Plane tragedies in Hollywoodland usually serve as precursors to an elaborate mystery/thriller plot that can go as far as to feature time warps ( Manifest, 2018) or even chart the making of a cult ( Yellowjackets, 2021). In his new Apple TV+ show, Dear Edward, Jason Katims uses this fertile ground to take on a simpler topic of grief. While even Katims cannot resist the pull of peppering in elements of ambiguity for the characters to solve, the show remains loyal to its core theme of grief being the toughest hurdle to cross.
Adapted from a novel by Ann Napolitano (who also serves as the executive producer), the show deals with the aftermath of a flight crash in which only a 12-year-old boy survives: Edward Adler (Colin O’Brien). Weaving a web of sadness around the kins of those who perished, Katims attempts a heartfelt portrayal of the messiness that comes with grief. At the center of this web is a group therapy support group (paid for by the airline for the relatives). The group features a whole host of characters, including Taylor Schilling as Edward’s aunt Lacey, whom Katims aims to link with each other as the story moves forward.
As the lone survivor of the crash, Edward, and the cast that surrounds him, heft the storyline. Edward is simultaneously heralded into fame as the ‘Miracle Boy’ who survived, and with the loss of his parents and brother is submerged into the depths of grief. Colin O’Brien is subtly brilliant in this performance of grief as desperate confusion. He mulls over whether he should have exchanged the flight seat with his brother, and occasionally finds himself drawn to their falafel stand in New York. O’Brien is also particularly adept at expressing a helplessness at being forced to fit into the new normal of living with his aunt Lacey, whom he has met only a few times before. As Lacey, Taylor Schilling gets her own flavour of grief, as she juggles her emotions between mourning the death of her elder sister and being a caregiver for Edward.
An interesting choice made for both characters comes in the form of the common ground they end up sharing. While Katims wants to reach the comfort that lies beyond mourning, he quite often sticks Lacey and Edward in the muddy pond of anger. Instead of being a pillar of support to each other, the two surviving people to have known Edward’s mother the best often end up clashing with each other. At one point Edward tells Lacey that he struggles to look at her because she reminds him of his mother, while for Lacey the opportunity to raise Edward comes at a time when she is beat down by her difficulties at conceiving a child.
Similarly, Katims plays around with providing each character their own unique cocktail of grief while also taking liberties at paralleling their situations. Dead men tell no tales, and so Katims sends almost all characters down a blind chase to uncover what their (now dead) loved ones were hiding from them. The show, in this way, can vaguely be divided into two halves, with the first half surrounding the various untold truths, as the second one unfolds in a self-reflective manner. As old stories are wrapped up, new griefs take over the mantle.
However, Katims’ ambitions remain the same throughout. He seeks to entangle these characters through the grief group, and it is also where this show gains a compelling speed. When Kojo (Idris Debrand) from Ghana comes over to take care of his niece who has been orphaned, he finds a helping hand in Adriana (Anna Uzele), a Congressional candidate aspiring to retain her grandmother’s seat. While coming to terms with the sudden motherhood thrust upon her, in the form of Edward, Lacey ends up assisting Linda (Amy Forsyth) a pregnant young woman whose boyfriend also died in the crash.
Such connections ebb and flow throughout the run of the 10 episodes; however some end up holding more weight than the others. While the stories of Kojo and Adriana, Lacey and Linda maintain a constant thrum of drama, other pairs are given sudden sparing time in episodes, wrapped up hastily and appear to exist away from the larger story. Therefore they often end up feeling like an unasked-for break in the flow. Individually these stories are powerful, but spliced together they don’t quite reach their potential.
Connie Britton as DeeDee, however, emerges as a strong glue to hold the series together. While the character was never originally in Ann Napolitano’s book, Katims made the character for Britton, with whom he had previously worked on Friday Night Lights (2006). Playing a New York socialite, Britton does a wonderful job as DeeDee who comes to term with her husband’s death, and the potential loss of her wealth.
Katims undertakes an ambitious observation of grief, and the journey that is to be taken to eventually move beyond it sincerely. Dear Edward parses through the messy contours of grieving through numerous heartfelt stories, but for a show that gives the feeling of switching between multiple short stories, maybe it would have been more impactful as an anthology with a common tragedy.
Dear Edward is currently streaming on AppleTV+ with new episodes releasing every Friday.