The Big Door Prize Returns With More Romance and More Mystery in Season 2

TV Reviews Apple TV Plus
The Big Door Prize Returns With More Romance and More Mystery in Season 2

Last year, the debut season of Apple TV+’s half-hour dramedy The Big Door Prize came and went without much fanfare, despite delivering one of the most thought-provoking series of the year. Perhaps that’s not really a surprise since the show wasn’t easy to pin down: marketed as a “small-town comedy with a set of goofy characters,” this summary didn’t entirely do it justice. It definitely delivered on that premise, but it was also so much more. Its first season was centered around an intriguing mystery that built up slowly yet painstakingly to culminate in a finale that brought back the vibe and excitement that so many of us Lost fans felt at the end of each season.

That mystery is a neon blue machine called MORPHO (resembling a photobooth) that appears out of nowhere in the local grocery store of Deerfield, Louisiana. Nobody knows where it came from, but soon, the whole place becomes obsessed with it because it can predict someone’s true “life potential.” After providing your fingerprints and social security number, the machine prints you a peculiar card with one word that tells you who or what you’re supposed to be. The town’s residents totally run with that concept, sort of spiraling into a collective midlife crisis, and taking the card as a literal affirmation to become something they always dreamed about but never dared to do so.

Based on M.O. Walsh’s book of the same name, the first season explores this idea through a handful of wacky and relatable characters who all face turning points in their lives, craving change in one way or another. The primary focus is on the married couple Dusty (Chris O’Dowd) and Cass (Gabrielle Dennis) and their teenage daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara). Their relationships and internal conflicts provide the core of the series, while other relatives and friends also chime in with their own individual struggles.

After a clever flashback, Season 2 picks up exactly where we left off in the finale, as the townspeople attempt to crack the riddle of the MORPHO’s next stage and how they can enter it to keep pursuing their true potential. Once they do, they get so-called visions in the form of retro animations that, at first, confuse our protagonists just as much as the cards did. Some of these videos are downright violent and disturbing, while others are more dreamlike, bringing back a sweet and heartfelt memory from the person’s past. 

Like in Season 1, The Big Door Prize is still at its best when it immerses us in a big mystery from head to toe and lets us untangle the machine’s real purpose by dropping clues. Putting the puzzle together one piece at a time is still an absolute thrill, and the writers didn’t drop the ball on deepening the central conundrum and lore that surrounds the MORPHO and its history.

More than anything, though, these visions serve as triggers to pursue romantic relationships, which is evidently Season 2’s main theme. So much so that, after the first two episodes, the show turns into a full-on rom-com, focusing almost entirely on matters of the heart and temporarily benching other major plotlines. Dusty and Cass go on a “self-ploration” for six weeks (which includes seeing other people); Giorgio (Josh Segarra) and Nat (Mary Holland) fall in love quicker than lightning; Father Reuben (Damon Gupton) and Hana (Ally Maki) finally do more than flirt; and even Izzy (Crystal Fox) and Beau (Aaron Roman Weiner) stumble upon new love interests. Love is clearly in the air, but it ends up feeling a little too saccharine and overwhelming as it barely leaves room for anything else.

The MORPHO (and its magic) pretty much gets ditched for most of the season, reduced to merely serving as a catalyst as the romantic affairs take center stage. The series’ charm remains intact because of the lovable characters and awkward humor, but to some extent, I couldn’t help but feel that some of its glamour began to gradually slip away. That’s most noticeable with a few gags that border on being more cringe than amusing, leaning a bit too hard into each character’s foolishness (especially Giorgio and Nat, who felt more like caricatures than real people). These scenes somewhat undermine the emotional maturity and intelligence the writers depicted so beautifully and poignantly before.

That said, as we get closer to the end of the 10-episode season (which was provided for review in its entirety), through Chris O’Dowd’s insecure and emotionally conflicted Dusty (still the beating heart of the show), the writers once again revel in what made the series such a thinker in the first place. Essentially, it’s about how to start living a life we never had by recreating the chances we never took and embracing change, even if it scares us to death and reshapes our entire world. It conveys how it’s never too late to start new adventures, find love, or even rediscover the self we lost when we were young and didn’t know what steps we should’ve taken and in what direction. And it makes clear that, just because we failed to achieve the dreams of our younger selves, it doesn’t mean the path we’ve taken was wrong, it just means that we took a different road than what we had imagined.

Ultimately, even though The Big Door Prize shifts its emphasis toward romance and amusement rather than self-reflection and introspection, this follow-up still offers enough food for thought and a lot to love. After all, the show is meant to be fun and upbeat, with a penchant for revealing something profound between the lines. By mostly maintaining that balance the second time around, the series remains a gem in an oversaturated comedy television landscape. And with another mind-bending final twist in the finale, it makes a strong case for another season if Apple TV+ and the viewers are open to it.

The Big Door Prize Season 2 premieres Wednesday, April 24th on Apple TV+.

Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Slant Magazine, and Certified Forgotten. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Substack (@akospeterbencze).

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