What Critics Are Getting Wrong About Little Voice

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a weekly column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world.
Photo: Courtesy Apple TV+.
What’s Good? Little Voice on Apple TV+
Who It’s Good For: Well, it’s not for the critic at The Telegraph, who called Little Voice “phoney,” or the one at The Guardian, who dismissed it as “a vomit-inducing drama that’s cutesy, kooky — and totally unwatchable.” Respectfully, I disagree. Little Voice’s charm lies in its cutesy, kookiness and in the exact amount of schmaltz you would expect from a show created by wholesome singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, her Waitress musical co-creator Jessie Nelson, and the dude who gave us Felicity. (I know J.J. Abrams has done other small things like Star Wars or whatever, but Felicity is clearly his defining legacy.) If you like any of the aforementioned creators and their more sentimental work, you’ll like Little Voice. Also, if you are at the point in this pandemic where you want comfort television — you know, the kind that gives you pleasant romance, catchy melodies, and a sweet young woman singing her way through a sanitized version of pre-COVID New York City — this show is for you. 
How Good Is It? That depends. In order for you to appreciate the goodness of Little Voice, you have to lean into its severe sincerity. I am someone who swoons at teen television and cries at car commercials so, yes, I think Little Voice is very good. If you’re a pessimist who would rather your quarantine content be just as dire as the world around us, “good” may not be the word you use to describe a show where predictability is paramount and uncomplicated joy seems to be its sole purpose. Little Voice knows exactly what it’s doing. Unlike other AppleTV+ shows that take themselves way too seriously (ahem, The Morning Show), this series is in on the corny joke. It knows it’s saccharine and it doesn’t care. It’s here to give us the warm and fuzzies. If you let it, it succeeds.
Little Voice stars Brittany O’Grady as Bess Alice King, a naive and perpetually nervous aspiring singer-songwriter (Bareilles’ influence is all over this character), who is stunningly beautiful but doesn’t know it (of course) and insanely talented but doubts it (obviously). She’s got a South Asian lesbian best friend (Shalini Bathina), a little brother (Kevin Valdez) who is on the autism spectrum and a Black dad (Chuck Cooper). These characters aren’t just there to fill a diversity quota, as we’ve seen from roles like these in the past. They’ve all got their own side storylines (Bess’s gay bestie is in the closet because of her overbearing Indian parents, her brother loves Broadway and is trying to land a job as an usher, and her dad is a former blues singer battling past demons) and each actor is filling out their performances with surprising depth and wonderful passion. There’s even something to love about Benny (Phillip Johnson Richardson), the least fleshed-out character, an eager burst of energy who is clamouring to be Bess’s manager. 
Bess is stuck in a love triangle with a devastatingly handsome Brit named Ethan (Sean Teale) and endearing fellow musician Samuel (Colton Ryan), who is way more into Bess than she is into him. Ethan has a girlfriend but their chemistry is eclectic and Samuel is perfect for Bess but they’ve got zero spark so it’s basically Ben, Noel and Felicity all over again. I was always Team Ben so naturally, I’m forgiving Ethan for his wasteman tendencies. The fact that we’ve seen this all before  — the brooding unavailable man, the pining friend, the clueless leading lady — doesn’t take away from Little Voice’s appeal; it adds to it. Why? The same reason we’re all revisiting our favourite shows during lockdown. We want to be soothed by the ease of familiarity. Little Voice is brand new but it feels nostalgic. It’s set in 2020 but it could be 1990. The music is timeless, the acting is disarming, and the complete lack of cynicism is refreshing. 
The New York Times called it a “twee musical fairytale.” Exactly. It is twee. It’s a Taylor Swift music video (Red or Folklore era Taylor, pick your sappy poison) with better storylines. That’s the point. The show’s thesis statement is said out loud by Bess when she’s describing her music. “I think my stuff seems … earnest,” she says to Ethan. In the most perfect gravelly voice and devoid of any irony, he responds, “We live in such a cynical time. I think that takes guts.” Try to tell me this show isn’t self-aware. Little Voice stands boldly in it’s cheesy truth. We do live in a cynical time. When every other series is trying to out-prestige the other with misanthropic narratives, this one refuses to be anything but really quite nice. I think that takes guts.
Things that are also good: 
• The fact that the cinematic masterpiece known as Portrait of a Lady on Fire is now available on Crave
• Going down a rabbit hole of the theories that Taylor Swift’s new album is packed with queer anthems (a stretch, in my opinion) 
Good Girls Season 3 is now on Netflix and my crush on Manny Montana will be back in full force 
• Listening and laughing along to the Thirst Aid Kit episode featuring Jason Mantzoukas 
Aunt Jillian and the first Black reality TV family is now on CTV
•  Defunding the police

More from TV