Amanda Seyfried in "The Crowded Room"  on Apple TV+.

 Amanda Seyfried in "The Crowded Room"  on Apple TV+. Credit: Apple TV+

LIMITED SERIES "The Crowded Room"

WHERE Streaming on Apple TV+

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "The Crowded Room" limited series comes to Apple TV+ from the veteran filmmaker Akiva Goldsman, whose numerous Hollywood credits include an Academy Award for writing "A Beautiful Mind."

It has no shortage of excellent actors, with Tom Holland and Amanda Seyfried fronting the cast. Other ensemble members include the "Nashville" and Broadway star Will Chase, Emmy Rossum ("Shameless") and Sasha Lane ("Loki").

"The Crowded Room" takes its inspiration from a compelling source — "The Minds of Billy Milligan," by Daniel Keyes, the early '80s nonfiction novel about a man charged with horrible crimes who earned an acquittal when he successfully used the defense of having dissociative identity disorder.

The loose adaptation here has promise, unpacking the mysteries surrounding protagonist Danny Sullivan (Holland), who is interrogated by Seyfried's Rya Goodwin after being arrested in connection with a shooting at  Rockefeller Plaza, circa 1979.

MY SAY Yet in spite of everything, even with all those stars seeming to align, "The Crowded Room" is an unwatchable mess.

The jumbled plotting makes it impossible to have even the clearest sense of what's happening or why anyone should care after a viewing of the first three of 10 episodes.

There's a lot of talking, the vague implication that Danny has some heinous secrets, unstructured flashbacks spurred by the central interrogation and not a hint of tension, danger or meaning.

It has the veneer of prestige mystery television but none of the attributes; it feels like the sort of miniseries that might emerge from someone who has read a bunch of loglines but never actually watched a quality piece of work in this genre.

As the writing flails about, the actors have nothing to work with. Some characters have muddled relationships that go nowhere, while others seem to be compelled to do whatever the writer needs at a particular moment, floating in and out of the story with such impunity that they scarcely seem real.

A good example: An Israeli man named Yitzak (Lior Raz) who moves in across the street from Danny and his family, takes Danny in as he escapes his abusive stepfather (Chase), and seems to only emerge when he's needed to beat the heck out of a bad guy, before disappearing again.

Seyfried seems incredibly disinterested in the whole thing, barely able to muster a line reading with any gusto. At the same time, Holland struggles mightily to impart any sort of an inner life and to make sense of some incredibly rapid shifts in tone. Horrific abuse scenes mesh uncomfortably with period nostalgia and coming-of-age tidbits. It's miserable. 

When you've wasted the erstwhile Elizabeth Holmes ("The Dropout") and the best of all Peter Parkers, something has gone really wrong.

One could argue that maybe Goldsman and his directors needed more time than three episodes to set things in motion. But if, after about two-and-a-half hours, you've left your audience in a state of total befuddlement, that's not very promising. That would be the slowest of slow burns.

BOTTOM LINE It's hard to imagine a worse show.

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