Review: Amnesia story 'Surface' not very memorable

Apple TV+ series stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a woman trying to unlock the secrets of her past.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Most stories about amnesia are pretty forgettable.

Then again, so are most stories about superheroes and Hollywood isn’t hitting the brakes on those. People who’ve lost their memories have been steadily stumbling about the pop culture landscape for decades now, intent on finding out who they actually are.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Surface."

Add Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to that list of wandering souls, though hers might be more troubled than most. In the new AppleTV+ show “Surface” Sophie’s amnesia is the result of throwing herself off a ferry in San Francisco Bay, an apparent suicide attempt.

It’s not immediately apparent to anybody, including Sophie, why she might want to kill herself. She shares a palatial home with her wealthy, attentive husband, James (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and seems to live a life of opulent leisure. 

Ah, but then amnesia stories are all about discovery. So rather than just be a happy blank slate, Sophie sets about trying to figure out who she really is/was. She is aided to varying degrees by a therapist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a wealthy friend (Ari Graynor in a thankless role) and a mysterious police detective (Stephan James).

Unfortunately “Surface” takes its time revealing the “real” Sophie, throwing in all manner of side feints and cliff-hangers that lead nowhere. Beyond that, it just ignores huge aspects of Sophie’s life. She’s British and in her 30s, but she just ignores exploring anything prior to her rather recent marriage. Huh?

Through eight episodes that could easily have been compressed into four the fake-outs and wrong turns grow wearying. But the biggest problem with “Surface” is that it is precisely what it says: Since Sophie doesn’t really exist there’s no sense of depth or attachment here, all is obvious and shallow and ultimately contrived. Again: Forgettable.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.