Friday, July 10, 2020

REVIEW: 'Little Voice' - Bess Fears Getting Back Onstage to Perform an Original Song in 'I Don't Know'

AppleTV+'s Little Voice - Episode 1.01 "I Don't Know"

Young musician Bess King races from job to job in New York while trying to find the courage to perform her own material.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of AppleTV+'s Little Voice.

"I Don't Know" was directed by Jessie Nelson with story by Jessie Nelson & Sara Bareilles and teleplay by Jessie Nelson

Bess is surrounded by music. It's all-consuming in her life. Every time she turns a street corner, there is someone performing. When she descends the steps to the subway, there is someone performing. She sees people living unapologetically through music. It's inspiring. She seeks out such inspiration and conviction as well. She is a songwriter who happens to be her own worst critic. Her songs are just for herself. They serve as a diary for her. They aren't an expression of herself on the public stage. People tell her over and over again that she is talented. She is brilliant and deserves to feel so much more confident than she actually does. Instead, she is just in limbo in her life. She is working several different jobs. She is a dog walker, bartender and music teacher. It's all just to make as much money as she can to keep this current life sustainable. She is clearly yearning for more. The universe gives her opportunities to embrace that could lead to a more enriching future. Her brother, Louie, has lived with either her or her father for his entire time. And now, he is living in a special housing unit that allows him to be more independent. Of course, he still relies heavily on these family bonds that have helped him navigate the world so far. He is still very much in the transitional phase of his life. Bess feels bad whenever she feels she has to decline his phone call. She will still rush to help him when he is out past his curfew though. She cares. She just can't live solely in service of him and his needs. Her musical aspirations are valid. She has the skills to make it big. However, she is terrified whenever she gets on stage. She has friends who uplift and support her. They tell her that one bad showing doesn't have to lead to her giving up on these dreams. Those hecklers crush her spirit though. She has already convinced herself that the music she writes is not something that the masses want to her. She describes her songs as earnest. It's a quality missing in the world right now. She doesn't see that as a plus though. Instead, she views it as a hindrance to whatever she is hoping to achieve. As such, she is defeated long before she decides to step on the stage again. It's absolutely a big step for her to get up there when a band can't go on at the last minute during a packed house at the bar. But again, her nerves get the best of her. That is a nice fake out of what the structure of this story normally tells. Usually, this version of events would lead to her immediately getting the confidence to sell everything she hopes to express as a musician. That doesn't occur here. She is just as defeated at the end of the premiere as she was at the start. This is a show that informs the audience that she is stuck in life by showing her writing in increasingly larger letters that she is stuck. It can be very on the nose. It's hitting the audience hard with the themes and concerns that are apparent in her life. That makes this premiere less than graceful. Brittany O'Grady is a charming performer though. She handles the original music from Sara Bareilles well. She commands the screen as the star of the show. But it's also clear that the show embraces some very basic storytelling impulses. It builds up Ethan as a potential love interest for Bess. Then, the action reveals that he actually already has a girlfriend. That's the big twist. It's yet another instance of Bess' life going in an unexpected direction that stuns her. She feels that she will be beaten down no matter where she turns. As such, it's acceptable that she doesn't try. It's good enough just to make it by in life. That's depressing and very unlikely to last for much longer. She may return to the stage much faster than she did the last time she felt rejected. Confidence is the first hurdle she must overcome. Actually building a sustainable and successful career as a singer-songwriter is much more daunting. And so, there has to be a lot of fertile storytelling ground for the show to cover in the future in ways that should subvert what the audience expects. That would make it the best possible version of itself.