The Crowded Room Series Premiere Review: Top Talent Saddled With A Dull, Predictable Story

In spite of some great acting talent, the series premiere of The Crowded Room does little to make you want to keep watching.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

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The experience of filming AppleTV+‘s new miniseries The Crowded Room was apparently too much for Tom Holland to go through without taking a significant break afterward. The first three episodes began streaming today, and it makes Holland’s sacrifice seem that much more regretful that the finished product isn’t very compelling. The first episode “Exodus,” starts off in a promising direction, but it quickly becomes predictable and depends far too much on a “surprise” that isn’t surprising if you know even a few details about the real life story The Crowded Room is based upon.

The Crowded Room opens with the anxious Danny (Holland) taking a subway to Rockefeller Center, carrying something in a wrinkled paper bag with his companion Ariana (Sasha Lane) doing her best to keep him on mission. Beneath the iconic golden statue of Prometheus, Danny holds a man at gunpoint but chokes. When the gunfire starts the man and some other bystanders are injured, Ariana disappears, and Danny runs like hell.

Danny makes it home long enough to have a quick, tense conversation with the mysterious landlord Yitzhak (Lior Raz), but it isn’t long before the police show up.

Even though no one dies in the shooting, the police begin suspecting Danny is a serial killer because none of the people he mentions — including Yitzhak and Ariana — can be found. They bring in the specialist Professor Rya Goodwin (Amanda Seyfried) to interrogate Danny. Most of the rest of The Crowded Room premiere unfolds from Danny’s point of view as he tells Goodwin about when he first met the missing Ariana and Yitzhak.

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Amanda Seyfried and Tom Holland in The Crowded Room

The Crowded Room is based on the 1981 nonfiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes, and herein lies one of the biggest problems with this miniseries. As a viewer, far too much of your appreciation of the story hinges on a surprise about Danny and many of the other characters you meet. But if you know about the book the series is based on — you don’t necessarily have to have read it, you just need to know the absolute basics of the real life events that inspired the book and the show — then watching “Exodus” will make you sleepy enough to issue some kind of operation of heavy machinery warning.

This might not be that much of a problem if the story leading up to the reveal were at all engaging, but as soon as the gunfire in Rockefeller Center stops in The Crowded Room premiere, so does your interest. The story Danny tells Goodwin is so predictable they could’ve saved us all the time and just rolled it out on a chalkboard in a series of bullet points.

Troubled teen has an abusive stepfather. Troubled teen is a socially awkward pariah who falls for a pretty girl. The pretty girl crushes the troubled teen’s dreams, and the jock beats up the troubled teen.

You could call The Crowded Room premiere at least one or two Stranger Things storylines. You could call it Joker or Lucas or The Boy Who Could Fly. I imagine that the only reason Amanda Seyfried’s character manages to stay awake during the whole thing is that the series is set in the 1970s, when this story wasn’t quite as tired.

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Amanda Seyfried, clearly after having had a few energy drinks, in The Crowded Room

Let’s say, for example, you were to watch Fight Club for the first time already knowing the nature of the relationship between the characters played by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. But, hypothetically, pretend that instead of the exciting, fast-paced, intellectually dizzying story that leads up to the big (what for you would be) non-surprise, you got a long drama that moved at the pace of The Remains of the Day that — rather than focusing on the bizarre relationship between Norton and Pitt — revolved around Norton’s office job and how much he enjoyed making photocopies. That would be something akin to the experience of watching The Crowded Room.

Perhaps The Crowded Room gets better, but I can’t imagine a good reason to keep watching. Have a better imagination? The first three episodes are streaming right now on AppleTV+.