an English gentleman (Jason Isaacs) dispensing life lessons. And of course there’s Ariana, the troubled roommate who spends her nights getting lost in sex and drugs, and her mornings crying about how empty she feels after it all.
Most of the characters are initially drawn in vague, stereotyped lines, all the better for representing Danny’s blinkered point of view, though the fact that they’re purposely two-dimensional doesn’t necessarily make them any less boring. But part of the importance of The crowded room lies in seeing some of them change over the course of the season as the story opens up to consider them in a new light. Rossum is particularly compelling – as maddening as it is heartbreaking – as a woman who knows full well that conventional wisdom often places the blame for troubled children on mothers, and who, perhaps, has more reasons than most to fear the backlash against her. comes off. Meanwhile, Chase somehow makes himself more chilling by downplaying his threat as a vicious man so confident in his power that he rarely needs to yell to get his point across.
Seyfried exudes curiosity and warmth as Rya, who gradually gains Danny’s trust. although The crowded room takes the trouble to give her a personal life, complete with an unruly child (Thomas Parobek) and a pushy mother (Laila Robins), the role mainly requires her to cycle through different shades of anxiety. Holland, as the main attraction, does get some chances to show off its range beyond anything else Spider-Man movie might pay him – but not as much as you might expect since Danny seems sweet and scared for most of the series.
He has good reason to be terrified. The crowded room makes it impossible not to feel sorry for Danny, who seems to be kicked endlessly through life, both literally and metaphorically. When his attorney (Christopher Abbott) argues in court that “everyone has failed this kid – his parents, his teachers, his neighbors, his friends, his community,” it’s an understatement given how often we have seen us. actively harm him. The miniseries is well-intentioned, which means he needs to generate empathy for Danny and other souls like him, and it’s convincing in that case that he needs care, not punishment. But especially in the first few episodes, I wondered at what point we might go from witnessing his misery to wallowing in it, and whether this resolute focus on the worst things that happened to Danny might not reduce him to his traumas. .
The crowded room eventually brings more compassion into Danny’s life – sometimes from touchingly unexpected sources, like the prison buddy who simply shrugs Danny’s eccentricities, or Ariana’s ex, who Danny has never met but intuitively feels he could use a friend. “Please tell me you’re not saying love is the answer,” one character moans to another in the penultimate episode, only to be told, “I really am.”
By the final minutes, the series has veered into sentimentality. But it’s hard to say where all these big feelings eventually lead. The resolute focus on Danny, and the unique contours of his story, make it difficult to extract a grander message beyond a sense that this particular young man deserves our sympathy. For all its sprawling cast, extravagant episodes and lavish sets, The crowded room ultimately suffers from a lack of ambition.