Dear… is a timely reminder that we can do better [Apple TV+ review]

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Oprah Winfrey reads a letter from a fan in Apple TV+ show Dear...
One episode of Dear... focuses on Oprah Winfrey.
Photo: Apple TV+

So far, the Apple TV+ shows affiliated with Oprah Winfrey (or approved by her) represent some of the streaming service’s safest offerings. And her spirit, to say nothing of her face, is all over the inspiring series Dear…

Each episode focuses on a single celebrity and the moving fan letters they receive highlighting the star’s impact on regular people. A such, it takes the form of part-biography, part-tribute to its famous subjects.

Dear… certainly does not stand out as one of the most hard-hitting journalistic exercises you’ll see. But as puff pieces go, the episodes prove both persuasive and reasonably inspiring. The show plays like a MasterClass with lessons about community building and standing up for yourself.

Dear… review

The intentions of a show like Dear… seem a little difficult to parse. On the one hand, celebrities hardly need a victory lap courtesy of a softball team’s worth of producers and directors. And they certainly don’t need one so lavish.

On the other, what’s the harm in highlighting when artists take political stances? That’s a more important and worthy use of one’s star power than selling soda or doing Marvel movies.

Produced by a whole host of veteran TV producers with credits ranging from Project Runway to The World According to Dick Chaney, at least the show doesn’t hem and haw about its political position. By picking subjects like Oprah and Spike Lee, the show combats racism in an appealingly honest way. Oprah’s early days interviewing racist blowhards at town halls, included here, aren’t censored. It’s still bracing to hear such open xenophobia on a TV broadcast — and it serves as a compelling reminder how Oprah got to be Oprah. She never flinched.

In these uncertain times

Spike Lee enters the spotlight in the first episode of Apple TV+ series Dear...
Spike Lee enters the spotlight in the first episode of Apple TV+ series Dear….
Photo: Apple TV

I don’t need to tell you that this is a dreadful time in American history. Dear… landed on Apple TV+ last month as we watched a militarized police march into major cities with the intention of breaking the back of a protest movement. At such a time, a show like this is both perhaps what’s needed and maybe a little frivolous.

Inspiring TV

We do need inspiration, sincerely, and I do applaud the people showcased in Dear… How could you not? We see the influence Jane Goodall had on the anti-poaching movement. We discover how Lin-Manuel Miranda helped men express themselves in towns without theater programs. And we learn how Aly Raisman coming forward with sexual-assault allegations about Larry Nassar helped women everywhere find the courage to be the author of their own stories and to stand up for themselves.

We need these stories, we truly do. I’m sorry that we need direct action as much as we need to look to the stories of high-profile artists for proof that we can do whatever we set our mind to. We do, though, because this is one cruel world we call home.

Dear… may not change the world, but it provides pleasant and inspiring company during its 10 brief episodes. I can only hope it finds it intended audience and can inspire them.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.