Becoming You will make you marvel at human development [Apple TV+ review]

By

Becoming You is sensational, no matter your age
Becoming You is sensational, no matter your age
Photo: Apple TV+

New Apple TV+ documentary series Becoming You is the kind of admirably human show that seems designed to rack up grateful viewers.

Tackling the earliest development of the human brain in more than a hundred children the world over, the docuseries makes a calculated plea for empathy and togetherness — and a convincing one at that.

Becoming You review

Directed by commercial and TV vet Tom Barbor-Might, Becoming You is the kind of thing that might put everyone involved on the map. Narrated by living legend Olivia Colman, the show is a little like David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. However, it’s about babies instead of animals and plants.

The show, which comes to Apple TV+ this Friday, starts with the charming sight of an audacious 4-year-old going across the street to run an errand by himself in a busy Japanese city. Even though he’s observed by a professional camera crew, it remains a tense and galvanizing sight. Will this kid do it? Yes, of course, and the show will tell you why.

Who were we when we were who we were

Becoming You is all adorable footage of kids developing with other kids, their parents or by themselves. On the surface, the show is a collection of cute sights: twins communicating with each other at a bowling alley, a kid trying to open a coconut alone on an island, a little girl going to deliver a show-stopping performance at a science fair. Below that pleasant surface, hard science lurks.

Colman explains phenomena that seem common but still shock. Every viewer will bring a different level of familiarity with shower-thought-inducing facts, like how humans are the only species that points at objects to draw attention to them, or how twins develop a babbling language only they can understand. Every few minutes, the show will drop something that sounds perfectly understandable when Colman delivers it, yet upon reflection is sort of mind-blowing.

A childhood documentary with brains and heart

Becoming You review: The new Apple TV+ documentary is both adorable and educational.
The new Apple TV+ documentary is both adorable and educational.

Similarly, you’re likely to have your hair blown back when you consider the sheer amount of work that went into making this show possible. Produced by U.K.-based Warner Bros. subsidiary Wall to Wall Media, Becoming You tracks 100 kids in as many cities and towns. Some reside in remote island villages while others live in high-rises.

Filming kids at the best of times is tough. Filming 100 kids, and then editing that footage to tell the story of how our earliest cognitive functions come to life, sounds nothing short of herculean. Sequences like children performing little actions by themselves for the first time must have taken some convincing from the parents, to say nothing of getting the kids to not freeze up in front of the camera. It’s all rather impressive.

Becoming me, becoming you

Aside from an episode about expressing yourself, which involves a lot of footage of babies crying, Becoming You is a beautiful and easy watch, good for just about any conceivable audience. I watched it with a social worker friend who was grateful for the lessons the show offered about the way children don’t perceive or understand gender the way adults do.

Ultimately, Becoming You seems like a net good for society on top of being so casually lovely to view. Treating kids as objects of scientific study without forgetting their humanity is no mean feat, but the show pulls it off. The kids are all distinct and full of personality, not just a means of showcasing research findings to an audience.

Becoming You on Apple TV+

Rated: TV-G

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.