New Apple TV+ series Drops of God centers on two people possessed by their devotion to and understanding of the art of creating wine. A young heiress to a fortune in wine has to compete with her father’s favorite protege in order to prove which of them learned anything from his years of trying to impart wisdom.
Based on a manga and dripping in elegance, this one’s got a lot to recommend it.
Drops of God recap: Season one opener
Season 1, episodes 1 and 2: “Wine. It is all of my life … at least I thought it was … until I met her.” Those are the enigmatic first lines of Drops of God, spoken by connoisseur Issei Tomine (played by Tomohisa Yamashita). The “her” in question is Camille Léger (Fleur Geffrier), raised to be able to detect the subtlest and strongest notes of every imaginable edible and potable substance on earth by an obsessive, aggressive vintner father, Alexandre Léger (Stanley Weber). When she was just a girl (and played by Manon Maindivide), Alexandre would blindfold her and feed her things for her to identify. If she failed, she would be chastised.
Camille’s older now, and not exactly washed up but definitely feeling very much like a lot of the more exciting parts of her life are behind her. She wrote a book, and her publisher won’t accept her follow-up. She barhops and flirts with younger guys, and grew up resenting her dad. So when he calls one night to tell her he’s dying, Camille is conflicted about wanting to see him. Even more complicated: He’s in Tokyo. And he booked her a plane ticket.
She doesn’t want to go but she develops a bloody nose and passes out about 10 seconds after the phone call ends, which seems to tell her something. Camille’s mom (Cécile Bois) tries to talk her out of visiting her dad, reminding her that the guy is a master manipulator. But Camille’s mind is already made up. Unfortunately, he’s dead before she gets there.
A protege, a trip to Tokyo and a contest
It turns out that while Alexandre was ignoring his daughter, he was cultivating a different kind of bond with Issei, to the point that the old Frenchman seemed to understand things about Issei that even his parents, Hirokazu (Satoshi Nikaido) and Honoka (Makiko Watanabe), did not. They are aware of the distance that exists between them because of Issei’s obsession with wine, which was enabled by Léger.
When Camille arrives, Alexandre’s friend Luca Inglese (Diego Ribon) picks her up at the airport. First he takes her to his restaurant, then to her dad’s house, where she takes stock of the life he’s led since he let her walk out of it. She finds her own book among her dad’s possessions, which throws her.
She meets Issei the next day at the reading of her father’s will. Something very bizarre is waiting for them both. Turns out Léger père wasn’t sure who he wanted to inherit his wine cellar — the largest in the world — his estate and his millions. So he devised a contest from beyond the grave. In three rounds, Issei and Camille must taste wine blind and tell the executor of the estate (Antoine Chappey) what exactly they drank. The winner gets everything.
Issei jumps right in without a word. But when Camille brings the wine to her lips, she suffers a panic attack. She smashes the glass in her hand and has a kind of nervous, allergic nosebleed in response to the taste of alcohol, a fight-or-flight response given to her by her dad’s long years of torture.
A funeral and more surprises
Camille flees the law offices but has to immediately go to her dad’s funeral, where she sees Issei once again. They share their mourning and then participate in something called “The Gathering of the Bones,” where Alexandre’s ashes are placed in the proper anatomical order in the urn, so it’s like he’s standing up inside.
Every new part of her trip skeeves Camille out more than the last. She’s hell-bent on leaving, but then Luca shows her her dad’s cellar. In among the millions of bottles is one labeled “to drink with Camille when she turns 18.” She agrees to stay and see the competition through.
She’s going to need help, though. She hasn’t had wine in years, and every time she drinks alcohol she has that same allergic reaction. So her dad contacted his friend Philippe Chassangre (Gustave Kervern) and his son, Thomas (Tom Wozniczka), and asked if they would mentor her to get her mentally prepared for the contest. Camille’s going to live with them while she gets her senses in fighting shape, though Philippe isn’t exactly thrilled to have a needy houseguest during his harvest season. Seems she’s got more than just her nose to conquer.
This promising Apple TV+ drama is based on a manga entitled The Drops of God by Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, which is quite a curious origin for what is plainly meant to be a new addition to the canon of prestige TV. It’s not that there’s anything less prestigious about manga — that’s absurd. It’s that the style of so much Japanese comic art is more quick and vibrant than TV typically allows itself to be. So, while the craft on display here has the hallmarks of very fine television (the camera is used with more purpose than on 80% of scripted shows), there are flourishes quite clearly meant to emulate the style of the source.
The best of these is Camille’s freakout in the lawyer’s office. We see a flash of her being assaulted by colored dye, screaming and then she shatters the glass and starts bleeding and trips over herself trying to leave. It’s hardly as kinetic as something like that would read on the page, or an animated adaptation would have been, but it’s a fun thing to see a burst of pure impressionism shock the stately series like a defibrillator.
Drops of God benefits from a solid creative team
The show was created and written by French TV veteran Quoc Dang Tran, who has had crossover hits on many different streamers, and directed by Oded Ruskin. Ruskin is also a long-time TV hand, having worked on Kfulim (aka False Flag), the show that became Apple TV+’s Suspicion, among other thriller series.
Being used to action beats and thriller mechanics makes Ruskin an anxious but excellent fit for Drops of God, which is all about quiet moments and the difficult emotions between friends, family and rivals. So he shoots everything most dynamically, using lots of Steadicam shots following people into new environments to cut down on unnecessary editing. Not only is this better visual storytelling, it preserves an emotional state, because we, like Camille, are in unfamiliar places.
I’m going to need to get drawn more into the show’s interior logic before I make a final ruling on the effect of its high-concept contest format (which, of course, makes perfect sense for manga but is, I have to confess, a hair silly in a live-action TV show with deadly serious performances from a committed cast). I’m also not crazy about the idea that a neurologist is able to diagnose Camille with childhood trauma in the second episode, but I’m greatly enjoying Drops of God so far.
Watch Drops of God on Apple TV+
New episodes of Drops of God arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.