It’s a sad day when even Patricia Arquette cannot redeem something, but here we are.
High Desert should’ve worked. Set in the warm-hued outbacks of Yucca Valley, California, you have Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette playing a wacky private detective/barmaid, hoping to start anew after losing her mother. It’s the kind of role someone like Arquette was born to play. There’s even a salon where Peggy works as a barmaid, and recreations of saloon shootouts occur. It has all the hallmarks for a potential hit that ultimately falls flat in the end.
The series follows Peggy Newman in her various misfires at life, first as a low-level drug dealer and then as a detective who creates more problems than solutions. In response to her mother’s death, Peggy, also a recovering addict, chases peace and closure yet lands nowhere near a resolution. Despite Arquette’s spirited performance, High Desert loses itself in an aimless journey of its own making.
Showrunners Nancy Fichman, Jennifer Hoppe, and Katie Ford make an honest attempt at creating a world that allows Arquette to play around like the seasoned talent she is. Despite the myriad of narrative points that don’t work together, there’s something tragically compelling about Peggy.
High Desert features a stacked cast with notable names like Bernadette Peters, Christine Taylor, and Matt Dillon. One highlight is Rupert Friend’s news anchor turned life guru and scam artist Bob, who happens to sell fake Picasso and Cézanne paintings to support his guru cult. He’s so funny that it almost becomes its own show. Some of the show’s best moments are also those between Arquette and Peters, who plays her mother.
Even more emotional gripe is those with Taylor, who portrays Arquette’s sister. The sharp contrast between both sisters and the unique way they deal with their mother’s loss make for some of the series’ most memorable moments. One particular scene featuring a reenactment performed to facilitate the sisters’ grief is the highlight of the entire series.
However, these poignant moments get lost in the shuffle of the series’ windy plots and characters. Disconnected from the rest of the story, each new storyline becomes more disruptive to Peggy’s journey. While it seems like Peggy is in complete control of the narrative, each passing episode sees things happening to Peggy in a way that only adds more and more weight to the show, like an already heavy grocery bag made out of the thinnest plastic material imaginable.
High Desert could be an entertaining binge for a slow Sunday night, but it is not compelling enough for the week-to-week model. Many of its side characters lack any natural nuance and personality that isn’t extended past one-dimensional caricature, making it hard to care for any of them as Peggy interacts with them. Even more glaring is its lack of clear trajectory and aimless meandering that hits almost immediately from the beginning.
Tragically, High Desert did not live up to the hype set up in the first five minutes of its opening, as Patricia Arquette struts with a cool afghan and Farrah Fawcette-esque flipped hair. It’s a moment full of character and intrigue, but it goes nowhere in the end.
The first three episodes of High Desert are now streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes airing every Wednesday.