‘Apples Never Fall’ Review: Annette Bening’s Peaco*ck Mystery Taps Enough Juicy Twists to Bear Fruit (2024)

By all appearances, Joy (Annette Bening) and Stan Delaney (Sam Neill) have lived an idyllic life. Both were tennis champions in their youth and tennis coaches for decades later. Together, they founded the Delaney Tennis Academy in South Florida, where he helped at least one star pupil go on to win a Grand Slam. Now, they’ve sold the school and are entering retirement, hoping to spend as much time as possible with their four grown kids, Troy (Jake Lacy), Amy (Alison Brie), Logan (Conor Merrigan-Turner), and Brooke (Essie Randles). These are two people who spent their professional lives playing the sport they’ve always loved, and who still found romance, community, and connection at home. They have it all, and every bit of it is pretty darn good.

Or… is it? Like a classic family photo with one concerning detail, the Delaneys’ picturesque portrait fractures when put under sudden, unexpected pressure. One day, during a bike ride, Joy disappears. No one knows what happened, but a steady stream of troubling evidence turns the family inside out. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone suspects each other. As the cops continue their investigation and long days turn into longer nights, secrets come tumbling out like an overturned bucket of tennis balls. Yet what really happened to Joy remains just out of reach. Is she dead? Abducted? Just… gone?

Apples Never Fall” is not a complicated TV show. The seven-episode Peaco*ck limited series, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s latest novel, is a tabloid mystery rooted within a relatable (albeit extreme) family drama. Yes, the Delaneys get caught up in a frenzy of rumors and news reports, but the series isn’t all that interested in peeling back the curtain of social media (and regular media) to reveal the false realities we construct for ourselves in public or on Instagram. Nor is showrunner Melanie Marnich’s story overinvested in how an intimate family tragedy can be warped by the sudden influx of outside attention, forever warping people’s lives. “Apples Never Fall” is a mystery through and through, driven by its characters and their increasingly dramatic confessions – primarily, to each other. And it works.

Plenty such set-ups sound good on paper (literally, when it comes to Moriarty’s best-selling books) but struggle to replicate their satisfying twists and turns onscreen. For every “Big Little Lies,” there’s a “Nine Perfect Strangers” and a “Big Little Lies” Season 2. (Or, to look beyond one author at the trendy landscape of pulpy thrillers repackaged as prestige TV: For every “Sharp Objects” there are 20 “Harlan Coben’s [insert title here].”) But Marnich doesn’t let her apple-picking reach exceed the source material’s grasp. With the help of a well-cast ensemble, the series delivers the soapy satisfactions of substantial family strife and a winding mystery with motivated payoffs. It’s soundly made summer fun, arriving a few months early, not that anyone should complain.

In a series that proves adept at teasing out questions, it starts with a good one: Joy Delaney goes on a bike ride. It’s a peaceful, sun-kissed day, and she swings by the supermarket to pick up a basket of apples. But on her way home (presumably), something goes wrong. The bike is wrecked. Joy is nowhere to be seen. The apples are scattered across the road, their red skin matching the blood splattered all over the pedals.

Cut to: The kids are worried. Gathered for lunch, the four Delaney descendants discuss their mother’s curious absence. This is unlike her, they say. She wouldn’t just go silent, they say. Let’s call dad, they decide, but when the brief phone call ends, Troy immediately asks, “Is he… lying?”

From there, “Apples Never Fall” splits into two timelines: “then” and “now.” The “now” timeline tracks the family’s (and, soon enough, the cops’) continued investigation into what happened to their mom. “Then” scenes flash back to key moments in the weeks leading up to Joy’s disappearance, and to further hone the story, each episode is framed around one character’s point of view.

‘Apples Never Fall’ Review: Annette Bening’s Peaco*ck Mystery Taps Enough Juicy Twists to Bear Fruit (3)

“Logan” (the episode titles take the name of their main subject) digs into Logan’s relationships with his dad, brother, and girlfriend. When it comes to Stan, Logan’s little more than a lapdog — happy to defend his father’s questionable behavior and go along with whatever he’s got planned. As the experienced older brother, Troy tries to point this out, but Logan isn’t hearing it, leaving us to wonder if their minor beef is just typical sibling stuff or if there’s real resentment in there. “Amy” then pivots to the black sheep of the family, played with a pitch-perfect combination of entitlement and empathy by Alison Brie. Amy can’t hold down a job (even a volunteer “job”), smokes pot to ease her anxiety, and organizes hope vigils on her flagging social media handles — she’s the odd one out in the ambitious, oft-successful Delaney family, and maybe it’s curdled into a martyr-like anguish over the years? Who can say!

Brooke (a physical therapist trying to revive her business while planning a wedding to her way-too-cool restaurateur fiancée, Gina) and Troy (a venture capitalist bro who almost went pro under his dad’s tennis tutelage) have even more going on, but it’s best not to risk stepping on their reveals. It’s not that any are so wild they’ll send your head spinning faster than a tennis ball served by Serena Williams. They’re just consistent, clear, and character driven. Marnich utilizes her seven hours to draw you closer and closer into the family, and while you’ll have favorites and foes among the six primary players (Troy is such a self-centered Wall Street douchebag – only working in Florida, which is exponentially worse – and yet, I love him), it’s extremely easy to get caught up in their drama. (Bonus: If you’re a Peaco*ck subscriber who’s been watching the all-consuming, oft-infuriating reality hit, “The Traitors,” then “Apples Never Fall” will strike many of those same judgmental, side-taking chords… without the exhausting annoyances brought on by so many stupid, nonsensical choices.)

Marnich is a steady hand at the information drip, sharing just enough juicy details to steer our focus in one direction while planting seeds that will grab our attention soon enough. Stan is the obvious culprit. He’s a grumpy, jealous, husband who even his kids don’t exactly adore. But then there’s Savannah (Georgia Flood), a mysterious stranger who came to live with Joy and Stan shortly before the former went missing. She must have something to do with it, right? But so does he! Did they know each other? Fall for each other? Or are we simply being distracted by the all-too-obvious bait? The title, “Apples Never Fall,” certainly implies the Delaney offspring deserve a hard look, but Marnich consistently connects flaws from parent to child, brother to sister, and so on and so forth until every Delaney is guilty of something (passing on overly competitive genes, mostly) — it’s just unclear who’s guilty of an actual crime.

Perhaps best of all, none of the cast commits the fault invited by such pulpy material: over-acting. What could’ve been seen as a star vehicle for Bening instead relegates her to a supporting role. She can play the put-upon mom in her sleep, but she still lives in each moment with a convincing comfort. She doesn’t try to make her select scenes feel bigger than they are — no one does. They keep things grounded, allowing the audience to appreciate the various family dynamics at play, while still bringing the juice for the confrontations and confessions that call for it. In other words, they’re pros, ready and willing to serve the story, even when that story can be a little heavy-handed, a bit clichéd (woof, so many sports metaphors), and ceaselessly sensationalized.

Even if it looks the part, “Apples Never Fall” isn’t the next great prestige limited series. It’s highly likely you’ll forget about it a few days after you’re finished. But it’s an engaging, earnest, and fun trip to South Florida (which is only possible via television). That isn’t so easy to pull off. Just watch “Nine Perfect Strangers.” (Only please don’t.)

Grade: B

“Apples Never Fall” premieres Thursday, March 14 on Peaco*ck. All seven episodes will be available at once.

‘Apples Never Fall’ Review: Annette Bening’s Peaco*ck Mystery Taps Enough Juicy Twists to Bear Fruit (2024)
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