“Trying” is a sitcom that doesn’t put in enough effort

Trying Esther Smith and Rafe Spall in Trying. (Apple)

Try its actors may, but Apple TV+’s new series about a couple attempting to adopt a child is as dramatically uneven as it is creatively flat.

The lead characters of the Apple TV+ comedy Trying are Jason (Rafe Spall) and Nikki (Esther Smith), a couple who wants kids. Desperately. They’re unable to conceive children, but luckily, there are ways around that issue, including the process of adoption. That’s the route the two decide to embark on. Over the course of its eight-episode first season, the duo tackles the process of being deemed qualified to adopt a child. 

They’ll get evaluated, their friends & family will be interviewed, and every one of their actions will be scrutinized to make sure they’re fit to raise a kid. All the while, the pair will deal with a variety of personal problems related to how prepared they are for parenthood. Their experiences during this process prove to be inert under the creative direction of Jim O’Hanlon and Andy Walton, who direct and write, respectively, each episode. Their work isn’t painful, but it does prove to be forgettable. Instead of inspiring laughs, Trying’s stale jokes about parenthood, unbearable in-laws, and romantic strife inspire memories of lackluster Baby Blues comics.

A critical issue turns out to be the characters. Over the course of around four hours of storytelling, Walton fails to flesh out the assorted players in Jason and Nikki’s day-to-day life. Nikki’s younger co-worker, for example, never gets depth beyond being a broad millennial caricature. Meanwhile, her best friend, Erica (Ophelia Lovebond), has nary a distinct trait in sight. 

As a result, Trying ends up introducing a lot of supporting players without ever wringing discernible personalities or comedy out of them. The worst of the characters, though, is Jason. Spall tries to lend whatever dimensions he can to the lead role, but those attempts are like pushing a boulder up a hill. As written, Jason shifts personalities from episode to episode. In one storyline, he is enough of a goofball to use French fries to recreate vampire fangs. In the second episode, though, he is a self-serious individual with substantial rage issues to work out. 

By the time the season finale arrives, he’s a Casanova capable of delivering grand, romantic monologues about Nikki. Jason keeps fluctuating to whatever personality best suits an individual episode, making it impossible to get invested in him in the process. Nikki fares better as a character thanks to her having a more concrete personality to stand on. She’s a bubbly but determined figure, and Smith does amiable work bringing her demeanor to life. She’s also got some brightly colored outfits that provide a fine reflection of her personality. As it happens, they’re also the only distinct visual element in all of Trying.

[I]t’s like Trying adheres to step-by-step instructions rather than creative impulses.

However, even Smith’s performance and some memorable overalls cannot keep Nikki from being weighed down by Trying’s assortment of predictable storylines, which permeate the whole season. Each episode ends on a montage set to a generic soft-rock tune. New characters stay as stereotypes rather than unique creations. Big bouts of conflict, like Esther thinking Jason is cheating on her, fizzle into obvious, sappy endings rather than impacting the series in a profound way.

It adds up to something passé, its consistency largely stemming from O’Hanlon’s flat direction. There’s no real creativity to be seen in the camerawork or the execution of visual gags. Even Imelda Staunton in a supporting role as a social worker can’t liven things up. (She’s a gifted performer, but even she can’t make tired baby urine jokes funny.) With all these tedious elements cementing one another, it’s like Trying adheres to step-by-step instructions rather than creative impulses.

Season one of Trying is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Trying Trailer:

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