SXSW TV Review – The Big Door Prize
The Big Door Prize
The Big Door Prize is a new television series on Apple TV+, premiering March 29th—the first three episodes screened at SXSW. The trailer reveals an intriguing premise, with the source material coming from a novel of the same name written by M.O. Walsh.
The Big Door Prize revolves around the small town of Deerfield, which is small enough to have a general store frequented by the locals. One day a machine appears in the store with no one seeing who brought it, installed it, or what it does. It is called “Morpho” and has the morpho butterfly associated with its branding and the tagline, “Discover Your Life Potential.” The machine purports to tell you what you are in life, not should or could, but are or will be. A few words pop out of the machine on a branded card and envelope, similar to Zoltar in Big (1988). The locals quickly discover its existence, and the town is abuzz with gossip about it.
The series centers on Dusty (Chris O’Dowd), a high school history teacher. In the first episode, he turns 40 years old, feted by his wife Cass (Gabrielle Denis) and his teenage daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara). His day is going pretty great until he makes his daily stop at the general store, where he becomes aware of Morpho’s appearance. The store owner (Patrick Kerr) encourages him to try it out. Flummoxed by the Morpho, Dusty continues his day but is constantly confronted with “potentials” that Morpho spat out to them. The machine or “game” continues to penetrate Dusty’s mind.
The series, at least in the first three episodes, centers on mostly one character at a time. These episodes focus on Dusty, Cass, and high schooler Jacob (Sammy Fourlas), but Dusty still appears in each, continuing a focus on him.
The series is billed as a comedy, but it also feels dramatic in tone due to its existential questions. It is a puzzle slowly unraveling itself a piece at a time, not just the Morpho but also the people inhabiting Deerfield as well. As the show proceeds, it lets go of little nuggets about the people, things everyone in this series probably knows but the audience does not. Each reveal is impactful and makes you take note. The series boasts some of the most incredible television writing this year.
Chris O’Dowd continues to be an exceptional actor and comedian. The mix of drama and comedy in the series is perfect for O’Dowd, who can tackle being a loving husband and dad, self-deprecating humor, and a mid-life crisis-level obsession with Morpho. An impeccable soundtrack accompanies his dance moves and scooter skills. Playing his wife, Gabrielle Denis, is the perfect complement to O’Dowd, calm, collected, and seemingly sure of herself and her position in life. They both have great chemistry with each other, which only enhances their performances.
What would you do? Would you change your life based on a card produced by a random machine? The Big Door Prize asks these questions of its characters and its audience. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if a Morpho appeared in the local drugstore. It takes you down an existential wormhole regardless of whether one participates in its purpose. Happiness and what you believe you are destined to do does not always go hand in hand. It disrupts the sense of self and can quickly spiral into a crisis, which Dusty grapples with in the first episodes. The Big Door Prize will hopefully continue with its intriguing premise and its comedic and dramatic tone. Undoubtedly, there are more secrets to be revealed, and I cannot wait to watch the rest of the series.