While Apple TV Plus is probably best known for its comfort food comedies and big-budget genre swings, the streaming service has also steadily built up a series of very intense thrillers. The last one is Surface – not to be confused with suspect, severance payor Servant, also available on the service – which takes the idea of a mystery to its most extreme conclusion. The early episodes are almost entirely made up of questions and deception. I can’t even tell at this point if the show is even any good – but I know I’ll have to keep watching to find out.
Surface is aimed at Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whom you may remember Lokidoctor who, and the best episode of black mirror), five months away from an accident that caused almost complete amnesia. Unable to remember who she is or the people around her, she tries to summarize her life based on all sorts of clues: old phone messages, medical and financial records, brief flashes of dreams or memories, and the various things her friends have. . and family tell her.
The core mystery, at least initially, has to do with Sophie’s accident. It’s treated like a suicide attempt, with Sophie apparently jumping off a boat in the middle of nowhere and still miraculously surviving. But almost immediately she begins to doubt what happened. For starters, her life seems pretty idyllic, with a few close friends, a big house and a wealthy husband (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), so she can’t understand why her former self would want to leave everything. She quickly becomes suspicious. It starts out as little feelings—supposed friends she has no connection with, clothes that don’t seem to fit right—but mostly it’s because almost everyone in her life is clearly lying to her.
The prime suspect is her husband, James, who shifts from a doting partner to an obsessive, manipulative creep—and like everyone else has seen Chasing Bly Manor know, Jackson-Cohen is very good at playing an obsessive, manipulative creep. But there’s also the detective assigned to her case who won’t leave her alone, her unnaturally cheerful bestie who’s clearly hiding things, and even her therapist, who wants to remind Sophie that her memories will never, ever come back. Given her lack of existing memory, it is an almost impossible task to dissect what is really true and who she can trust.
There isn’t much about the show or this concept that is original. Hell, there’s even a scene where Sophie follows the address on a book of matches she comes across. But Surface tries to make up for the lack of originality by 1) being very stylish and fun to watch and 2) piling up the mysteries almost overwhelmingly. The first three episodes contain almost zero answers. Instead, you are constantly introduced to new twists in Sophie’s life; even when it seems like a mystery has been solved, the answer only brings new questions.
Of course, this is all well and good to get viewers hooked. It has definitely worked for me so far. It helps that both Mbatha-Raw and Jackson-Cohen are extremely good at ramping up the tension. (If you’re looking for something to calm your nerves afterwards, I recommend watching Maya Rudolph have a blast in Apple TV Plus.” loot, the only good show about billionaires.) But there is no real idea from where Surface goes on at this point, and there’s only so long that questions can sustain a show – that’s true, no matter how creepy the prime suspect is.
The first three episodes of Surface streaming on Apple TV Plus on July 29, while the rest of the eight-episode series comes out weekly.