TV: The Big Door Prize (Season 1)

Panning for gold in the streams of streaming, one could be forgiven for overlooking The Big Door Prize, given its oblique, forgettable title. But the show—based on a book by M.O. Walsh—is worth seeking out, a delightful small-town fantasy bringing quiet magic to its appealing scenario. The small, midwestern community of Deerfield is turned on its ear when a mysterious vending machine called “the Morpho” appears in the local general store. Outwardly a novelty game, the Morpho purports to reveal one’s true “life potential,” tempting the citizens of Deerfield to feed in coins and see what the future holds. But the simple, blue cards they receive contain nothing but cryptic words and phrases that, while they say nothing, imply quite a lot, compelling the recipients to reconsider their paths in life. This proves particularly trying for Dusty (Chris O’Dowd), a local schoolteacher whose Morpho card alarmingly suggests that his life may have already peaked.

The gentle rhythms of The Big Door Prize are infectious, especially in a tantalizing pilot that sets the mundane stage before subtly implying its magical underpinnings. As the season progresses, the scope widens beyond Dusty’s family—which includes his wife Cass (Gabrielle Dennis) and daughter Trina (Djouliet Amara)—to the other citizens of the town. Character by character, backstories are revealed, as well as the Morpho cards that inform their new struggles. It doesn’t sound like much in summary, but there’s a quiet appeal to its mix of surreal comedy and heartfelt character study which should appeal to fans of similar shows like Lodge 49 or The Resort. The supporting cast is full of fun performers, including Sammy Fourlas, Crystal R. Fox, Damon Gupton, Ally Maki, Josh Segarra, and Aaron Roman Weiner. Fortunately, the show has been picked up for a second season, so there will be more opportunities to spend time in Deerfield.

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