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In Roar, an anthology of “feminist fables” from Apple TV+, a medical student falls in love with a man who at first seems a good catch and is great at sex, but turns out to be a controlling jerk. Sorry, did I say “man”? I meant “duck”. She’s going out with a talking duck.
You’ll be forewarned of this if you watch the series, because that particular episode (starring a very game Merritt Wever) is called The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck. Likewise, in The Woman Who Ate Photographs, Nicole Kidman relives her childhood memories by eating photographs. In The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf, a wealthy man (Daniel Dae Kim) displays his trophy wife (Betty Gilpin) on – you guessed it – a shelf. This is not a show of hidden meanings.
There are eight of these surreal fairytales, based on a book by Cecelia Ahern. The tone is uneven. A couple are mild horror stories. Issa Rae stars in The Woman Who Disappeared as a writer whose memoir has been optioned for a screen adaptation, only to find her voice erased to the point where she literally becomes invisible to the white, male executives trying to take over her work. In The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin (are you tired of these titles yet?), Cynthia Erivo is literally scarred by motherhood and a traumatic birth, the guilt of going to work each day eating away at her.
The duck story is funny at first, but once the main joke is out of the way, it’s just a story of a young woman in a relationship with an awful partner. Every episode needs to push further, either to embrace the weirdness or to deliver an emotional gut-punch. None of them do.
There are common truths in all of the stories – the pressures of raising children or caring for ageing parents, or being a woman in the workplace, or unhappily married, or judged on youth and beauty, or a victim of misogyny. But mostly the stories hammer you over the head with their obviousness, then peter out.
Kidman is an executive producer and the starriest name in the cast. It’s the reliably good Meera Syal, though, who brings the most touching performance in The Woman Who Returned Her Husband. That one is set in a world in which unsatisfactory men can be traded in at the local superstore, where they hang about by the garden furniture until some other woman buys them second-hand. When this story delivers a happy ending, it feels right. But when all the others do too, it feels more like a failure of nerve.