'Little Voice' Episodes 1, 2, 3 Review: Promising drama shows modern life’s difficulties with its musical soul
‘Little Voice’ has only just started, but it looks incredibly promising as a defining drama -- a show that doesn’t attempt to be gritty but doesn’t short-sell the difficulties of modern life; a show full of hope
Spoilers for ‘Little Voice’ episodes 1 through 3, ‘I Don’t Know’, ‘I Will Survive’, and ‘Dear Hope’
Bess’ (Brittany O'Grady) father, played by Chuck Cooper, after a particularly hard day for her, reassures her with the apocryphal quote, often attributed to Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway: “We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” It’s a good line; one that is intrinsically at the heart of the spectacular Apple TV+ musical drama series ‘Little Voice’.
The show created by filmmakers J. J. Abrams, Jessie Nelson, and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles (who also gave the show original music) has a lot of heart. It tells the story of Bess, a woman in New York City in her early-20s, who loves music but struggles to find the confidence to perform her own compositions.
It doesn’t help that Bess has a ton of responsibilities, one of which is taking care of her brother who is on the spectrum. She teaches music, walks dogs, bartends, attends to her brother’s needs, and when she has time, retires into a rented storage unit that she has turned into a make-shift studio.
And in this space, she creates her music -- beautiful ballads that remain only available to an audience of one. But that changes when Ethan (Sean Teale), a disarmingly good-looking British man takes over the unit next to hers. They bond and they become friends; and there is, of course, chemistry there.
But Bess’ life is anything but simple. At the bar where she works, a place where she aspires to perform for an audience one day, she runs into Ethan and his girlfriend. She is hurt. Not just by that. But also because she takes a chance and tries to perform and bombs badly. But that doesn’t mean her dreams are over. For Bess is resilient.
With Samuel (Colton Ryan), another musician, she finds the courage to perform at a gig. Samuel encourages her constantly. And even when they bicker, it is always for her betterment. In episode 3, on her friend Benny’s (Phillip Johnson Richardson) encouragement, she participates in a contest. If she won, she’d get to record a song at a famous studio.
‘Little Voice’ has a weird quality. It immediately pulls you in and gets you invested in the lives of not just Bess, but the people around her. All imperfect but good people. For example, her roommate Prisha (Shalini Bathina), who is a closeted gay woman, afraid to let her traditional Indian parents find out. There is Bess’ brother Louis (Kevin Valdez), who is a theater nerd and aspires to be part of the industry one day. There’s Ethan, who grew up with his grandfather and works as a video editor and there's Samuel, who is stubborn but has a heart of gold.
But above all the human characters, there is the city itself. ‘Little Voice’ through the streets, the parks, the masses, the old buildings, and even the storage unit, makes New York come alive in a way that is not intimidating. Rather, it feels warm and welcoming.
Before the show’s release, there were some comparisons made with Abrams’ 1998 drama series ‘Felicity’. And the comparisons stand. Both shows are compassionate and soft. Both shows explore a struggle with identities and both shows use a unique narrative device. Only instead of the titular Felicity’s cassette-recorder, the device here is the songs Bess writes. And each episode is named after the song from that episode and each song is thematically connected to the episode’s plot.
Bareilles’s slow emotive ballads on the show would have made for remarkable listens otherwise as well. But in the show, they make things more real. In a weird way, they express not just Bess’ but the show’s soul with grace.
‘Little Voice’ has only just started, but it looks incredibly promising as a defining drama in a sea of programming that often feels like an incomprehensible mess. It is a show that doesn’t attempt to be gritty but doesn’t short-sell the difficulties of modern life. It is a show full of hope.
New episodes of ‘Little Voice’ drop every Friday, only on Apple TV+.