Roar operates in different registers, as is often the case with anthology series that have a common theme and diverse contributors. The eight-episode show is based on Cecelia Ahern’s short story collection of the same name. Written and directed by women, featuring a cruise ship of acting talent, and counting Nicole Kidman as one of the producers, the series is being streamed on Apple TV+.
The show upends both conventional representations of women and genres that have relegated women to the sidelines. The themes include self-awareness, emancipation and healthy compromise. The fabular conceit of each of the stories is indicated by their titles, which are out of the fairy tale book that little girls didn’t read when they were growing up.
Nicole Kidman also appears in the affecting The Woman Who Ate Photographs, directed by Kim Gehrig and written by Liz Flahive. The all-too-familiar relationship between Robin (Kidman) and her mother (Judy Davis), who is in the early stages of dementia, is perfectly captured by Robin’s confession that she can neither stand her mother nor stand to lose her.
The story that fully lives up to the overall emphasis on surreal comedy revolves around a sexual crime that is investigated by the victim. The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder has been wittily written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and crisply directed by Anya Adams.
Rebecca (Alison Brie) hangs around after her murder but is unable to communicate her presence to the investigating police detectives. The episode cleverly dissects the devices used in crime dramas, including male officers making sweeping assumptions about women who die horrible and untimely deaths.
It’s no coincidence that the detectives are played by Christopher Lowell, who played a sexual predator in the feminist drama Promising Young Woman, and Hugh Dancy, the brilliant serial killer profiler from Hannibal. Dancy sends himself up hilariously, while Alison Brie has just the right balance between farce and poignancy.
Absurdity is on full display in two other compelling episodes. The Woman Who Was Fed By a Duck, written by Halley Feiffer and directed by Liz Flahive, is about the feathers that fly when a single medical student (Merrit Wever) befriends a talking bird she meets at the park. Wever is at the centre of a sexual adventure that ropes in a shaggy-haired animal rescue volunteer (Jason Mantzoukas).
In the period Western story The Girl Who Loves Horses, directed by So Yong Kim and written by Carly Mensch, the free-spirited Jane (Fivel Stewart) pairs up with the religious-minded Millie (Kara Hayward) to hunt down the man who killed Jane’s father. This episode has the show’s best line: “We should find more men to emotionally torment.”
There’s an Indian connection too, in the shape of Goodness Gracious Me co-creator Meera Syal. In The Woman Who Returned Her Husband, directed by Quyen Tran and written by Vera Santamaria, Syal plays Anu, who has grown tired of her husband of 37 years. Anu arranges to have Vikas (Bernard White) exchanged at a shopping centre that offers this much-needed service, but then suffers from buyer’s remorse.
Strangely, both Syal (a British citizen of Indian extraction) and White (an American actor with Tamil ancestry) speak “Indian” rather than using their natural accents. Their warm performances make up for the oversight.
The episodes are all under 40 minutes, which is sometimes too short to adequately explore the complexity of their themes. Race is the elephant in the room in The Woman Who Disappeared, directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples and written by Janine Nabers, and The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin, directed by Rashida Jones and written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch.
In The Woman Who Disappeared, a bestselling Black author (Issa Rae) gets a rude reality check about the level of seriousness with which showbiz treats the experiences of women like her. The episode rushes by too fast and ends too neatly, as does The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin, about a Black company head (Cynthia Erivo) who struggles with post-partum pressures and competition at work.
The bizarreness of The Woman Who Was Kept on A Shelf, directed by So Yong Kim and written by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, is similarly underexplored. Betty Gilpin plays the trophy wife of a millionaire (Daniel Dae Kim) who literally spends all her time perched on a shelf from where she may be displayed to the world.
How does she use the facilities? Unlike in the story about the duck, this episode doesn’t push the boundaries of black humour. And like every other episode in Roar, the excellent performances compensate for the patches of uneven writing.