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Cynthia Erivo in Roar.
Cynthia Erivo in Roar.
Photo: AppleTV+






3/5 Stars


An anthology series where every episode focuses on a different woman’s story and their experiences as they navigate the world. 


Understanding Roar means understanding the precarious position women hold in society today. The anthology series tells a different woman's story in each episode and uses aspects of magical realism to convey a truth that rings loudly about how women are treated or perceived.

Based on Cecilia Ahern's 2018 collection of short stories, each entry is a type of modern-day fable with a feminist flavour. It feels almost wrong to judge the series as a whole when each episode is so vastly different. Every episode has a different cast and creative team and seems to explore a different genre of television as well. Sometimes I was glad for this as I had grown tired of a story, but other times I just wished I could exist in the world of an episode just a little bit longer to see what happens next.

The show is created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, who previously created GLOW, and you can see similar energy in how Roar is produced. Each episode tells the story of a woman who is dissatisfied with her current state and does something about it to varying degrees. Each episode begins with the opening credits of a mouth literally screaming, and then the title sequence introducing the story.

This works well for some episodes, the best-being episode seven entitled The Woman Who Returned Her Husband, which tells the story of a housewife, Anu (Meera Syal), who returns her husband to a literal store (with his husband's warranty) after decades of marriage turns stale. What begins as a literal interpretation of a real-life problem regarding middle-aged slumps, becomes an important conversation about communication, trust and appreciating what you have.

The literal translation of metaphorical phrases can feel very on-the-nose at times. This is apparent in the first episode entitled The Woman Who Disappeared, which tells the story of Wanda (Issa Rae), who is meeting with white film executives about adapting her memoir into a film. The white executives' inability to hear her and what her book is trying to convey translates into her becoming silent and invisible, speaking to society's tendency to ignore Black women and their desires. But after a few scenes of this, the gimmick feels overdone and frustrating, and the episode cuts off before we get to see the resolution.

There was a similar feeling of dissatisfaction at the end of episode three, entitled The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf. This episode tells the story of a woman known for her beauty, Amelia (Betty Gilpin), whose husband, played by the charming Daniel Dae-Kim, builds a shelf for her to sit on where he can admire her all day; she is a literal trophy wife. However, he grows weary of watching her and eventually turns away and starts neglecting her. She eventually climbs off the shelf and begins to experience life for herself. The ending leaves a lot to think about, but it still does not offer a resolution as to how she handles her husband.

The episode that I found most entertaining to watch was episode six, entitled The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder, which serves as a dark comedy parody of crime shows from the perspective of a woman who was murdered. Alison Brie plays the victim, and Chris Lowell and Hugh Dancy play the detectives. The victim has to deal with the fact that she has died and reminisce on her life while still trying to solve her murder because the men assigned to the case are too distracted by their own lives.

However, it is clear that showing the literal translation of sayings often used to describe women's trauma and pain, allowed us to see it differently. In episode four, The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On A Skin, Ambia (Cynthia Erivo) finds bite marks on her body after returning to work after giving birth to her second child. The episode is filmed like a horror, and the more she gets involved in work, the worse her body starts looking until she realises that it is the guilt that is eating her alive. I found this episode to be incredibly profound and an excellent example of the struggles of working mothers.

Not all episodes worked as well, The Woman Who Ate Photographs tells the story of Robin (Nicole Kidman), who starts eating photographs to remember her past as she deals with her mother's dementia. Although the episode is straightforward, it fails to hit the emotional punches that it seems like it was aiming for.

Although this collection of feminist fables seemed to tell the stories of various women across different ages and races, it still feels very limited to a certain type of woman – cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-class, mostly American women. It would be interesting if there is a season two where they will explore different women's stories and situations.

Roar is an interesting collection of stories that will have you thinking about it long after you are finished watching it. And that is what it does well – inspire conversation, reflection and action.


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