Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Finding drama and resilience in the seeds of tragedy, “Dear Edward” is a sensitively done series that never fully recovers from its challenging premise, built as it is around a 12-year-old boy who’s the lone survivor of a plane crash, and the lingering impact on those who knew the dead. Intended to be uplifting, the Apple TV+ show is too much of a bummer to wholly recommend boarding this flight.
Adapted by Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”) from the novel by Ann Napolitano, the series builds up toward the crash in the premiere, and over the subsequent episodes features a vast assortment of characters, each connected to someone on the ill-fated plane.
As for Edward (Colin O’Brien), he’s dubbed “the miracle boy,” but has to endure the grief of having lost his whole family while moving in with his aunt Lacey (“Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling), who had a complicated relationship with her sister, Edward’s mom.
Edward finds some solace from hanging out with a neighbor girl, Shay (Eva Ariel Binder), and still regularly engages with and receives advice from his late older brother (Maxwell Jenkins), a device that feels vaguely off-putting as employed.
The crash, meanwhile, produces multiple ongoing storylines, including Dee Dee (Connie Britton, in a “Friday Night Lights” reunion), who discovers hard truths about her late husband’s secret life and surprising financial state; Adriana (Anna Uzele), who grapples with whether to pursue her late grandmother’s congressional seat; and Steve (Ivan Shaw), who, in mourning his estranged brother, begins interacting with his fiancée, Amanda (Brittany S. Hall).
That barely scratches the surface of the assorted subplots, which come together and intersect via a support group for the survivors, but it offers a sense of the way “Dear Edward” explores how people can forge unexpected bonds as they grapple with such a shattering event.
The performances are generally first rate, and so is the writing, such as Edward saying, “I don’t know who I am,” to which Shay quietly responds, “Join the club.”
Grief on a lesser scale has served as the backdrop for a number of recent series, including the Apple comedy “Shrinking.” The subject matter is emotional — how could it not be? — but there’s an uneven nature here to the various and abundant storylines, some of which begin to feel repetitive even over the course of this first season in their mix of guilt and sadness and painful secrets.
It’s possible, in other words, to see “Dear Edward” as being meticulously executed and occasionally quite affecting, and still come away feeling as if it’s simply not worth the effort. With apologies to that aforementioned Katims series, it’s an instance where a series with admirable intentions — graced with clear eyes and full hearts — actually can lose.
“Dear Edward” premieres February 3 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a unit of Apple.)
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