Warning: This article contains spoilers.
Tom Holland looks as though he’s wearing a disguise in The Crowded Room, his scraggly black hair and jittering eyes blurring the lines between the face the world knows as Peter Parker and a man who may not even know himself.
In this limited series from AppleTV+, the 26-year-old actor shows a darker, more jarring shade of vulnerability than any characters he’s played in the past have required him to.
Executive-produced by Holland and starring Amanda Seyfried and Emmy Rossum, The Crowded Room tells the story of Danny Sullivan (Holland) and his arrest following his involvement in a shooting at the Rockefeller Center.
The series opens with Sullivan on a subway, unable to sit still, hiding something in a paper bag. The lights flicker sporadically before housemate Ariana (Sasha Lane) joins him on the bench, a sort of indicative presage to the “blank spots” Sullivan describes in the show’s trailer.
Sullivan seems innocent one moment, easily corruptible the next. He’s had a host of friends – an escape artist named Jonny (Levon Hawke), an English businessman named Jack (Jason Isaacs), an Israeli caretaker named Yitzak (Lior Raz) – each influencing Sullivan’s decisions.
Seyfried is brilliant, pouring an acute gentleness into the atmosphere of her exchanges with Holland’s character, and giving him room to push even deeper into Sullivan’s psyche. In a supporting role, Rossum offers an excellent portrayal of Sullivan’s mother Candy, giving us a realistic look at the repressed pain of a parent watching their child on trial.
Showrunner and Academy Award-winning writer Akiva Goldsman is adept at crafting suspense into the dramatic beats of the narrative, intricately weaving together a portrait of a young man’s life through flashbacks, interviews and a rhythmic dialogue that always sounds like just enough to send him over the edge at a moment’s notice.
The writing is effective at keeping viewers engaged throughout 10 hour-long episodes. And yet even when the mystery becomes predictable or repetitive, there’s something of substance, a sort of social critique at the ways in which our criminal justice system fails victims of abuse.
A powerful performance from Holland illuminates the show’s tone and message by galvanizing audiences around the character of Danny Sullivan and garnering empathy for the mistakes of a tortured young adult.
In its emotional exploration of a dark character study, The Crowded Room holds parallels to another Holland flick, the Russo Brothers-led indie Cherry. Like Cherry, this show is loosely based on another book, a nonfiction novel detailing the life of Billy Milligan.
But where Cherry failed to overcome a quixotic wave of self-destructive decisions from its protagonist, The Crowded Room almost seems to blossom the deeper Sullivan spirals.
It becomes something of a rote repetition after the season’s midway point, unable to find a new twist, ultimately crowded in its own fabric of reality, yet somehow, someway, compelling nonetheless.
This show does not redefine the zeitgeist by any stretch of the imagination. But what The Crowded Room does do, it does with the refined execution of a seasoned series.
The first three episodes of The Crowded Room are set to premiere on Apple TV+ June 9, after which subsequent episodes will air weekly.