Apple TV+’s latest kids series is a cloying, over-familiar teen show that tries a little too hard to be hip.
Little Voice wants to be hip to the youths, an ambition that manifests in many ways throughout the Apple TV+ series’ nine-episode-long first season. The main characters, who are all in their twenties, say phrases like “Thumbs-up Emoji!” and “Bae for life!”. They’re never far away from their lovingly shot iPhones. They frequently reference Hamilton.
Though it’s straining to be fresh for the TikTok generation, Little Voice is also an old-fashioned show in myriad ways. Predictable plotlines abound, and autistic and queer characters get relegated to supporting roles for a heterosexual neurotypical protagonist. A love triangle romance goes where you’d expect it to. You can slather a hip new coat of paint on it, but Little Voice is still familiar in every which way.
Little Voice concerns the exploits of songwriter/singer Bess King (Brittany O’Grady), who’s looking to kick off her music career in New York City. Bess has other problems to deal with beyond getting the attention of a record executive: she’s got to look out for her autistic brother, Louie (Kevin Valdez), and is also ensnared in a love triangle between hunky next-door neighbor Ethan (Sean Teale) and supportive musician Samuel (Colton Ryan). Plus there’s the bartender job, her social life, the various plights of her closeted lesbian friend Prisha (Shalini Bathina), and so on. Bess has a lot on her plate.
Little Voice has a similar issue overstuffing its plate. With way too many storylines and characters and no room to flesh them out, interesting subplots turn into one-note struggles you’d find in a rote soap opera. For example, Bess’ father Percy (Chuck Cooper) suffers from alcoholism, an awkwardly introduced character detail that ends up leading to Percy wandering off at the end of episode eight. We get no further resolution to his character, nor any exploration of how this sickness has affected his life.
His abrupt disappearance is just another way Little Voice can create brief bursts of drama before moving summarily onto the next storyline. Similarly frustrating is the fluctuating financial situation of Bess and her family. Nobody in her life is especially rich (her dad works as a street musician), which means money is always a problem. There’s several spots in Little Voice where the prospect of not having enough money threatens to become a game-changing problem.Every time, though, Bess and her father are able to pluck just enough money out of thin air to avoid disaster.
Even more egregious in its lack of dramatic impact is a moment where Bess berates Prisha for choosing to stay in the closet. What should be a watershed moment between the two friends end up having zero effect on anything. It’s never brought up again. Like a mirage in the desert, conflict between characters in Little Voice only briefly appears before vanishing forever.
You can slather a hip new coat of paint on it, but Little Voice is still familiar in every which way.
Little Voice is supposed to be about the ups and downs of pursuing a music career, but series creator Jessie Nelson has crafted a program where the struggles don’t stick around long enough to leave an impact. Each episode is in such a rush to get to a feel-good ending, but in the process forget to make lasting hardships that would give those conclusions any weight.
Little Voice also has a bad habit of having momentous character growth happen off-screen in between episodes. The show’s fifth episode, “Quick, Quick Show”, begins with Bess suddenly recording a song for a national commercial. Up to this point, she’s struggled to perform in an underground café, let alone get an audition for a commercial. When did this big breakthrough happen? Massive developments in her romantic pursuits with Ethan and Samuel similarly happen in between episodes.
These recurring shortcomings in Little Voice’s writing ensure that the viewer can’t really develop a bond with Bess. That’s a shame, given that Brittany O’Grady gives an endearing lead performance that lends a greater sense of authenticity to Bess than anything found in the writing. O’Grady imbues Bess’s moments of frustration, awkwardness, and hope with a genuinely human quality that deserved a much more thoughtful production. Much of the rest of the cast provides similarly solid work, with Bathina and Valdez the most memorable standouts of the bunch.
Far less memorable, however, are the songs: despite being a show all about music, Little Voice mostly opts for bland cover versions of pop tunes. Scenes where Bess and her friends belt out familiar songs make Little Voice feel like a coffee house version of Glee.
The original songs we do get are ones Bess composes and they tend to be on the uninspired side of things. O’Grady has an extremely lovely voice for sure, but the songs she’s singing have such generic lyrics. There’s little in the way of personality or clever wordplay to be found in Little Voice’s original songs. They’re just insipid tunes that you’d skip over if they came on a Soft Rock Spotify playlist.
These songs speak to a larger problem that Little Voice has with finding its own voice. Though the show’s heart is clearly in the right place, Little Voice hits too many sour notes to be the heartfelt show it wants so desperately to be.
Little Voice debuts new episodes every Friday on Apple TV+.