High Desert Series Premiere Review: A Formless, Aimless, Incoherent Comedy

While it's a series full of wonderful talent, High Desert is sadly a comedy without laughs, packed with mysteries you won't care about.

By Michileen Martin | Published

high desert premiere


The three-episode High Desert series premiere streamed on Apple TV+ this week and if you had no idea the series existed, don’t worry — you’re not alone. After watching all three episodes, I’m beginning to wonder if a lack of publicity was intentional on the streamer’s part. In spite of a stacked cast led by Patricia Arquette (True Romance), an Emmy-winning director, and a promising premise, High Desert is a comedy that tries too hard and whose drug-addled hero is one of the least likable protagonists in recent memory.

Arquette plays Peggy, who is enjoying plenty of wealth when we meet her in the High Desert premiere thanks to the weed and pills she and her husband Denny (Matt Dillon) have hidden all over the house. The DEA sends Denny to prison in 2013, and when the story catches up to the present day, Denny is still in the Big House, Peggy is working as a minimum wage performer at the Western theme park Pioneer Town, and her mother (Bernadette Peters) has been dead for a few weeks.

Without her mother around, Peggy’s sister and brother-in-law want her out of the house, and she scrambles for a way to become independent again. Seeing a commercial with private investigator Bruce (Brad Garrett), Peggy abruptly decides that’s the direction her life needs to take. She visits Bruce unannounced in the hopes of new employment, as well as in hopes of recovering money a coworker claims the P.I. scammed her out of.

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Rupert Friend and Patricia Arquette in High Desert

Most of Peggy’s money-making schemes revolve around the eccentric Guru Bob (Rupert Friend), a former weatherman who becomes something of a New Age cult leader in the wake of a public breakdown. She first learns about him in the High Desert premiere through one of her coworkers, and she soon becomes convinced he not only owns a priceless Picasso, but that he could hold the key to finding a missing woman.

If, like me, you adored Patricia Arquette’s performance in Severance and so became equally excited about what she had in store for the High Desert premiere, lower your expectations. I can’t decide whether it’s because Arquette was miscast, the direction is lacking, or the writing is just not good. Regardless of the reason, I am convinced — and there is not a drop of sarcasm in this — that if you find Peggy even remotely likable, your generosity of spirit utterly dwarfs my own.

Peggy is a collection of high-functioning druggie stereotypes, and is constantly either loudly clueless, vomiting thoughtless insights over every stranger she meets, or just lying so hard she convinces herself it’s the truth. She can’t go more than five minutes without displaying some kind of “cool” crazy; like having a conversation with cactus flowers or yelling at strangers to verify she’s not dead.

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Patricia Arquette in High Desert

She never stops talking and often stumbles into complete incoherence — not drunken, slurring incoherence for comedic effect, but just seeming as if everyone in the cast and crew was too meek to tell her “You’re supposed to be able to understand the dialogue” — though this gets a little bit better after the first episode of the High Desert premiere.

The humor is ham-handed, predictable, and just feels like a random selection of crazy. Peggy goes to do a thing, the person Peggy interacts with is a soulless square, Peggy says/does something crazy. Oh ho ho, that Peggy, what a character.

The story itself is far too crowded both in terms of all the different paths it takes and the number of characters. A small army of soon-to-be-forgotten but far too-important characters is rammed down your throat as soon as the first episode of the High Desert premiere.

The co-worker who complains Bruce scammed her out of money, which is what gets Peggy to visit him in the first place? Completely forgotten after Peggy worms her way into a job.

It could be that what you see in the High Desert premiere is actually an ingeniously woven tapestry of awesome, but if so there’s no way to see it in these three episodes. Scenes often transition abruptly and without explanation, like when one second Guru Bob and Peggy are talking in Bob’s house, and the next a cartoonish woman with a knife is torturing Bob in the garage.

The High Desert premiere is probably the least impressive of all of Apple TV+’s original content I’ve seen so far. You won’t be getting a season finale review, because I simply cannot bear the thought of watching any more of it. I love most of Arquette’s other work, so here’s hoping Severance Season 2 shows up soon and the memory of this “comedy” can be wiped from the skulls of me and the six other people unlucky enough to watch it.