My recollections of Laura Dave’s novel The Last Thing He Told Me are faint enough that I don’t remember how the story plays out, but strong enough that everything I watch in Apple TV+’s adaption of it instantly reminds me of the equivalent scene in the book. I liked the book a lot. I like Jennifer Garner a lot. But the adaptation of The Last Thing He Told Me starring Jennifer Garner is weak and listless.
It might very well be a case of the series being too faithful to the novel. It has that rote, airless quality that overly faithful adaptations often do, where the source material serves as an instruction manual rather than as inspiration. Instead of a recipe and ingredients, it’s a premade meal that merely needs warming up.
Jennifer Garner stars as Hannah Hall, the relatively new wife to Owen Michaels (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the step-mom to Bailey (Angourie Rice), a surly teen who is not fond of her step-mother in the ways that most teens aren’t fond of their new step-parents. There’s tension between Hannah and Bailey, but it’s of the normal variety. Then Owen suddenly and inexplicably disappears, leaving Hannah only a note, “Take care of her.”
It’s unclear why Owen has left, but the company he worked for is under investigation, and the police are very interested in speaking to Owen. Is Owen a bad guy running from the cops? Or a good guy inadvertently caught up in something nefarious? Neither Hannah nor Bailey has any clue, so while the police are closing in, Hannah conducts her own parallel investigation into her husband’s disappearance and, as you might guess, it brings her and Bailey closer together.
It’s a good setup, and combined with the great source material, Aisha Tyler playing Hannah’s best friend, and Geoff Stults (who is not Josh Duhamel) as her ex-boyfriend/lawyer, everything about The Last Thing He Told Me should work on paper. That may be the problem: It worked on paper when the pages could be flipped and the reader was given access to the character’s thoughts. In television form, it’s a mechanical dud. Worse still, Garner — who can be so good given the right role — is reduced to a pair of pursed lips and concerned eyebrows. The good news is, if you want to see Garner in a great role, she’s in the third season of Party Down, now airing on Starz.
The Last Thing He Told Me is currently streaming on Apple TV+.