By Josh Reilly B. & George Bate
In recent years, Tom Holland has become one of the most recognizable actors in the world, in large part due to his incredibly popular role as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’ Holland has also branched out to other potential new franchises, most notably with adaptions of the Uncharted video game series and the Chaos Walking YA novels.
Despite those big-budget turns, sprinkled into Holland’s filmography in the past few years have been smaller, more intimate stories. The Devil All The Time, a Netflix drama/thriller from director Antonio Campos, marked a successful attempt for the English actor to diversify his filmography. Albeit not as successful as the directors hoped it would be, Cherry is another film with a starring role from Holland that goes down a more indie path than his work as the famous teenage superhero in the MCU. In 2023, he will now enter into the most personal and concentrated of projects, one that serves as the best acting of Tom Holland’s career thus far.
The Crowded Room is a new series premiering June 9th on Apple TV+ that follows the tragic story of Danny Sullivan (Holland), a young man who is arrested after being present at a shooting at Rockefeller Center in 1979 New York City. What actually happened is far more complex, and far sadder, than what Sullivan or the police officers had initially realized, and what begins in the first episode as a tale of a slightly awkward, bright man slowly dissolves into an increasingly tragic story of child abuse and a young life derailed by the failures of the adults around him. Amanda Seyfried co-stars as Sullivan’s therapist and the series is told through a series of flashbacks as Seyfriend’s character interviews Sullivan. Also co-starring in the series is Emily Rossum, who plays Sullivan’s mother, and Jason Isaacs, who plays an unusual acquaintance of Holland’s character.
As a casting choice, Tom Holland could have been considered risky due to his popularity. He’s instantly recognizable, so much so that audiences could have just seen Peter Parker instead of Danny Sullivan in this new series. This is not the case, however, as Holland is simply fantastic in this series. His performance is so strong that he completely transforms into this character, thus erasing any of the fears of the audience being taken out of the story because of the lead actor. This is easily the strongest work of Holland’s career as he plays an incredibly complex, fractured young boy who is desperately in need of a savior to rescue him from the horrors of his life. What makes Holland’s performance even better is that it really is just his acting that propels him to becoming Sullivan, as he doesn’t go through any sort of remarkable physical transformation beyond sporting a very 1970s hairstyle. Holland is surely going to be an awards contender at the next Golden Globes and Emmy Awards, and for good reason; anyone who believes that he his career will be restricted to superheroes and CGI will be surprised at the sheer strength of his performance in The Crowded Room.
The writing from showrunner Akiva Goldsman is another standout throughout these initial episodes. There is a lot of setup required in order for the payoff in the later episodes to work as well as it does, and these major story and character beats and well placed in setting up what is to come. Goldsman also does a good job at making a character like Danny Sullivan sympathetic, as watching a young white man carry and shoot a gun in a public place (as he does in the first few minutes) is unfortunately all too familiar and frightening for modern day audiences. Sullivan is not perfect, but Goldsman does an excellent job at feeding the viewer information as to why he is flawed, and how he became that way in the first place. The Crowded Room is a strong, albeit loose adaptation of the true life story of Billy Milligan as portrayed in the 1981 book about his life.
Unfortunately, what brings the initial episodes down is the decision to tell this story of self-discovery for Danny in a completely linear and straightforward way. That is to say that the audience is supposed to learn about Tom Holland’s character at the same pace as he learns about himself, which could have been a good idea if it weren’t for how predictable the forthcoming events and revelations are. To say any more would be revealing spoilers, but it feels as if there could have been a better way to tell the story than to move towards a ‘twist’ that isn’t particularly surprising (especially since audiences can piece everything together based on the beginning credits alone).
Because of that structure of self-discovery, the first few episodes feel at times too uneventful, with the viewer just waiting for these obvious reveals to finally come to fruition. That doesn’t happen right away, which simultaneously feels like a missed opportunity and a poor storytelling choice as the true meat of this story is saved for later. This is certainly a show worth sticking with, however, not just because of the performance of Tom Holland but due to the incredible story payoff that is to come.
The Crowded Room is a must-watch new drama series from Apple TV+, starring Tom Holland in the best performance of his career. The first few episodes aren’t perfect, and are too often bogged down by a surprising choice to withhold certain obvious revelations until later, but is still a serviceable drama that develops into something far more thrilling, touching, and compelling as the series goes on.