review

Apples Never Fall: Another middle-class white lady family crime drama

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Annette Bening as Joy Delaney makes her understated performance look effortless.
Annette Bening as Joy Delaney makes her understated performance look effortless. Credit: PEACOCK/Vince Valitutti/PEACOCK

Apples Never Fall is Annette Bening’s first TV role and you can totally see why she would’ve gone for it. On paper, the series is the kind of prestige drama worthy of Bening’s talent.

The story is about the Delaney family – mother Joy (Bening), father Stan (Sam Neill) and adult kids Amy (Alison Brie), Troy (Jake Lacy), Brooke (Essie Randles) and Logan (Conor Merrigan Turner). They’re well-to-do but not obscenely wealthy and seemingly close, especially Joy to her children.

When Joy disappears one day, two parallel timelines (flashbacks and the present-day investigation) reveal there were many secrets and seams in the Delaney family.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Their relationships start to fracture as resentments, some long-held, break through the surface. First, their suspicions turn to a young woman, Savannah (Georgia Flood), Joy and Stan had taken in some months earlier. With obfuscations and a sob story, the kids were never certain of Savannah’s motives or her identity.

But focusing on an outsider only held off the real questions for a little while. The worst possibility is that the threat was closer to home.

Their father Stan is an overbearing and volatile man who allows old grudges to fester. Troy and Logan have different connections to their dad and that soon starts to create a chasm between them.

The episodes are told through the perspective of a different character so the story starts to fill in as you see each person’s experience of Joy’s disappearance and how they really feel being part of the Delaneys. Harmony is an illusion.

APPLES NEVER FALL -- "The Delaneys" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Annette Bening as Joy Delaney -- (Photo by: Vince Valitutti/PEACOCK)
Episodes are told through the perspective of a different character Credit: Vince Valitutti/Peacock

The production, filmed in Queensland but standing in for Florida, is glossy and the cast is impressive. Neill’s Stan is always skating on the edge of dangerous and misunderstood. Of course, being an arsehole doesn’t automatically make you guilty of your wife’s disappearance.

Bening, in particular, has so much gravitas and she makes her understated performance look effortless. If there’s one thing that keeps you hooked, it’s that you want to know if she’s going to be OK. Because she’s freakin’ Annette Bening and you want vengeance against anyone who would hurt her.

But Apples Never Fall is shallow. It doesn’t delve deep into the specificities of either the Delaneys or their community centred on the Delaneys’ tennis academy.

What you get instead is another relatively generic family crime drama about upper-middle-class white people with secrets. And there are already heaps of those, few of which are distinct from one another other than what illustrious star, like Bening, it managed to cast.

In two years’ time will anyone really remember the difference between Apples Never Fall and The Last Thing He Told Me? The latter is a Jennifer Garner drama about a middle-class woman with a seemingly ideal family who discovers her husband had a lot of secrets when he mysteriously disappears.

APPLES NEVER FALL -- "The Delaneys" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Annette Bening as Joy Delaney -- (Photo by: Vince Valitutti/PEACOCK)
Sam Neill as Stan. Credit: Vince Valitutti/Peacock

Or Apples Never Fall and Little Fires Everywhere, a Reese Witherspoon series about a middle-class woman whose suburban life is disrupted with the revelation of, you guessed it, family secrets.

Witherspoon is partly to blame for this current trend because it was Big Little Lies that kicked it off. That series’ lush aesthetics and compulsive central mystery set the template for all that followed – and many, many followed. None, including Big Little Lies’ unnecessary second season, have been as good.

In the same way Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl spawned dozens of mystery thrillers with “girl” or “woman” in the title. It went on for years.

And Liane Moriarty, who wrote the books from which Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers and Apples Never Fall were adapted (and the upcoming The Last Anniversary, yet another series from Nicole Kidman’s production company, her third collaboration with Moriarty). It’s all very samey.

The truly awful The Undoing was upper-class New Yorkers but its vibes shared the same DNA.

Of course, it’s a wonderful thing that female characters are being centred in expensive productions with marquee names. And they’re not just “strong” female leads, they’re flawed and secretive and they make bad choices. And it’s also great that female storytellers are given the platform to explore those characters’ interiority, albeit not always successfully.

Lie pack Reese with the cast of Big Little Lies.
Big Little Lies started the current trend. Credit: HBO

But the industry seems to be obsessed with one type of female character and they’re barely bothering to shade them in. They’re almost always white, middle-class and middle-aged, so no wonder there’s much ennui floating about.

It’s become boring and too familiar, and it’s a limited view of “feminist” storytelling.

The “underbelly” of suburbia has frequently made for biting exposes (Stepford Wives, Desperate Housewives), of the malaise and malevolence simmering beneath manicured lawns. But there used to be more creativity and imagination in telling these stories. At least Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, as derivative and chaotic as it was, attempted to be withering and interesting.

There are in the works further seasons of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers (god help us). It’s exhausting.

There is so much more life and colour to women’s experiences.

There’s Insecure (thirtysomething black women in LA), GLOW (diverse women trying to launch a wrestling competition), I May Destroy You (young black woman’s experience of sexual assault in London), Kevin Can F**k Himself (lower socioeconomic woman in an unhappy marriage with a lout) and Sex Education (British teen series with gender-diverse characters).

Even a Disney superhero series, Ms Marvel, is centred on a Pakistani-American teen and features an episode about the history and intergenerational trauma of the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan. That’s far more interesting TV.

It’s not even that Apples Never Fall is terrible, it’s actually mostly fine. But it’s just another indistinguishable series in a trend that has long worn out its welcome. We demand more for Annette Bening.

Apples Never Fall is on Binge from March 15

Comments

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 18-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 18 April 202418 April 2024

Tears as Bondi Junction Westfield reopens for people to grieve and reflect.