The Big Door Prize review: Chris O’Dowd could do a lot better than this snooze session

Television: Irish actor works hard but this dystopia-lite show, now in its second series, is simply flawed

The Big Door Prize (Apple TV+, from April 24th) wouldn’t work without Chris O’Dowd putting in a hard shift as a charming, perpetually confused Irishman trying to make the best of discombobulating circumstances. It barely works even with O’Dowd firing on all of his frazzled pistons, and it says something for Apple’s largesse that it has funded a second season after the first came and went without much attention.

The plot is Black Mirror without the dystopian bite. The Big Door Prize is set in a small town in the American state of Georgia. O’Dowd is Dusty Hubbard (yes) – an everyman teacher who, for reasons unexplained, has beamed from Roscommon to the American South.

He lives a slowpoke existence with his wife Cass (Gabrielle Dennis) and their daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara) – until the appearance in their local store of the “Morpho”, an ATM-like machine which reveals your “true potential”.

This is the show’s first flaw: does anyone of voting age or above genuinely care about their “potential”? Who among us would be prepared to sabotage our life in pursuit of the cryptic promise of a more fulfilling existence? It sounds like a lot of hard work and could potentially involve getting up early and having to rush breakfast. Pass!


Yet that is the bonfire on which Dusty and Cass chuck the home they have built together. They do so after he receives a slip that tells him he is meant to be a “whistler” (what?) and she is fated to be “royalty”. As the second season gets under way, they agree on a trial separation so they can try new things – an event that ought to cause trauma to one or both but which they regard as a fun jape.

Such a twist might work in an irreverent comedy. The problem is that The Big Door Prize is pummelingly sincere – except when its characters are detonating their marriages because a machine in the Georgia equivalent of the local Centra instructed them to do so.

The plot advances slightly as the Morpho warns the citizens of Deerfield to prepare for the next “stage” of their adventure. Meanwhile, blue dots appear all over their skin – though everyone finds it endearing rather than terrifying.

The great paradox of The Big Door Prize is that it is a dramedy about untapped potential that suffers from untapped potential. O’Dowd is likeably rumpled and speaks in a natural Irish accent without sounding as if he is trying to speak in a natural Irish accent (a trap many actors fall into).

Then there is the Philip K Dick-esque concept of a device that shows us the fantastic alternative life we are missing out on. But rather than engage seriously with that premise, the series lurches from dull to saccharine. It’s a shame for Apple TV+ subscribers and even more so for O’Dowd, a talented comedic actor who should be doing better than this pulse-free snooze session.