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‘Apples Never Fall’ review: Annette Bening as a retired mom who goes missing

Vince Valitutti/Peacock/TNS

After selling their Florida tennis academy, Joy and Stan Delaney settle into uneasy retirement. Outside the skies are sunny. Inside their home, things are a bit stormier. Then one day, Joy goes missing. This turns the lives of her husband and four adult children upside down and inside out in the seven-episode Peacock series “Apples Never Fall.”

Starring Annette Bening and Sam Neill, their marriage becomes the backdrop for a larger story about the ways families ignore unresolved fissures and buried resentments, often to our detriment. Joy and Stan might have continued this way indefinitely. The catalyst that changes their status quo is the arrival of a visitor, who takes up residence in the couple’s gracious, high-ceilinged home. Her name is Savannah (Georgia Flood) and she carefully sows seeds of discontent in every member of the family. Suddenly, all those repressed and bruised feelings everyone’s been nursing burst out into the open, like a pinata full of bad vibes. But their interpersonal drama just lays there, like a sagging tennis net. If only the series had characters worth investing in.

Savannah intended to stay for just a couple of days, but that turns into several months. She’s a welcome addition, as far as Joy and Sam are concerned, and a far more engaged presence than their self-involved children. “I raised kids who played hard and fought hard,” Joy says, but those kids also never lifted a finger around the house. It’s only now, in hindsight, that Joy has allowed herself to think about that with some irritation.

For the Delaney offspring, life was intense growing up, where tennis greatness was the expectation they never attained. Troy (Jake Lacy) became a venture capitalist who doesn’t even bother to hide his simmering anger. Brooke (Essie Randles) is a struggling physical therapist. Logan (Conor Merrigan Turner) does something vague with boats and yoga. And Amy (Alison Brie) is “our searcher,” which is Joy’s diplomatic way of saying she’s flaky and doesn’t have a job. None of them are compelling, separately or together, but Lacy comes the closest with his bottled up rage.

Not long into Joy and Stan’s retirement, the kids come over for a meal and it is filled with tension-filled passive-aggressive barbs. Which is perhaps why nobody seems too alarmed when Joy stops answering their texts. Eventually, her silence becomes ominous. Something has happened, and their father hasn’t been entirely honest about the details.

Part procedural, part sprawling family drama, the series is based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, whose book “Big Little Lies” fared better in its screen adaptation. Moriarty is Australian and that’s where her books are set; the Hollywood versions transpose the stories to the U.S. and “Big Little Lies” was astute in finding an appropriate upscale equivalent in Monterey, California. “Apples Never Falls” takes place in West Palm Beach but is uninterested in the particulars of its setting, which is upscale, but not as old money as Palm Beach proper. The show doesn’t have anything to say about these nuances of money and class that most assuredly would gnaw at strivers like Joy and Stan, which ends up dulling the story’s more potentially interesting edges.

Instead it settles for melodrama to tie up the story’s loose ends. The ending feels pat, its optimism unearned. The show comes from Melanie Marnich, who also worked on the recent Amazon series “The Expatriates,” which suffers from similar issues that undermine “Apples Never Fall.” The title is likely a nod to that old saw, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but I’m not so sure that fits. Joy and Stan’s children aren’t replicating the mistakes of their parents so much as floundering. Yes, those lingering dysfunctions tie back their childhoods. Maybe we all contend with that, to some extent. If only the Delaneys felt like actual people rather than stand-ins to be developed later.

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'APPLES NEVER FALL'

2 stars (out of 4)

Rating: TV-MA

How to watch: Peacock

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