Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Surface is an addictive, suspenseful and riveting series from Apple TV+ that evokes the classic thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, anchored by two strong performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
Reese Witherspoon has proven herself to be an excellent producer for bringing female centric stories to the screen, between hit series such as Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere and The Morning Show, and films such as Gone Girl and Where the Crawdads Sing. For her next project, Witherspoon reunites with her The Morning Show co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw for a new psychological thriller.
The series follows Sophie, portrayed by Mbatha-Raw, recovering from a suicide attempt trying to piece together her life, aided by her loving husband James, portrayed by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, her therapist Hannah, portrayed by Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and her best friend Caroline, portrayed by Ari Graynor. But when a mysterious man from her past, portrayed by Stephan James, makes contact with Sophie and suggests that her suicide attempt may not have been a sucidie attempt, but someone trying to kill her, Sophie begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her past while searching for the answer of what happened to her.
Over the course of eight episodes, showrunner Veronica West spins a intricate and thrilling web of suspicion as Sophie looks for answers about what happened to her on the day she lost her memories and potentially tried to end her life. When you first learn that Sophie maybe did not attempt to commit suicide, your mind immediately jumps to a conclusion as to who may have tried to kill her. And West knows where your mind will go, playing into that train of thought for the first few episodes. But with each episode, she throws a curve ball of a twist at you, which constantly has you double guessing everything you think you know as you try to piece together what happened to Sophie. By writing the series like this, you as the viewer are in as much shock as Sophie as she slowly pieces together what happened to her, taking the audience along for that exact same ride that the main character experiences over the course of the series. And unlike many shows which have an obvious outcome, you truly have no idea where this show is heading in the best way possible. It creates an incredibly binge worthy miniseries, even if the tone changes in the final episode. The change in tone will work if the show ends up having a second season, which at the time of this review is unclear, but if it’s meant to be a miniseries, it’s a confusing choice.
Not often do I make comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock, but the parallels between this show and some of his more famous works are undeniable. Whether it be the gorgeous leading lady, a potential crime of passion, or a suspense filled tale that keeps you guessing, this is the first project in a long time that even begins to evoke the genius of Hitchcock.
Aiding in the writing are some smart cinematography choices which focus on the character with dialogue, while blurring the periphery of the shot. This creates a claustrophobic feeling to the series, and with Sophie being the main character, you feel as if the world around her is not trustworthy. While distracting at first, this is actually a great artistic choice that maintains the feeling that you can’t trust what is happening around Sophie, only fueling the paranoia that both she and the audience are feeling over the course of the show.
Though, it is Mbatha-Raw’s incredible performance that makes the show. She is sympathetic and elegant, drawing the viewers into Sophie’s struggle as she tries to piece together her past. At the same time, Mbatha-Raw makes Sophie an enigma, causing the audience to casually question her trustworthiness as more of her past is revealed. It works so well as it plays a psychological trick on the audience, because while you fully trust Sophie in the present and want to believe she is completely innocent in the events that led up to her memory loss, Mbatha-Raw keeps you guessing as to who Sophie was before the accident.
Ever since The Haunting of Hill House, I have been a fan of Jackson-Cohen, and he delivers a great performance. As Sophie’s loving husband, Jackson-Cohen is suave and charming when the script calls for it. But he makes James feel untrustworthy and controlling, which is only heightened by his angry outbursts over the course of the show. Then as the twists and turns are revealed, you can easily see a villainous persona bubbling beneath Jackson-Cohen’s handsome face and smile, constantly causing you to wrestle with yourself trying to decide whether James has the ability to attempt to murder his wife.
As a couple, Mbatha-Raw and Jackson-Cohen are excellent. There is a romantic spark to them without a doubt, but it's the cat and mouse game that they create in their on screen relationship where they truly come to life and ignite the series. For supporting performances, the cast is good but it is Jean-Baptiste who is the standout as Sophie’s therapist. Jean-Baptiste is calm and collected in her scenes, but the way she spins her dialogue is truly unnerving as you begin to question whether she is there to help Sophie overcome the traumatic event that almost claimed her life, or to halt Sophie’s recovery and is part of a larger plan working against Sophie.
Like so many of Apple TV+’s original series, Surface is excellent and I cannot recommend it enough, even if people forget about the great shows on the streamer. Guaranteed to have you waiting anxiously for the next episode to release every week as you are taken on a twist filled ride as you question what happened to Sophie, Surface is an expertly written psychological thriller that features two outstanding performances from the ever talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, making it yet another Apple TV+ series that you cannot miss!