Sam Neill and Annette Bening as Stan and Joy Delaney, sitting on a couch with red wine in ‘Apples Ne...

Annette Bening Plays A Mom With A Dark Secret In New Mystery Series ‘Apples Never Fall’

The Delaney parents, played by Annette Bening and Sam Neill, have owned a tennis academy for decades. Now that they’ve finally retired, they can be there for their kids. Or can they?

by Kira Cook
Originally Published: 

Liane Moriarty is a master of tension. From Big Little Lies to Nine Perfect Strangers, this oft-adapted Australian bestselling author is well-versed in character-driven drama with a twist. With a cast of heavy hitters, showrunner Melanie Marnich (The OA, The Affair) brings to light the Delaney family secrets in Apples Never Fall.

Delaney parents Stan and Joy, played by Sam Neill and Annette Bening respectively, have owned and operated a successful tennis school for decades. Their passion for the family business, we learn, meant missing out on much of the lives of their four kids (played by Alison Brie, Jake Lacy, and Australian newcomers Essie Randles and Conor Merrigan Turner).

The Apples Never Fall pilot episode opens with a retirement celebration for the sentimental (Bening) and enigmatic (Neill) parents, their four children in supportive attendance. Bening makes a toast, with a teary acknowledgment that now they’ll have a lot more time to spend with their kids. But it quickly becomes apparent that the family dynamic might already be damaged beyond repair, with cruel secrets held between siblings and parents and tight-fisted, unspoken alliances. Suddenly, a mysterious stranger shows up, threatening to disastrously upend a family bond that was already tenuous. Oh, and then the matriarch goes missing.

Tense family lunch scenes are followed by even more tense family tennis scenes on the parents’ home court as the pilot (edited by Yellowjackets veteran Jeff Israel) deftly cuts between time periods. A thriller about tennis? Well, yeah. There’s an uneasy rhythm to the sport, a court-wide silence broken only by grunts, efforted groans, and the rousing, clean pop of the ball against racket. Starched whites and the elegant balletic moves make for stirring optics and a perfect arena for the unraveling of strained family dynamics. Of course, when it came to the tennis scenes, not all of the actors arrived to set as skilled or as elegant as they appear on screen.

Annette Bening, Jake Lacy and Sam Neill pose on the courts in ‘Apples Never Fall’

“The coaches tried their hardest, and I really tried, but ultimately, they just cut away from me really quickly in the tennis scenes,” Alison Brie admitted with a laugh at a recent cast Q&A after a pilot screen a few weeks ago in Hollywood. “Some of us just didn’t have it in us." Brie plays the “free-spirited” daughter without direction, an aggravation to her tight-lipped, rather frightening father (Neill). “I was drawn to this character because she’s so unlike anything I’ve played before, and so unlike who I am in real life,” Brie told us.

It's clear that Sam Neill also selected a character unlike who he is in real life, too: Stan Delaney is a seething edifice of a man, intimidating to his children and strangers alike. In reality, as Brie and Lacey divulged, every Sunday afternoon Neill rented out a private screening room to show a different Annette Bening film each week that they were filming on location in Australia. Of course, after each screening, the cast got to have their own private Q&A with the seasoned actor.

The Delaneys, played by (from L to R) Conor Merrigan-Turner, Essie Randles, Sam Neill, Annette Bening, Alison Brie and Jake LacyPeacock

“You’re a devoted wife and mom and know everything about those closest to you. But the truth is, everyone has a secret, even you,” Joy Delaney cryptically reveals in the series trailer. Even within the first episode, it’s clear that much of this story is about the unique challenges of both motherhood and adult childhood. When trying to piece together the truth behind their mother’s disappearance, the four children admit that they all ignored a call from her the day she went missing — as if to emphasize the perils of not picking up when your mother calls. Perhaps the disappearance of Bening's matriarch is an allegory for how terrifying and painful an empty nest can be. Or maybe, the show hints, it’s something far more sinister. (“There’s a violence in all of you,” a character portends a third of the way through the pilot episode.)

Over seven episodes, we will watch long-held secrets from one another unravel as the family works to uncover where their mother went and who was responsible for her absence. Is Joy Delaney merely ignoring her children to feel the freedom of retirement and to take a long overdue break, basking in the legacy that she’s built? Or is something else behind her vanishing?

“Motherhood. You never feel like you’re getting it right,” Bening’s Joy admits to her dinner guest as she makes precise, haunting cuts into her vegetables. We can relate.

All seven episodes of Apples Never Fall will be available to binge beginning March 14 on Peacock.

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