Review: Tom Holland shines in a crowded and generic drama, ‘The Crowded Room’

Tom Holland

The Crowded Room is a new Apple TV+ series that features Tom Holland in a departure from his usual nice-guy roles. In this 10-part show, Holland plays Danny Sullivan, a man accused of committing a series of heinous crimes. The concept of casting a typically innocent and likable actor as a villainous character has become a trend in recent years, captivating audiences with its subversion of expectations.

The show opens with a gripping sequence where Danny and a mysterious woman named Ariana, played by Sasha Lane, engage in a shootout at the Rockefeller Center. From the start, it is clear that The Crowded Room is about something intriguing and suspenseful. Those familiar with the source material, Daniel Keyes’ acclaimed 1981 non-fiction novel “The Minds of Billy Milligan,” will have an idea of what that something is. However, the show deliberately keeps its cards close to its chest, revealing little in the first few episodes.

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Danny Sullivan is a quiet and lank-haired artist who finds himself in the custody of the New York Police Department. It is there that he meets psychologist Rya Goodwin, portrayed by Amanda Seyfried, who is tasked with unraveling the complexities of his life. Rya claims she is there simply to talk to Danny, but their conversations delve deep into his personal history.

Tom Holland, known for his roles in “Wolf Hall” on the small screen and as Spider-Man on the big screen, proves his versatility as an actor. He effortlessly portrays the doe-eyed naivety that gradually becomes more unsettling as he portrays a high schooler despite being a 27-year-old man. Danny’s character is a challenging one, as he must be both attractive to the opposite sex and vulnerable to bullying from jock bullies. Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Rya offers little that distinguishes her from an AI chatbot, especially since The Crowded Room keeps its secrets tightly guarded.

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The show’s narrative structure creates two distinct storylines: one that follows a procedural format with Danny and Rya as the main focus, and another that serves as a coming-of-age tale set in the 1970s. Trying to reconcile these two threads is like attempting to merge an episode of “Line of Duty” with a volume of “Stranger Things.” The intended genre of The Crowded Room remains elusive, occasionally flirting with horror elements but mostly staying within the realm of a bildungsroman. Each scene is imbued with an air of cryptic mystery, hinting at something more beneath the surface.

However, the show suffers from a generic and clichéd execution. The plot and dialogue often fall into well-worn tropes, lacking originality and freshness. Danny’s voiceover declares, “I wasn’t a very popular kid at school. Turns out sad and moody didn’t do me any favors at home either.” The inclusion of scenes involving drug dealers, gay clubs, and international paternity searches feels borrowed from any modern young adult story. Additionally, visual imagery such as fireflies, dancing kites, and eclipses feels trite and uninspired.

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While much has been made of Emmy Rossum’s casting as Danny’s mother, the most perplexing aspect of The Crowded Room is its lack of clear direction. Creator Akiva Goldsman, who previously won an Oscar for writing “A Beautiful Mind,” seems to have had a story to tell but struggled to bring it to life effectively.

Despite the talented cast, including Emmy Rossum and Jason Isaacs in the role of an urbane Englishman, The Crowded Room fails to deliver a cohesive and satisfying viewing experience. The individual elements show promise, but the combination of these components results in a scrambled and unsatisfying narrative. The show’s only standout feature is its exquisite title sequence, which adds a touch of artistic flair.

In conclusion, The Crowded Room may have its merits, but it ultimately falls short of expectations. It fails to fully capitalize on its intriguing premise and talented cast, leaving viewers with a muddled and underwhelming experience.