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'Surface' Season 1 Review: Gugu Mbatha-Raw Has Lost Her Memory In Apple TV+ Drama

Gugu Mbatha-Raw lying down on a bench at a pier
Apple TV+

Hopefully you have your bathing suit ready to go because we're certainly swimming and floating and doing all the things today. Showrunner Veronica West introduces audiences to lives being lived in Surface, a new miniseries that possibly tells its story in eight episodes (more on that later) with intensified attention paid to mental health, memory and cognisance. In a wealthy San Francisco neighbourhood, we get to know Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is suffering from severe memory loss after what is told to be her suicide attempt. Sophie begins trying to bring back her memories, identity and reasons for the attempt, whether that is information from her finance-millionaire husband James (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), friend Caroline (Ari Graynor), therapist Hannah (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) or cop and her lover Baden (Stephan James).

As far as content that is actually present in the show goes, the series can easily hook you in both with its premise that immediately raises questions by holding its cards close to the chest, and with stylised filmmaking that has nods mostly to erotic thrillers. Featured cinematography (by Tami Reiker and Claudine Sauvé) uses blur around edges to highlight Sophie's uncertainty before using pristine glass in moments where clarity starts to trickle in. Sara Byblow's costumes on the other hand dress Sophie, James and rest in beautiful but seemingly uncomfortable clothes as they try to fit in wherever they think they're supposed to be fitting in.

There's quite minimalistic direction with actors, who are all top to bottom solid while no one really stands out particularly, as most story developments happen in conversations between them. This is also why some viewers can find themselves jumping off as it often can lack immediacy and fascination with wheres, whys and whens.

It can sometimes feel a bit tedious to talk about mechanics behind a show but Surface can be an interesting case in terms of how you come out feeling about it. Its platform Apple TV+ posits that it's an ''eight-episode psychological thriller'' while elsewhere it's also listed as a limited series. But as the finale unfolds, it seems like this is just the first of two parts, tracing back your steps on top of the surface while you might want to go below afterwards to really investigate what makes Sophie tick.

Combined with that expectation, the following rating and impression would also be slightly lower when considering that this show is hardly interested in psychology or being a thriller. As noted, the story is about Sophie's relationships—men and women in her life and her past self—and West and her actors are clearly inhaling all the drama that can possibly be found in them (typically you'd call that a relationship drama). Guess we'll now just have to wait and see if we need to put on our diving gear, too.

Smileys: Cinematography

Frowneys: Atmosphere, pacing

You understandably might suspect gaslighting from the husband (again).


[Update, December 4th, 2022: ''Series Review'' replaced with ''Season 1 Review'' in the title after the show was surprisingly renewed for a second season.]

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