A little over a month ago, I decided to start watching Apple TV+ ‘s buzzy new TV show Dickinson. I thought that with ten, thirty-minute long episodes it would take me at maximum a week to finish. Little did I know how bad it would be—what was supposed to ideally take a few days became a solid month. Every episode of this cringey TV show about one of America’s most lauded poets was a burden to watch.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld as a teenaged Emily Dickinson, the show focuses almost exclusively on her rebellious behavior. The middle child of a wealthy and influential family, she feels completely out of place next to her two siblings, who fit with the nineteenth century gender norms she has rejected. Every episode is named after one of Dickinson’s poems, and sets up the framework for Dickinson writing that poem. For example, in episode two, titled “I Have Never Seen ‘Volcanoes,’” she and her best friend Sue Gilbert (who’s also her brother’s fiancée) sneak into a college lecture about volcanoes and then have sex at the end of the episode.
No matter how much I like Hailee Steinfeld, her role in this show is poorly written and out of place. It seems like the writers just plucked Steinfeld’s character out of her 2016 teen drama/comedy The Edge of Seventeen and placed her in Dickinson’s shoes. From her outsider status to her issues with her brother and her best friend’s relationship, the show and the movie seem uncannily similar.
My biggest issue with the show, however, is with its attempts to modernize Dickinson’s story. In order to make her story more appealing to today’s audiences, the show goes all out with its twerking and weird language differences. Instead of picking either a more traditional form of English or a more contemporary one, the show goes for an awkward hybrid where the adults speak traditionally and the teenagers speak like Gen Zers. Even the Mitski-, Lizzo-, and Billie Eilish-dominated soundtrack hints at the show’s effort to modernize itself.
What sets this show apart and makes it worse than all of the other modernized period dramas is that it feels more like a parody than anything else. It’s so hard not to wince whenever Dickinson’s mother (Jane Krakowski) says things to her in complete deadpan like, “while I’m gone, clean constantly.” She is a literal caricature of stuffy period dramas.
In fact, the whole show seems like an effort to caricaturize the genre. It doesn’t take itself or its heroine seriously, and there isn’t a bigger disservice one can do to Emily Dickinson’s legacy. It reflects even worse on Apple TV +, whose stated goal is to focus on quality over quantity. This isn’t a good show––it’s a bad attempt at making the streaming service more marketable to younger generations.
In conclusion, I urge you to stay away from this show. Not even a John Mulaney cameo can make it watchable.