Apple TV+ adds to an already stellar lineup (including The Afterparty, Servant, Black Bird, and Ted Lasso) with their new crime/mystery/thriller The Crowded Room. Starring an ensemble cast of rising talent, The Crowded Room is unique in the way it approaches how we view mental illness and trauma. Tom Holland delivers an acting masterclass that will no doubt be viewed as his best work yet. Filmed in New York City and set in the late 1970s, a tangible atmosphere and layer of grime only add to an already impressive package. Filled with shocking twists and jaw-dropping performances, The Crowded Room makes an easy case for peak television excellence.
The series opens with a harrowing shooting sequence in Rockefeller Center. A nervous, frazzled Danny (Tom Holland) and his determined female accomplice, Ariana (Sasha Lane), come face to face against the man they are trying to spook, firearm in hand. Ari snatches the gun from Danny when he freezes up, shooting at the man as he flees. Before the credits even roll, Danny has already been taken into custody. With no weapon, no bodies, and only circumstantial evidence, bringing in an expert to unravel the situation seems a no-brainer; interrogator Rya (Amanda Seyfried) fits the bill, offering her expertise and promising to “take a look.
By starting the show in this fashion, the creatives establish that they are not trying to stretch and drag out this miniseries to the point of exhaustion. Every piece of the puzzle that will soon be unlocked is vital to the endgame. Most importantly, a complete picture when it comes to mental illness is essential to gaining a full understanding of its victims. As we experience Danny’s backstory along with Rya, there is no denying its staying power.
Danny rolls back the clock to the spring of 1977, where he met Ari for the first time. The cyclical nature of the series leads directly back around to Rockefeller Center, but could the key to solving its mysteries lie even further in the past? Danny’s tale may be filled with unspeakable tragedies and uncomfortable situations; however, the coming-of-age elements and lighter moments keep the tale from becoming too grim. And yes, baby-faced Holland can still convincingly portray a high schooler at age twenty-six.
An opening credits sequence lush with Danny’s artwork paints a vivid picture of the overall world we see in The Crowded Room. Inspired by the non-fiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes, one can only imagine the true story to be as shocking, yet it never approaches being sensationalized. A 70s look and aesthetic feels authentic—Rocky II plays at the local cinema, bell bottoms and fringe reign supreme in the fashion world, and the New York City of the time appears especially trashy and sex-fueled. Not since HBO’s The Deuce has 1970s NYC been portrayed this accurately.
Furthermore, the 70s were a time where we did not know how to approach mental health as a society. In the years since, we have come a very long way in acceptance and treatment for all manner of conditions. Portraying Rya’s endless commitment to Danny’s health shines a light on the insurmountable hoops that needed to be jumped through for new medical diagnoses. I will not spoil Danny’s precise ailment here, other than to say both Seyfried and Holland make an incredibly hypnotic onscreen pairing. By the conclusion of its ten-episode run, I was so invested that I longed to see more of their characters interacting.
It is not just Holland and Seyfried that are magnificent. By nature of its decades-spanning narrative, flashback sequences, and expansion of Danny’s story, The Crowded Room hosts a variety of fascinating players. Actress Emmy Rossum, most known to television lovers for her emotional portrayal of family matriarch Fiona in Showtime’s Shameless, plays Danny’s mother Candy—one can feel the aching sadness in her eyes as she remains trapped in a “comfortable” marriage. Will Chase acts as perhaps the worst stepfather someone could ask for. Christopher Abbott’s Stan does not become relevant until later episodes, but Stan has Rya’s back on numerous different occasions even when questioning his own views. Lane’s aforementioned Ari is the fierce female figure in Danny’s life, and the cast is filled out by friends (Sam Vartholomeous, Levon Hawke), drug dealers, and morally gray men of intrigue (Jason Isaacs, Lior Raz).
A cacophony of imagery swirls at the viewer, particularly after a big reveal happens in episode six that changes the course of the action irrevocably. Due to the nature of the crime, the courtroom drama of it all is mostly saved for the final couple episodes. Throughout the run, there is a surprising LGBT angle, a despicable stepfather, triumphant victories, staggering defeats, and a satisfyingly poetic conclusion. An importance and vitality to the story being told adds the necessary dramatic weight anchored by Tom Holland’s unforgettable prowess as the lead—The Crowded Room is inescapably excellent.
Prepare to enter The Crowded Room when the first three episodes debut exclusively to Apple TV+ subscribers on Friday, June 9th.