High Desert Season 1 Review: Promises the moon and delivers a grape

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 2/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5


The title of this season’s review of High Desert can be related to the character of Peggy, the show’s protagonist, and also the show as a whole.

Starring Patricia Arquette as Peggy, High Desert promised an interesting insight into the strange and mystical high desert region in California. Something like Florida Man, that recently released on Netflix, was expected to be on the cards. But the end result of the Apple TV+ show is a biteless, middling tale about a recovering addict who gets embroiled in a fake-painting scam involving a local celebrity.

As well as dealing with her addiction, Peggy also has to deal with the demise of her mother, Roslyn. Peggy’s husband, Denny, was arrested a few years ago for working in the drug trade and her entire life was uprooted as a consequence. She hopes to showcase her commitment to getting her life back on track to her siblings, Stewart and Dianne. As part of her journey, she joins up with a Private Investigator, Bruce, to pursue her newfound interest in the profession. Her ambition to make it big lands her in all sorts of troubles with Bob, a former celebrity turned “spiritual guru,” who has shady dealings.

It was clear from the outset that Peggy would be the focal point of the show’s storytelling. Everything flows through her, making her a composite and consistent element. The narrative probabilities are greatly limited to the extent of Peggy’s dealings but this isn’t a major issue. High Desert really falters in not making the most of that creative choice. In their exploration of Peggy’s fraught mental state and straight-talking no-nonsense personality that continually gets her out of trouble, the team shows half-hearted commitment.

The writers and creators create a conventional structure, which is never a bad thing. But it becomes disappointing when the results are intangible. As a viewer, you might feel like you are running around in circles for most of the season, akin to a snake catching its own tail. There is so much obtuseness and random interventions, it leaves you with no anchor to hold on to. This is because High Desert’s plot is all over the place and its creative conceits remain unfinished. Something would often start but a few minutes later, it wouldn’t be properly developed.

If you were to start season 1 of High Desert and miss an episode, you wouldn’t miss much. Phrases like dilly-dallying and beating around the bush are perfect to typify the feeling you might get when you watch it. The start-stop switching between Peggy’s recovery and mourning, and how she becomes increasingly involved with Guru Bob and Bruce, disrupts the show’s rhythm. There is no regularity or cadence to how things unfold. The nature of recurring themes and callbacks is greatly undermined in the show.

All hopes are attached to Patricia Arquette, who is truly the show’s only bright star. Not many other actors get an opportunity to establish themselves as the show goes on. Matt Dillon, Rupert Friend, and Brad Garrett appear in the series but have nothing to work with. Arquette dominates the screen time and she characterizes Peggy with the kind of street-smarts that is low-key offensive but likeable. After a certain point, though, she stops bringing new dimensions to Peggy as the character views the world unfolding around her with a singular monocle. The second half of the show suffers as a consequence of this writing but the fault might also be with Arquette who becomes too comfortable in her role.

Good deeds that no one cares about, failed promises, and unresolved grief are remnants of identity that linger and underscore High Desert. But they never surface or come to fruition. The show spirals as it confronts notional challenges of the television landscape with its brittle narrative schemings that ultimately leave a lot to be de desired.

Is High Desert worth watching? Our recommendation is to skip it, something that we didn’t think we would say after seeing the initial episodes.

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  • Verdict - 6/10

1 thought on “High Desert Season 1 Review: Promises the moon and delivers a grape”

  1. I believe this review is a bit harsh. With so much of American television mediocre at best, especially comedy, this is well worth a watch, especially the performance of Arquette, who as rightly pointed out, dominates the show. As a non American, it is worth a watch just to get the historical references and the current reality, especially attitudes to drug use and the geographical location.
    Matt Dillon is great as the ex-husband as is Friend, playing out of type.
    I suggest you ignore this 6/10 rating and judge for yourself. I watch a LOT of tv/movies, and this is absolutely better than most, especially the usual violent garbage served up as entertainment.
    8/10 from me.

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