'Trying' Season 1 Review: Apple TV+ show’s careful packaging pushes it into the territory of bland niceness
'Trying' has a sweet-filled center of a relatable couple, Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall), surrounded by a group of friends and family who are all dysfunctional enough to be funny and entertaining but not enough to seem like bad people. 'Trying' has got all the ingredients of a quirky Britcom right, setting up the story in the picturesque Camden and there is even a touristy sprint through London disguised as a treasure hunt for kids. And therein lies the problem.
A product of BBC Studios for Apple, it seems like a packaged British-flavoured rom-com, designed to appeal to American audiences with an eye to avoid any criticism about being 'too smart'. It tries so hard to dumb itself down that it reaches into that territory called condescension.
Nikki and Jason are shown to be allergic to intellectual blowhards, like Nikki's sister Karen's boyfriend Scott. They also have low-income jobs (though they rent a beautiful flat), and have gone through their 20s and 30s not having achieved anything significant other than being lovable. They display the perfect amount of slobby messiness to not have anyone resent them.
Essentially, Nikki and Jason represent the everyman-everywoman couple with no characteristics that might make an audience have second thoughts about their likability. They are so adorable that they could be pandas. Both Rafe Spall and Esther Smith also sell us on the couple's chemistry -- they got 'it' as they say. The acerbic twist of reality to this comedic dish is provided by both sets of parents, Nikki's older sister Karen and her boyfriend Scott, Jason's ex Jane, and their friends, Erica and Freddie -- a couple with two kids and a marriage that has stopped working.
The standout performances come from Jen, Nikki's hilarious young co-worker at the car rental call center with a tendency to run her mouth off and last but definitely not the least -- Imelda Staunton. Staunton shows up as Penny, the social worker, rooting for Nikki and Jason to be approved so that she can send one of the troubled kids she works with to them. She is very good and unfortunately shows up too few times -- but when she does, she lights up the proceedings in a way that none of the other characters do. She is real and a breath of fresh air in a show that seems to have gone through too many cycles of test screenings and notes from studio executives.
Through the eight episodes of 'Trying', Nikki and Jason go through their share of ups and downs during the process of getting approved for adoption. For instance, there is a hint of a something-something between Jason and his student, Sophia, which triggers Nikki's insecurity that Jason will cheat on her before breaking up with her, just like he did with Jane, his girlfriend before her.
But any messiness of couplehood is quickly dealt with even before you start feeling the tiniest misgivings about any "will they break up-won't they break up" drama. They are as their adoption forms say, "strong and resilient".
Rafe Spall has done so many of the Jason type roles, that he plays the part with a natural easy charm and perfectly-crafted reaction shots. And you can see that he is not even breaking a sweat. Esther too, with her bangs and cute factor, complements Spall as the emotional, sweet girl who more than anything wants to be a mother. The premise is interesting too -- the knotty adoption process when the couple, who are in their 30s, are told that there is next to no chance of them getting pregnant, even with IVF.
But despite all the ingredients being there, the too careful packaging makes the show ring false. It also feels overly long because it doesn't use its eight episodes to deepen the character portrayals but spends a lot of time spinning wheels.
The too-light and breezy treatment makes you feel that a two-hour fluffy (and enjoyable) rom-com has been stretched into an eight-part TV series that drags a bit. It's ending also suggests there will be a Season 2. But should it?
The show will premiere worldwide on Friday, May 1 on Apple TV+.