In this installment of 3 Reasons to Watch, we’ll tell you why we’re buzzing about High Desert, the new Apple TV+ comedy starring livewire Patricia Arquette as daffy private eye Peggy Newman.
Here’s why you need to give High Desert the old college try.
3 Reasons to Watch: High Desert on Apple TV+
Peggy Newman had it all: a nice house, a nice husband, a nice job and a first-class ticket away from her past. Then the Drug Enforcement Administration came calling. The feds arrested the husband, took the nice house and rendered Peggy unemployable.
Now she’s living in her dead mother’s house and working as a saloon gal in a novelty Wild West ghost town in the middle of the desert. (She’s also nursing a methadone dependency to keep herself off heroin.) Peggy decides to turn her life around by becoming a private investigator — and all manner of calamity ensues.
Here are three reasons to start streaming High Desert, which is currently in the middle of its inaugural season.
1. Patricia Arquette takes the wheel
Patricia Arquette fans know the great actress has been reliably stupendous for decades. But she’s too rarely been given a showcase as exquisite and loopy as the character of Peggy Newman.
Lately, Arquette appeared in a couple of Ben Stiller-produced projects. One is Escape at Dannemora, in which she portrays an emotionally wounded prison employee caught up in an escape attempt. The other is the Apple TV+ stunner Severance. In that excellent show, Arquette plays a dual role as the incredibly stern Harmony Kobel, the uptight boss of the core crew of the show’s brain-altered office drones.
Stiller produces High Desert, too (and his wife, Christine Taylor, plays Arquette’s sister as well). And you can sense in High Desert a great amount of trust from Stiller and the three head writers/creators that Arquette can handily carry a show like this.
Her Peggy Newman is a bulldozer. She’s a former hippie and recovering addict, who can’t settle down long enough in any given scheme to give it her full attention. She blows through people’s lives and leaves nothing but rubble in her wake, and yet she remains completely lovable. I didn’t see Poker Face but I have to wonder if it’s as maniacally charming as High Desert.
2. Schemers, dreamers and scumbags
High Desert is set in a small Southern California town where everyone has one foot in the grave. The more Peggy settles into her new profession as a PI, the more monsters she meets and must deal with. Peggy seems completely incapable of handling anything with kid gloves. And she doesn’t know how far into the mouth of a shark she’s danced until it’s too late.
From small-time thieves and mini-mobsters to cheating spouses and cowboys who take their jobs a little too seriously, Peggy’s world seems like an extension of her warped perspective and life of regrets. Each new lowlife she encounters could be a projection of her inability to fully cope with the life she blundered into.
3. A Rube Goldberg machine of chaos
Part of High Desert’s appeal is that Peggy keeps getting herself into terrible trouble — and waltzing away from it with minor scratches and bruises. It’s pure wish fulfillment, until you remember that Peggy had to suffer death threats, a crippling drug addiction and a traumatic childhood to get to this place.
Some of the highlights include getting kidnapped and tortured by two different criminal families, getting her boss arrested after she wrote him a bad check, and — my personal favorite — crashing the roof off of her car in a drunken haze and replacing the vehicle the next day with a dune buggy. Peggy is all mess, all the time, but she bounces back and makes everything work for her.
Watch High Desert on Apple TV+
High Desert’s first season is currently streaming 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.