You will be invited, sometimes gently, other times a little more aggressively, to cry. “Dear Edward,” a rich, earnest new Apple TV+ drama based on the 2020 novel by Ann Napolitano, is a fountain of sorrow — and of hope, too, as healing kicks in, traumas subside, and new bonds are forged, but mostly of sorrow. It’s from Jason Katims of “Friday Night Lights,” and it shares that show’s grasp of humanity and attention to character, if not that show’s restraint and focus.
I suppose that, given the subject matter, restraint would be difficult. “Dear Edward” revolves around a devastating mass tragedy, a plane crash that leaves only one survivor, the 12-year-old Edward Adler. The crash is the narrative rock-drop, as it has been on “Lost” and more recently “Yellowjackets,” and it creates big ripples of grief that we follow across the 10-episode season. Edward’s story is primary, as the emotionally wrecked kid tries to make sense of a world without his parents and older brother, who was his best friend. But there are other plots in motion, tracking other families of the lost and how their lives have been altered. Sometimes the many strands seem like a somewhat random collection of short stories, other times they intersect and cohere, “This Is Us”-like, as some of the characters attend the same survivors therapy group.
Edward, now an orphan, is being hailed in the media as the “Miracle Boy,” and strangers — sympathetic souls, hero seekers, and, of course, conspiracy theorists — write letters to him, thus the show’s title. A New York City boy, he has moved upstate to live with his mother’s sister, his aunt Lacey (Taylor Schilling) and her husband, John (Carter Hudson), who hides the letters to protect him from the uglier messages. They want him to feel at home, but they understand that he’s in extremis. He still sees and hears his brother, Jordan (Maxwell Jenkins), talking to him, and he transfers his feelings for Jordan onto a spirited teen neighbor, Shay (the wonderful Eva Ariel Binder), on whose floor he prefers to sleep at night. Fortunately, as Edward, young Colin O’Brien is easy to feel for, never working to stir our compassion or pity. He’s a natural, and his rapport with Binder is one of the show’s highlights.
The Lacey material is strong. Edward has arrived at a point in her life when she may be ready to give up years of effort to have a baby. Is Edward her chance to be a parent? Are she and John solid enough to make this new situation work? How can she grieve for her sister when she’s working so hard to hold Edward together? Schilling manages all the facets of Lacey’s emotional strain — losing hope while gaining hope — in a smart and moving performance that, like much of the show, is a study in going through trauma rather than around it.
Another powerful story line belongs to Connie Britton, working with Katims again after “Friday Night Lights.” Here, as Dee Dee, she’s more like her businesswoman character from “The White Lotus,” an entitled and intense wealthy woman who has lost her husband in the crash. Turns out, he wasn’t who she thought he was — perhaps because he was a big fat liar, but also perhaps because she wasn’t paying much attention. Britton handles Dee Dee’s rude awakening with equal parts naïveté, fury, and, fortunately, humor.
There’s an appealing story line featuring Anna Uzele as Adriana, a young community activist whose congresswoman grandmother died in the crash. Adriana decides to run for her grandmother’s seat, and at the same time she meets Kojo (Idris Debrand), a Ghanaian who has come to care for his niece after her mother died in the crash. Uzele and Debrand build their bond gradually and elegantly, finding comfort together as their lives move into new phases.
At times, it feels as though Adriana, Kojo, and Kojo’s niece deserve their own show. Likewise the stories of a woman who connects with her late fiancé's estranged brother, a pregnant woman grieving her boyfriend who must deal with his super-rich parents, and a guy dealing with his sexuality after losing his best friend. “Dear Edward” gives us a crowded ensemble, which adds to the show’s scope but winds up cheating some of its stories. Next to the depth of Lacey’s struggle, or Dee Dee’s awakening, the others seem more like boilerplate.
Still and all, I’m a fan of “Dear Edward,” even with its imperfections — most of which are byproducts of its ambition. It aims to be an opus on loss, community, and recovery, and, unlike so many shows these days, it’s willing to be 100 percent sincere. Yes, the music swells for effect, and yes, the gloom is telegraphed at times. The show will definitely invite you to cry — but you just might be willing to accede.
Starring: Colin O’Brien, Connie Britton, Taylor Schilling, Anna Uzele, Brittany S. Hall, Amy Forsyth, Eva Ariel Binder, Idris Debrand, Maxwell Jenkins, Carter Hudson, Ivan Shaw
On: Apple TV+. First three episodes premiere Friday, then weekly