Just the tip: Dickinson a charming millennial comedy about a girl ahead of her time

PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube/Apple TV

So many shows, so little time. How do you know what's hot and what's not?

That's where our first impressions come in; where we watch the first episode of the latest series to hit your screens and tell you whether it's worth your time.

This week, we're looking at...


DICKINSON (APPLE TV+)

What is it: Say what you want about Apple TV+'s opening lineup of shows (which have mostly missed the mark according to critics), but Dickinson is such a joy to watch in a streaming landscape full of heavy dramas. A witty, contemporary and millennial interpretation of the story of the titular American poet, Dickinson's coming-of-age story is just so lit. It is a comedy set in the 1800s with accurate set pieces and wardrobe, but with dialogue that seems to be written by someone raised on a healthy diet of Twitter, Buzzfeed, and youth culture.

Coincidentally, it's this subversion of expectations that makes Dickinson the dark horse of Apple TV+'s catalogue. Pretty apt, considering that this is a show about female empowerment. What they lack in star power, unlike fellow Apple TV+ originals like The Morning Show (Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon) and See (Jason Momoa), they more than make up for it in their writing.

All eyes are on: Why, Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson, of course! Gasp, the nerve! As a budding writer who is trying to get her voice heard, as well as a teenage girl fighting against societal and parental expectations — in more ways than one — Emily is all of us just trying to get out from under the shadow of our mental and emotional baggage as we seek to make our mark in the world.

Hailee portrays that struggle, and the teenage angst that comes with it, with such earnestness and sincerity that makes Emily relatable, endearing, and oh-so-millennial. Sure, Emily does rebel for the sake of it at times, but her defiance is never from a place of immaturity. Rather, she seeks to make a statement in this incredibly patriarchal society even if it means her mother can't wait to marry her off and kick her out of the house.

PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube/Apple TV

Is this for real: As a period sitcom, I was expecting the characters to sound a certain way so I was genuinely surprised when the characters spoke exactly like they were plucked out of 2019. In the opening scene, Emily was asked to fetch water from the well because she was a girl, and she replied: "This is such bull****."

It was a little jarring but you'll get use to it pretty fast.

Another thing that came across rather odd was the personification of Death. Of all the characters, he seems the most out of place because he's also the most contemporary. His motivations (if any) are unknown since he only has a brief scene with Emily in the first episode.

Wiz Khalifa as Death. PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube/Apple TV

Perhaps it's intentional, but I'm just frustrated by the fact that I can't glean much insight into what his character is supposed to be or do — besides being a device to explore the theme of death and immortality present in Emily's works.

What we like: Girl power! Right from the moment that Emily swore, my heart did a little cheer because I knew that this version of Emily is unabashedly millennial and a 'firecracker'. So if you can't take the heat, get out of her kitchen.

Death, while mystifying, is laudable as a character because he seems to be a subtle testament to the oppression of that era. Death (played by Wiz Khalifa) is everything Emily's world would frown upon. He is black, a straight-talker, and a cool dude who doesn't seem to conform. Essentially, he is the antithesis to Emily's society.

And the brilliant writing doesn't stop there because the other women in Dickinson (aside from Emily) are walking contradictions and find themselves to be victims of society.

Emily's mum herself is silenced and unable to speak up when Emily's dad exempts his daughter from household chores.

Lavinia, Emily's sister, is upset that her parents aren't attempting to find her a suitor when she has explicitly told them that she desires to get married.

Sue, Emily's best friend and secret lover, is trapped in a loveless marriage because her survival depends on it.

Through them, we are continuously reminded of what is (and was) wrong with the treatment of women at that time. While things have changed and improved tremendously since then, it is unfortunate that the message still remains a timely one.

To watch or not to watch: Personally, I always empathise with stories of those who go against the grain and Emily's rebellion against tradition echoes that of my own struggles and left me wanting more. What is also important, is that this is a heartwarming (and darkly humorous) tale of a girl who is trying to speak and live her truth.

PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube/Apple TV

A period sitcom that is made for the modern audience (and younglings), Dickinson impresses with a smart script and intelligent characterisation. It truly is a treat and a refreshing palate cleanser amidst the dark, heavy and gritty dramas that are a staple on streaming platforms.

ALSO READ: Good shows must watch: His Dark Materials and other shows to binge on

bryanlim@asiaone.com

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