Stephan James and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Surface. (Photo: Apple TV+)
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| Apple TV+
Eight-Episode Limited Series (Crime Drama) | TV-MA
What's Surface About?
A woman suffers amnesia after a near-drowning, which she's told was a suicide attempt. As details slowly emerge, she's caught between what two men are telling her in this paranoid thriller.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Morning Show, Loki) is compelling as Sophie, a woman whose memory of her near-death experience is extremely murky and whose husband is no help. While this is a pretty stock role, Mbatha-Raw elevates it by refusing to play the annoyingly helpless, perpetually confused victim. She's got agency, even as she must react constantly (as actors in this genre must) to the seemingly endless string of shocking new revelations.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a Mike Flanagan favorite from The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, plays Sophie's uptight hubby James. He probably has the easiest job on this limited series, which is convincing us that he is not what he appears to be.
Stephan James, who starred as Jesse Owens in Race, is Thomas, a mysterious cop who begins tracking Sophie. He knows something, but for some reason won't come right out and say it. It's the growing attraction between these two that gives Surface its electricity and is the one of the main reasons to keep watching after the first three episodes that drop this week.
Writer-producer Veronica West has worked on a number of high-profile TV shows with female leads, most recently High Fidelity. (She also co-executive produced the recent Dexter revival.) West won a WGA Award in 2007 for Ugly Betty.
Reese Witherspoon's and Lauren Neustadter's company Hello Sunshine co-produces the series with Apple Studios, as it did with The Morning Show and Truth Be Told.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
Apple TV+ dramas tend to have a certain low-level intensity to them. If you watched Servant, Truth Be Told, Shining Girls and/or Defending Jacob, then you should have a pretty a good idea what to expect from Surface. What these shows also have in common are top-notch production values and actors in them who know how to make the most out of occasionally meh writing.
If you like straightforward narratives, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find Surface is mostly linear, for a flashback thriller anyway. In general West has wisely borrowed a page from British thrillers that don't try to do too much and focus instead on giving discerning audiences what they tuned in for.
The only criticism after watching the first three episodes is that Surface already feels one episode too long. That said, there's only one new hour to watch each week going forward and the show does enough to practically guarantee you'll tune in to the end.
Pairs well with
Anatomy of a Scandal (Netflix): David E. Kelley's excellent British courtroom series touches on similar themes of privilege, paranoia, and buried memories.
Gaslit (Starz): After the slow burn of Surface, kick back and relish a rollicking Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell, wife of the Watergate co-conspirator and a woman who would not echo her hubby's talking points.