Review: Life-changing revelations promise huge things in ‘The Big Door Prize’
Life, as it turns out, is a lottery rife with missed opportunities, fortuitous interactions, and more than the occasional happy accident. The Big Door Prize, which stars Chris O’Dowd (Slumberland), Crystal Fox (Big Little Lies), and Gabrielle Dennis (Luke Cage) – digs into those ideas just a little deeper on Mar. 29, when it hits Apple TV.
Adapted by David West Read (Schitt’s Creek) from M.O. Walsh’s novel, this comedy drama centers on Dusty (O’Dowd) and Cass (Dennis), who live out their quiet life in suburban Deerfield; a place populated by people who are seemingly content with their lot in life, until something turns up in the local store capable of predicting their future.
Similar in certain respects to Prime Video’s Tales from the Loop, The Big Door Prize explores some expansive questions, yet keeps its focus on character. It is also reminiscent of The Box starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, which itself linked back into larger philosophical questions regarding individual choice, a route The Big Door Prize takes in a roundabout manner, as matters of destiny and potential are brought into play.
When the Morpho machine materializes from nowhere and begins to pump out personal prophecies, everyone in this small town begins to change. Some suddenly find meaning, regain their purpose, or embrace epiphanies as they find themselves with a new lease of life. Meanwhile, others embark on ill-advised escapades as they misconstrue the meaning behind those little blue cards.
However, something else happens as each person is influenced and their perspectives expanded. Local opinions are changed, new relationships are forged, and destinies are altered forever, making The Big Door Prize philosophically challenging yet character-driven enough to keep mainstream audiences entertained.
As this adaptation comes from the creator of Schitt’s Creek, quirky characterization and whip-smart dialogue moments are to be expected, while David West Read ensures that Deerfield remains realistic – even if it does embrace cliché from time to time. Meaning that quiet introverted people suddenly revel in being the center of attention, while the downtrodden and dissatisfied members of this community morph into invigorated individuals.
Aside from that, The Big Door Prize is relatively conventional when it comes to story, as Dusty finds himself incapable of change – even after he gets his prediction. A fact which begins driving a wedge between himself and wife Cass. As a teacher and world class whistler, it would appear that Dusty has found his niche in life, while Cass becomes increasingly disillusioned following her slice of fortune telling.
At just over 30 minutes per episode, it never outstays its welcome, as punchy pieces of narrative are consistently doled out, giving audiences an insight into each character systematically; an approach which not only varies the perspective throughout this series, but also manages to keep things feeling fresh even once the world becomes familiar.
Unfortunately, The Big Door Prize never really feels dynamic or original, despite the best efforts of all concerned. It may attempt to discuss some intangible topics connected more to the human condition, than any type of comedy narrative, but never leaves a long-lasting impression, even after two hours of television.
However, that lack of originality never impacts on the performances from an ensemble cast, who do their best to flesh out this slice of small-town Americana. Both O’Dowd and Dennis work hard to bring the conflicts of family life into being as central protagonists, while Sammy Fourlas gives grieving underdog Jacob some real heart and soul.
In truth, that particular plot line might smack of cliché, dealing as it does with fractured relationships, parental loss, and its aftermath – but nonetheless ties back into the preoccupations of potential over pre-ordained destiny this show is trying to discuss. Noy only teeing up a revelatory moment where Jacob finally comes into his own, but also granting him salvation through companionship with Dusty’s daughter Trina (Djouliet Amora).
There is so much more this show tries to grasp in its minimal running time, and as a whole The Big Door Prize delivers some admirable drama. O’Dowd may have come to prominence through Graham Linehan’s IT Crowd, before hitting paydirt with the small screen version of Get Shorty, but his affable everyman act feels just a tad lightweight here.
Whether that has to do with the material itself is up for debate, but irrespective of those whys and wherefores – The Big Door Prize ultimately falls short of greatness.
Coming from the creator of 'Schitt’s Creek,' 'The Big Door Prize'promises great things. Unfortunately, despite a savvy ensemble cast led by Chris O’Dowd, it never scales the heights some might have hoped for.