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SXSW

SXSW 2023 TV Review: ‘The Big Door Prize’ with Chris O’Dowd

Ever wonder what your potential as a human being was? What if there was a machine that could give you that answer? Such a machine mysteriously appears in the general store of Deerfield, Louisiana, in the new Apple TV comedy series, The Big Door Prize. Its effects lead to heartwarming stories with lots of laughs.

The first three episodes of the series premiered at this year’s SXSW Conference which ran March 10-19 in Austin. The ten-episode, character-driven comedy starts on Apple TV on March 29. The first three episodes will run that day, followed by a new episode each Wednesday through May 17.

What Can You Be?

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Chris O’Dowd as Dusty Hubbard has no idea what awaits him

As I watched the premiere episodes, I was reminded of the slogan the US Army started using back in the 1980s: “Be All You Can Be,” The residents of Deerfield start using the “Morpho Machine,” which looks like a photo booth, and it provides them with a card showing what they can be: their potential.

Their reactions vary from hilarious to sad.

The show stars Chris O’Dowd, whom you may remember as Roy Trenneman on all five seasons of The IT Crowd. O’Dowd plays high school teacher Dusty Hubbard. Dusty is happy in his home life. He has a beautiful wife, Cass, played by Gabrielle Dennis (Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming), and a smart daughter, Trina, played by Djouliet Amara (Bloody Hell).

Dusty feels fulfilled in his profession. He also has a reputation as the best whistler in town.

The Potential

Dusty resists using the Morpho Machine. He sees other people in the small town receiving cards giving them new ambitions and dreams. His parents even decide to happily divorce so that they can each pursue the potential identified for them by the machine.

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Gabrielle Dennis, Chris O’Dowd and Djouliet Amara in “The Big Door Prize,” premiering March 29, 2023 on Apple TV+

Dusty’s wife gets a card from the machine which tells her that her potential is “Royalty.”

He finally gives in and tries out the machine. The card the machine prints out for him is different from that produced for everyone else in town. Dusty has a problem.

The Source

The source of the machine does not become apparent in the first three episodes, but the source of the story is a best-selling novel by M.O. Walsh. The book has generally received 4 star-plus reviews. Most reviewers mention the tension created when the suggestions about potential conflict with the realities of small town living.

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The cast of ‘The Big Door Prize’ gives a round of applause to its music composer (photo by author)

Small towns have often been the focus of TV storytelling, as in Mare of Eastown and Schitt’s Creek. Emmy Award winner David West Read gets credit for adapting the world of The Big Door Prize, as writer and executive producer. Read previously wrote 17 episodes of Schitt’s Creek.

Being There

You’ll need the Apple TV app to watch The Big Door Prize on Apple TV+. The streaming service also hosts Ted Lasso and Oscar Best Picture winner CODA. You can see a preview of The Big Door Prize below.

To find out more about SXSW and how to attend in future years check its website. The festival also shares highlights of previous years speakers and events online.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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