Because I Could Not Stop
I Have Never Seen ‘Volcanoes’
Alone, I Cannot Be
I Am Afraid to Own a Body
A Brief But Patient Illness
We Lose – Because We Win
There’s a Certain Slant of Light
‘Faith’ Is a Fine Invention
I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain
Dickinson is another addition to Apple+‘s library, offering up a coming-of-age black comedy with a modern twist on the tale of Poet Emily Dickinson. The premise of the show is quite controversial and despite some creative ideas may not appeal to everyone. The modern-day dialogue and pop music injected into the period-drama setting feels more than a little jarring at times, although across the 10 episodes there are some enjoyable plot points and the different actors do well to slot into their various roles.
The bulk of the story follows Emily Dickinson during her teenage years, struggling against the constraints of society and gender. Desperate to be heard and for her poems to be published, she stops at nothing to get her point of view across. With her mother constantly trying to marry her off and her father strictly against her ambition, Emily faces many obstacles in her teen years, including her love for her best friend Sue who’s set to marry Emily’s older brother.
For all of its jarring colloquialisms and anachronistic ideas, there’s no denying that Dickinson is both an interesting and unique spin on this historical tale. Personally though, the show is more miss than hit, with one particular scene seeing all the teens rebelling, making out and taking drugs feeling really forced and out of place. There are numerous examples of this dotted through the show and while the younger generation may take to this style, as a 38 year old woman I’m certainly not the target demographic and it’s likely to be a show as polarizing as it is alienating given what the show attempts here.
The cast do a great job though and Hailee Steinfeld certainly captures the essence of a modern-day Emily Dickinson. It’s also worth mentioning Jane Krakowski here too, who plays the repressed housewife perfectly, delivering some quick-witted and clever lines during her time on the show. These two in particular really brighten up an otherwise tonally confused series that neither satisfies period drama lovers, nor does offer enough to convince teens to indulge in the 19th century setting.
Dickinson does well to bring this time period to life though, with excellent sets and costumes adding an air of authenticity to the series. Throughout the episodes, we’re given snippets of Dickinson’s poems as she writes them, showing up as writing on-screen which is a nice, original touch to the drama. There are some interesting themes brought forward too, touching on feminism and homosexuality and how taboo those topics were during the 19th century. Although the series mentions some important historical events like slavery and the tension felt in the country between the North and the South, I would have liked to have seen this developed further rather than in passing conversations.
After watching Dickinson, I remain torn with how I feel about Apple+’s comedy. While the idea behind it is intriguing and unique, it’s difficult to know who Dickinson is targeted for. This year there’s been a whole slew of teen dramas that overshadow this offering, while plenty of lavish, big-budget period dramas put this one to shame. Although some of the humour is nicely worked into the plot, and the acting is solid throughout, Dickinson feels like its tailored for a niche audience rather than mainstream appeal. With a second season already green-lit, it’ll be interesting to see if the show will improve and change things up, and just whether it’ll find its target market or not.
Verdict - 5/10