‘Apples Never Fall’ Review: Annette Bening Leads Peaco*ck’s Well-Acted but Underwhelming Family Whodunit (2024)

Peaco*ck’s Apples Never Fall is practically brimming over with secrets. The biggest one, sitting right in the center, is the question of what really happened to Joy Delaney (Annette Bening), a recently retired tennis coach whose disappearance sends her family into a tailspin. The search for that truth uncovers deeper ones still, in the process unearthing hatchets that had seemed buried and reopening wounds that had appeared healed. In time, we’ll examine every crack laying just beneath the Delaneys’ picture-perfect façade, from seemingly every angle.

Yet once all the dirt has been dug up, it’s difficult not to feel a twinge of disappointment at how shallow this world still seems. Apples Never Fall has plenty to recommend it, including some fine performances and a shrewd grasp of the Delaney clan’s complicated dynamics. But in the absence of a strong perspective or a compelling backdrop, Melanie Marnich’s adaptation of the novel by Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) struggles to pop onscreen.

Apples Never Fall

The Bottom LineFine performances in a middling mystery.

Airdate: Thursday, March 14 (Peaco*ck)
Cast: Annette Bening, Sam Neill, Jake Lacy, Alison Brie, Georgia Flood, Conor Merrigan Turner, Essie Randles, Jeanine Serrales, Dylan Thuraisingham
Creator: Melanie Marnich, based on the book by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall wastes no time establishing its central mystery. The opening minutes linger on an ominous shot of Joy’s bicycle abandoned in the middle of the road, front wheel bent and blood smeared over its pedals. But though the search for Joy’s whereabouts comprises the series’ narrative spine, its heart lies in the family drama that got Joy to that place. Once Joy’s adult children realize she’s gone missing, their suspicions fall initially on Savannah (Georgia Flood), the grifter who’d recently ingratiated herself with their parents before abruptly exiting their lives. Eventually, though, the Delaney siblings are forced to consider the possibility that the true culprit might be their father, Stan (Sam Neill, balanced right on the knife’s edge between heartbreaking and menacing).

If Stan hurt her, though, what does that say about the home they were raised in? The series sets about answering that question with frequent flashbacks to untangle the knotty web of built-up resentments, unresolvable misunderstandings, and flawed life lessons that, to this day, define the Delaneys as individuals and the family as a unit. “Stan Delaney does not forgive. He files things away, and he stews,” one of his sons remarks, but in truth the same could be said about any of the clan.

The cast share a comfortable, often amusing chemistry that reflects a lifetime of intimacy. When an angry Brooke (Essie Randles) shuts her bedroom door on a remorseful Amy (Alison Brie), Amy simply sails in through the adjoining bathroom instead; one gets the sense that these sisters have acted out this exact sequence of events thousands of times before.

Its most poignant insight, however, is that any shared history can contain several contradictory truths at once. Logan (Conor Merrigan Turner) might remember their upbringing as a happy one while Troy (Jake Lacy) recalls it as dominated by Stan’s anger, and both brothers might be right. Joy might be justified in feeling hurt that her husband and children have failed to appreciate her sacrifices — and Bening particularly shines as a woman starting to realize just how much of her own self she’s put on hold — but Stan might also have a point when he calls out her self-imposed martyrdom.

But as precisely as Apples Never Fall nails the intricacies of the Delaney household, it struggles to build much of a world around it. The series occasionally gets funny, especially when Savannah’s driving its wilder swerves; she’s the one who gets to scheme, to flirt, to snap on a dime between sickly-sweet and ice-cold. Mostly, though, the mood is one of restraint — it’s not acid enough to burn, not tense enough to thrill, not earnest enough to move. West Palm Beach, Florida, which the Delaneys call home, is portrayed as a generic upper-middle-class suburb, with none of the wealthy coastal California specificity that made HBO’s Big Little Lies seem to extend beyond the screen. The clan’s relationship to their community is likewise barely defined, beyond some vague comments about how beloved Stan and Joy were as tennis coaches.

The Delaneys indeed flounder whenever they dare to leave the nest. Apples Never Fall assigns each of the siblings a personal arc and an eponymous episode, so each can get a moment in the spotlight. These well-intentioned efforts fall flat, though, when the other characters populating the subplots are paper-thin. Often, the scripts resort to having the characters simply spell out what meaning we’re supposed to take from these detours. “You destroyed your surrogate father because you don’t have the balls to confront your real one,” a character tells Troy after he betrays the boss (Timm Sharp) we’re told, rather than shown, loved him like a son. Not even Lacy’s achingly vulnerable performance can keep that element of Troy’s journey from feeling ham-fisted.

By the time Apples Never Fall reaches its (surprising, if underwhelming) conclusion after seven hour-long episodes, its insularity has rendered the entire clan curiously flat. The series is so focused on how each of the Delaneys define themselves against the others that it starts to seem as if these people only exist in relation to one another — as if even we, as outsiders, can only hope to penetrate so much of their depths.

Still, despite its shortcomings as a mystery or a character study, the drama succeeds as a reminder to show our families some grace. Shortly before Joy’s disappearance, she approaches Stan with what he presumes will be an apology for a brutal argument they had recently. But she has other ideas. “I don’t want you to forgive me,” she explains. “I want you to understand me.” Perhaps, the series suggests, some wrongs can never be made right. Perhaps when it comes to those you love, it’s worth trying to live with them anyway.

‘Apples Never Fall’ Review: Annette Bening Leads Peaco*ck’s Well-Acted but Underwhelming Family Whodunit (2024)
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