More wistful than wise-cracking, Apple TV+ new comedy, The Big Door Prize, is worth a watch. Starring Chris O’Dowd as a middle-aged high school history teacher with a penchant for whistling, the series explores what happens when a machine arrives in a small town that is capable of revealing each person’s greatest potential. Naturally, the community goes wild for this magical box! But is it helping them, or hurting them?
Based on the book by the same name by M.O. Walsh, The Big Door Prize is not a TV show thanks to Schitts Creek alum David West Read. When we meet Dusty (O’Dowd), he’s celebrating his birthday with his wife and former high school sweetheart Cass (Gabrielle Dennis). Nothing about this couple’s life is particularly interesting, besides the fact that Dusty, who was born in Ireland, now improbably lives in small-town America. But it’s precisely that ho-hum banality that’s eating away at the couple when the mystical machine arrives….
The potential-divining device itself looks unassuming, situated subtly at the back of a convenience store, but never underestimate unassuming objects! This contraption is a psychic mechanical guidance counselor, ready to show you the correct path! Perhaps you’re a doctor who should be a world traveler, or an under-achieving high school student who secretly has the stuff to be the next great meteorologist! You could even be an ordinary person who is actually meant to be royalty! Whatever your true potential, the machine will reveal it to you. You don’t even have to write an aptitude test first. It just somehow knows who you’re meant to be in your bones….
An unforeseen side effect of the machine – well, to the characters who use it, not to the viewers of this show, who saw this coming – is the upheaval it causes. When people realize they’re not being their best selves, some change careers, and marriages end. Perhaps the most devastating blow comes when one character learns there is no better life, no higher calling. He is exactly where he should be.
While neither the dialogue nor the acting on The Big Door Prize is particularly explosive (at one point, Chris O’Dowd point blank asks his wife, “Are you happy?”), the questions the plot inspires are big enough to blow up your life. Case in point: which is more depressing for the average person? The idea of not living up to one’s hidden potential? Or the idea that the mundane existence you’re currently living is actually your best life? Answering that question could take days – or even centuries – of introspection.
Ultimately, The Big Door Prize might just be the most philosophically interesting comedy series since The Good Place. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as that series about what it takes to get into heaven, The Big Door Prize has a lot of heart and commits to the magical realism at the heart of its premise. It’s a quirky comedy that makes you think.
- Release Date: 3/29/2023