Roush Review: A Star Is Born in the Musical Dramedy ‘Little Voice’
There’s a song in the heart that she wears on her sleeve, which may explain why Little Voice‘s Bess King (the enchanting Brittany O’Grady, of Fox’s Star) confesses, “Sometimes I think I should have been born 50 years ago.”
A fledgling singer and songwriter trying to make it after all in New York City, young Bess with the old soul worries that her act is too earnest for these cynical times. She’s also skittish about singing in public after bombing a while back. (Although she’s known to wow a local nursing home in one of her side gigs with standards like “Moon River.”)
“I write for myself,” she insists. “Like a diary.” So that’s why the Apple TV+ dramedy reminds me of Felicity, if that WB classic had come with a soundtrack of original Sara Bareilles songs. (Felicity‘s prolific co-creator J.J. Abrams is executive producer with Bareilles and showrunner Jessie Nelson, who wrote the book for Bareilles’s Broadway musical version of Waitress — ironically, another Keri Russell connection).
As Bess faces rejection and heartbreak on her way to gaining the confidence to put her not-so-little voice and talent out there, in the bar where she works and elsewhere, the streets and tunnels and subway stations of New York reverberate with music. (Some of which is provided by Broadway veteran Chuck Cooper as Bess’s dad, a jazz legend reduced to busking.) Swoony at best, and almost daringly afraid of sappy sentiment when the occasion demands, Little Voice urges you to to root for Bess even when her inner diva prematurely erupts in fits of insecure temperament.
She has a bad habit of pushing away the heartthrobs who care for her most, and much like with Ben and Noel on Felicity, viewers may find themselves either on Team Ethan — Sean Teale as the doe-eyed filmmaker who, like her, uses a storage unit as a workspace (and what a bohemian setting for a meet-cute) — or Team Samuel: Colton Ryan as the scruffy musician who nurtures her talent and gushes, “When you sing, your soul is all over your face.” Not so much Team Jeremy (Luke Kirby in an about-face from his suave Lenny Bruce on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as a smarmy recording engineer whose connections may not be all that.)
There might even be a Team Louie for Bess’s needy brother (Kevin Valdez) who’s on the spectrum and awkwardly adjusting to life in a group home, where the inhabitants aren’t quite as keen to share his unfiltered enthusiasm for Broadway stars and trivia. (When Louie bumps into Bareilles in the street, the ridiculousness of the situation is mitigated by his joy in calling her out for having been rejected by The Mickey Mouse Club, something I didn’t know.)
“Less is more,” Samuel wisely advises Bess on her journey. And while there’s a distracting subplot involving her BFF roommate Prisha (Shalini Bathina) who tries to hide her sexuality from her traditional Indian parents, Little Voice mostly complies with brisk half-hour episodes that fly by so quickly you may not have time to be embarrassed by the occasional tear that gets jerked.
Little Voice, Season 1 Premiere, Friday, July 10, Apple TV+