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The Thoughtful, Touching 'The Big Door Prize' Is a Big, Wet Sloppy Kiss of a Series

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 29, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 29, 2023 |


In Apple TV+’s The Big Door Prize, a machine mysteriously shows up in a grocery store in the small town of Deerfield and, for $2 in quarters, purports to tell its customers their true life potential. The townspeople receive cards telling them that their true potential is to be potters, teachers, priests, etc.., and it upends the town in mostly delightfully unexpected ways. Residents start changing careers, rethinking relationships, and questioning long-held beliefs.

It’s important to note that the cards — which may or may not be accurate but are so spot-on in certain instances to at least give the illusion of accuracy — do not tell a person’s destiny, only their “potential,” and that’s how the apple cart is turned over.

Chris O’Dowd’s Dusty, for instance, is a teacher who is good at whistling, and when the machine tells him that his potential is “Teacher/Whistler” he’s upset to learn that he’s already reached his potential, and it’s apparently mediocrity. He doesn’t know whether to own it or try and defy it, but it wreaks havoc on his personal life.

His wife, Cass (Gabrielle Dennis), receives a card that is both amorphous and more aspirational and she ventures to live up to that potential while her husband Dusty is trying to keep up and worrying — after over 20 years of marriage — whether he’s good enough for her.

The local priest (Damon Gupton) is given a card that makes him question his own path, while a local high school kid, Jacob (Sammy Fourlas) — who lost his identical twin brother and his mother — is given a card that saddles him with guilt because he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of it.

For a series with a mysterious machine at its center, The Big Door Prize is oddly grounded. It is also immensely warm and heartfelt. The machine sets the story into motion, but the well-drawn, likable, and genuine characters are what make it work. Based on the book by M.O. Walsh, creator David West Read brings to the series that same gentle and loving affection he had for his characters in his previous show, a show many of you may have heard of called Schitt’s Creek.

The vibe here is similar: Quirky beloved characters engaged in little more than working out their own problems. The series is a perfect fit for Apple TV+, where it will feel right at home with similarly aspirational, warmhearted shows like Ted Lasso, Trying, and Shrinking.

The Big Door Prize premieres on March 29th. It screened at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.