THE CHANGELING (2023)
Aired On: Apple TV+
Release Date: 09/08/23
Drama. Fantasy. Horror.
"Set in an alternate New York City, a father and husband searches through a magical world for his abducted son and missing wife."
According to Irish folklore, Fairies sometimes steal human babies – either for sustenance, sacrifice, or servitude – and leave behind a substitute. This changeling looks similar to the human child but often acts differently. Might be overly cranky or perhaps downright evil. The new Apple TV+ series of the same name, and starring LaKeith Stanfield and Clark Backo, hints at such legerdemain but the premiere episode mostly focuses on the romantic story of two young lovers. Any real magic to speak of is only conjured with their enchanting smiles.
And perhaps a Brazilian witch. More on that in a moment.
The Changeling is promoted as a dark fairy tale. Or a sophisticated horror story. Far too little of those fantastical elements lend any serious weight in the premiere. Adapted by Kelly Marcel from Victor LaValle’s 2017 horror-fantasy novel, episode one follows quiet-but-handsome bookdealer Apollo (Stanfield) as he romances quiet-but-lovely librarian Emma (Backo). Their story also lock steps with that of Apollo’s parents and the fact that his father mysteriously left when Apollo was four. He dreams of his father’s return but Marcel’s script, directed by Melina Matsoukas, concentrates on the romantic tension between Apollo and Emma.
Earlier, during a several-month trip to Brazil, Emma met a witch who provided her with three wishes. The wishes come with a warning – all will come true once a provided red bracelet falls off. During their reunion, Apollo cuts off that band with a laugh as the two prepare for their first child.
The premiere of The Changeling presents a casual, if slow-moving, drama. One, mind you, that seems firmly entrenched in the not-so-magical here-and-now. Mildly-creepy dreams and Spirit Halloween-dressed witches do not equate to horror nor generate a longing to make The Changeling must-see TV. Other than Emma’s semi-traumatic delivery-on-the-run, there is not any action or any real compulsion leading into the second episode - outside of the standard “what happens next” curiosity of course.
Perhaps the novel is written in a leisurely style of revelation and discovery that simply does not translate properly. And yes, there is nothing wrong with a slow build. Foundation, another Apple TV+ series, is notorious for its meticulous pace but the characters within generate a substantial - and wholly entertaining - propulsion. Such a lift off fails to be ignited here.
No doubt questions will be raised about their child. Most certainly Apollo's father will return. These are tropes that, again, are hardly fantastical. The Changeling presents itself as a well-made show with potential but no magical tricks were achieved in this debut.
Stanfield and Backo are good and lovely actors but their ordinary drama is not quite the stuff of fairy tales.