How frequently do you wonder whether you’re living up to your life’s potential? Does the loaded question cross your mind once or twice every 12 months in the lead-up to a birthday or fresh new year? Does it creep around weekly due to an unfulfilling career, relationship, or lifestyle? Or are you so complacent with current circumstances that you’ve never really given it much thought, like the residents of Deerfield — the quaint, close-knit town at the center of Apple TV+‘s The Big Door Prize.
Adapted from M.O. Walsh’s 2020 novel of the same name, the new 10-episode sci-fi dramedy from Schitt’s Creek writer/EP David West Read challenges characters and viewers alike to ponder life’s existential questions, mull over their passions, and reevaluate their capabilities.
When a seemingly clairvoyant “MORPHO” machine mysteriously appears in Deerfield’s local general store and starts spitting out small blue envelopes that claim to contain recipients’ life potentials, newly 40-year-old history teacher, Dusty (Chris O’Dowd); his wife Cass (Gabrielle Dennis); their daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara); and the rest of the town collectively slip into crisis. For the low price of $2.00, the machine reveals exciting, terrifying, confusing words — from “STORYTELLER” and “ROYALTY” to “HERO” and “LIAR” — that can build or break spirits. As more people start surrendering to the machine and altering their lives to fit the most obvious definitions of their assigned MORPHO labels, relationships, values, and sanity are put to the test. Some find newfound hope, momentum, and self-belief in romanticized results, while others are anchored with disappointment and fearful that life is as good as it’s going to get. But when everyone starts searching for their own personal meaning in the cards, the show takes on a new potential of its own.
Each breezy, 30-minute episode of The Big Door Prize centers on one of the show’s many winsome characters as they discover their own life potential. The individual installments exude personality and nail sharp, succinct world-building while providing crucial context to the overarching story and seamlessly transitioning to a new main character. Quick-witted dialogue and physical gags — like a sensual dance from Cass’ mom Izzy (Crystal Fox) or a scene of Dusty scootering to Usher’s “Yeah!” that packs the same punch as Jason Segel biking to Phoebe Bridgers in Shrinking — are consistently sprinkled throughout. And even with heaps of small-town charm, Severance-levels of intrigue, and a glowing blue butterfly box, the main source of magic in the series lies in its captivating cast.
Whether they’re passive-aggressively fighting over Puffins or carefully considering the pursuit of happiness, O’Dowd and Dennis share unwavering chemistry in good times and bad. As Trina and Jacob, Amara and Sammy Fourlas effortlessly capture enhanced teen angst born from tragedy and especially awkward circumstances. Damon Gupton digs deep as Father Rueben, a priest questioning his faith, fighting alcoholism, and wondering if the MORPHO is some form of divine intervention. And “SUPERSTAR” Josh Segarra steals the spotlight every chance he gets as Giorgio, Deerfield’s prized pro-hockey star turned eccentric Italian restaurant owner.
A calming, inquisitive score successfully sells the show’s epiphanies, while striking lighting and creative, at times comical set design — from the MORPHO machine itself to the gondola in the middle of Giorgio’s restaurant, and the gold-plated door handles shaped like muscles that welcome you to his home — help set the mood.
The Big Door Prize appeals to the parts of us that put faith in online quizzes, psychic readings, and higher powers. It asks those on and off screen to look inward and assess their potentials, and in doing so, helps re-inspire a sense of self-investment. As you watch, you’ll find yourself wondering where this machine came from, what exactly it does, whether or not you’d let MORPHO shake you to your core, and of course: blue dots ass why (you’ll get this last one once you watch)? Thanks to curious questions, compelling characters, and a brilliant balance of light humor and dark fears, The Big Door Prize becomes more engrossing with each episode and we can’t wait to see it reach its true potential.
The first three episodes of The Big Door Prize premiere on Apple TV+ Wednesday, March 29. New episodes are available to stream weekly.