‘Apples Never Fall’ grows from the twisty roots of a Liane Moriarty mystery

Brian Lowry, CNN | 3/19/2024, 9:35 a.m.
After “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” author Liane Moriarty has graduated to the point where nearly everything she’s …
Sam Neill and Annette Bening in the limited series "Apples Never Fall." Mandatory Credit: Jasin Boland/Peacock via CNN

After “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” author Liane Moriarty has graduated to the point where nearly everything she’s put on paper will likely be adapted for the screen, really just boiling down to execution. The latest, “Apples Never Fall,” provides a healthy dollop of “Big Little Lies” energy, thanks in part to an excellent cast headed by Sam Neill and Annette Bening.

Like most of Moriarty’s stories, this one deals with a mystery within a mystery, jumping around in time (labeling those sequences “then” and “now”) while shifting perspectives from episode to episode among the various characters. At seven chapters, this Peacock production has the advantage of being the rare limited series that milks the premise without overdoing it.

The show focuses on the Delaney family, presided over by accomplished tennis coaches Stan (Neill) and his wife Joy (Bening), whose tutelage of young players included some of their four children, played by Alison Brie, Jake Lacy, Conor Merrigan-Turner, and Essie Randles.

Yet as Stan and Joy retire, they’re soon interrupted by a young woman, Savannah (Australian actor Georgia Flood), in need of refuge from what she describes as an abusive boyfriend.

To the chagrin of the kids and eventually Stan, Savannah essentially moves in, becoming a valuable aide, companion and even de facto daughter to Joy, before Joy goes missing, which triggers both a mad hunt for her and suspicions around Stan, whose temper and past bad behavior gradually drips back through the course of the flashbacks.

Then again, that’s just one of the family secrets uncovered as the search continues, fraying relationships that were already pretty fragile, with plenty of old wounds, squandered opportunities and resentment just below the surface.

As adapted by showrunner Melanie Marnich (whose recent credits include Hulu’s less effective “A Murder at the End of the World”), “Apples Never Fall” deftly dribbles out clues, fostering uncertainty about what happened while building toward a conclusion that’s not as satisfying as it should be, but good enough.

Mostly, the show serves as a worthy binge and a solid showcase for the stars – including Bening, coming off an Oscar nomination for “Nyad” – with the one disclaimer being that it probably won’t garner the same level of attention on Peacock as it might have on another streaming platform.

“Apples Never Fall” also reinforces a sense that Moriarty’s books are particularly well suited to the popular limited-series format, a case of fortuitous timing. It’s often wryly noted that in tennis, “love” means “nothing,” but it means something here. As for the old expression “How do you like them apples?,” in this case, happily, the answer is quite a lot.

“Apples Never Fall” premieres March 14 on Peacock.