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Apples Never Fall Puts a Dark Twist on the 'Houseguest Who Won't Leave' Trope

The Liane Moriarty adaptation is a dark mystery, but it feels like a warped family comedy at its core.
  • Conor Merrigan Turner, Essie Randles, Sam Neill, Annette Bening, Alison Brie, and Jake Lacy in Apples Never Fall (Photo: Peacock)
    Conor Merrigan Turner, Essie Randles, Sam Neill, Annette Bening, Alison Brie, and Jake Lacy in Apples Never Fall (Photo: Peacock)

    We’ve all been there: You’re ready to call it a night and be alone, but a guest can’t seem to take the hint that you’d like them to get going. Over the years, many television shows have featured a houseguest who, for one reason or another, just won’t leave. Coined “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s, the trope can commonly be spotted in sitcoms like Friends, Schitt’s Creek, and Yes, Dear. The guest often remains oblivious until the host finally snaps — like when Arthur’s D.W. famously quips, “Can I ask you a question? Why don’t you go back to your own house and stop bothering us?!” Usually the guest is grating, but harmless, and the whole thing is played for a laugh.

    Peacock’s Apples Never Fall takes this sitcom trope and puts a chilling spin on it. Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, whose other works Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers have also been adapted for television, the limited series centers on the wealthy but troubled Delaney family as they deal with the sudden disappearance of their matriarch Joy (Annette Bening).

    She and her husband Stan (Sam Neill) are introduced as retired tennis coaches looking forward to spending more time with their four adult children Troy (Jake Lacy), Logan (Conor Merrigan Turner), Amy (Alison Brie), and Brooke (Essie Randles). However, when a young woman named Savannah (Georgia Flood) knocks on their door one night claiming to be a victim of domestic violence in need of help, the Delaneys’ lives are forever changed. Although Stan is hesitant to welcome a stranger into their home, Joy takes a liking to her and offers her a temporary place to stay — but what starts out as one night quickly turns into six weeks. Then, several months after Savannah (finally) leaves, Joy mysteriously vanishes.

    [Spoilers for Season 1 lie ahead.]

    Make no mistake, the series gets quite intense and heavy at times. The central mystery of Joy’s disappearance evolves from a missing person’s case to a full-fledged murder investigation with Stan as the prime suspect. The characters, who are each lost in their own way, grapple with grief, failures, and fractured relationships as their secrets bubble to the surface and plant cracks in their picture-perfect family image. Yet, as Bening herself pointed out in a recent interview with Newsweek, there’s also plenty of humor sprinkled in between the devastating moments. “It kind of teeters on comedy and drama,” she said. “Sometimes you don't know—wait, is this really funny? Or is this really horrible and sad? Because, of course, those things coexist all the time.” Although Apples Never Fall is a dark mystery, it really feels like a twisted family sitcom at its core.

    Savannah’s prolonged stay is simultaneously depicted as both ridiculous and terrifying. Although the rest of the family voices concerns that there’s something “off” about the situation, Joy remains oblivious, almost comically dismissing everyone. When Logan advises his mother to be careful and cites the fact that Savannah has no identification on her and owns zero belongings, Joy shrugs him off and raves, “She just put fresh flowers in every room!”

    Although she does pitch in with cleaning and cooking, it’s pretty obvious that Savannah is milking her stay. She takes over Amy’s childhood bedroom and wardrobe, enjoys complimentary boat rides, and spends her days hiking with Joy, who somehow treats her like both a best friend and a surrogate daughter. She quickly worms her way into the Delaney family, tagging along to literally everything. In Episode 3 (“Amy”), she not only sticks around for Stan’s birthday party, but she even bakes an incredible Food Network-style cake for him, obnoxiously outshining poor Amy’s sad dessert by miles. Essentially, Savannah gives off the vibe of that distant cousin character who gets clumsily shoehorned into a sitcom after a main cast member leaves. The whole situation is just, as Brooke succinctly puts it, “f*cking weird.”

    Having Savannah around wreaks havoc on the family’s outside relationships as well. At the end of Episode 3, Amy drops the bombshell that Brooke — who’s engaged to Gina (Paula Andrea Placido) — was sleeping with Savannah. It’s revealed that the affair began when Brooke saw a suspicious text message on Gina’s phone and worried that she was cheating on her with a client. “I wouldn’t cheat on you,” Savannah casually tells Brooke. “She doesn’t cherish you. If you were mine, I’d treat you like a princess.”

    Although Brooke eventually calls the fling off, the guilt haunts her. When she tries to finally confess her infidelity, she gets cold feet and instead brings up the shady text from eight months ago. The catch? Gina didn’t cheat on her at all, and the whole thing was a misunderstanding that got blown way out of proportion. Oops. Yet again, this feels like a darker version of a TV trope. It’s certainly far from the first time a character was unfaithful due to a silly miscommunication — for instance, Hyde sleeping with a nurse on That ’70s Show because he wrongly assumed Jackie still had feelings for Kelso, or Ross and Rachel’s infamous “We were on a break!” saga on Friends. The key difference here, however, is that Brooke and Gina’s relationship doesn’t survive this. There’s no laugh track, just heartbreak and regret.

    For all of the show’s gritty moments, its finale ends up being surprisingly comical. It turns out that Joy isn’t dead after all, but has instead been hanging out in the mountains with Savannah — who, of course, turns out to be a con artist. It’s revealed that Joy, upset by her marriage falling apart and her children icing her out, decided to just go off the grid for a few days. “Let them miss me,” she remarks. But while it sounds ominous and reminiscent of Gone Girl, Joy apparently didn’t think of it like that at all. When she finally returns home, she’s beyond shocked to find out that everyone thought she was murdered by her husband. “Who would believe that you would do something like that?” she cries. There’s an unbelievable amount of awkwardness as Stan looks at their children, who literally turned him into the police just days ago. “Well, it did look like murder,” Amy shrugs. To say this family is bad at communicating would be a massive understatement.

    That dark humor ends up being the key puzzle piece that makes Apples Never Fall click into place. Virtually none of the characters are good people, and they all make incredibly bad decisions throughout the season. But because the show is self-aware, watching this messed-up family is entertaining rather than just aggravating. The dark, emotional moments make it easy to maintain empathy for the characters and remain invested in the mystery, even if it’s ridiculous. By taking comedic tropes like the clueless houseguest and putting a new, unsettling spin on them, the series ultimately succeeds as both a twisted mystery and a spoof of the wealthy. Although, let’s be honest, nothing will ever top Renata’s “I will not not be rich!” scene in Big Little Lies.

    Apples Never Fall is now streaming on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Kelly Martinez is a TV Reporter based in Los Angeles. Her previous work can be found at BuzzFeed and People Magazine, among other outlets. She enjoys reading, spending time with her cat, and explaining the plot of Riverdale to people.

    TOPICS: Apples Never Fall, Peacock, Alison Brie, Annette Bening, Jake Lacy, Liane Moriarty, Sam Neill