TV review: 'Crowded Room' undermines adaptation with gimmick

Tom Holland plays Danny in "The Crowded Room." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
1 of 5 | Tom Holland plays Danny in "The Crowded Room." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

LOS ANGELES, June 2 (UPI) -- The Crowded Room, premiering June 9 on Apple TV+, has been in development for decades while filmmakers such as James Cameron attempted to make it as a movie. Giving the story the space of a TV series doesn't solve the adaptation issue, and in this case ruins the effort.

The show is inspired by the book, The Minds of Billy Milligan, by Daniel Keyes, and credits the book in the opening titles.


But the series treats the very premise of the book and true story of Milligan as a mystery, which doesn't work for new viewers, let alone those who have been waiting for The Crowded Room.

Instead of Billy, Danny (Tom Holland) and Ariana (Sasha Lane) shoot someone at New York's Rockefeller Center in broad daylight in late '70s New York. Sasha gets away, but Danny is arrested.


While Danny is being held, interrogator Rya (Amanda Seyfried) consults with the police and interviews Danny about the events leading up to the shooting. Danny tells his story in flashbacks.

The creators of the Apple series have asked reviewers not to spoil certain aspects of the story. Even without this request, the intention behind the show exacerbates the flaw in this adaptation.

By treating the premise of the source material, and the true story by which it's inspired, as a major surprise, it undermines the subject. It would be like adapting Moby Dick and saying, "Don't mention the whale, that's a spoiler."

Those who know the source material are left waiting for the show to become what it really is. Certainly some viewers avoid spoilers for books when they are adapted into movies or television shows, but this is the logline of the book.

If new viewers truly go in blind, they are left with a middling narrative that's just waiting for several hours to pull the rug out from under them. If any are patient enough to wait that long, it will feel entirely derivative of other well-known murder mysteries, even those that came after the publication of the Keyes book.


That seems like the worst possible way to crack the adaptation. One can empathize with the actors, obviously drawn to the material and committed to their performances, but left delivering for a narrative that wants to keep their best work a secret.

So, the viewer will spend several episodes watching Daniel speak to Rya like a Good Will Hunting meets Primal Fear ripoff. Daniel's story recounts his mean stepfather (Will Chase) and helpless mother (Emmy Rossum), childhood friends and bullies.

There's more to the story, but nothing that provides any groundbreaking new insight into what could drive someone to attempt murder. The intention may have been to empathize with people so driven, but the execution makes Danny's backstory a gimmick.

Interestingly, along with the spoiler warnings, critics were asked to watch all 10 episodes for context for reviews. The creators really can't have it both ways, but it will be their fault when viewers don't even stick with The Crowded Room to the end.

New episodes of The Crowded Room premiere Fridays on Apple TV+.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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