Dear…, the Apple TV + show about the public figures who inspire millions, returns for a second season Friday with a new roster of guest stars and a renewed purpose.
The filmed segments – during which we see people who write letters to the inspirational celebrities, as well as the celebs themselves – look splashier this time. The stories prove more gut-wrenching, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is nowhere in sight.
This show’s setup is an easy layup, but sometimes there’s satisfaction in that.
Dear… season 2 review
Dear… is the Apple TV + show that I think best defines the ethos of the streaming service’s original programming at both its best and worst. The premise is simple: Celebrities who lead inspiring lives talk about their journeys from birth to fame.
As they talk about their journeys, we hear letters from people – ranging from theater students to workers to, in one case, the mayor of a town in Rhode Island – who were personally motivated by the roster of guest stars. Some of these people have real-life connections to the celebs in question. Others are perfect strangers who were simply moved by their example.
In the first season of Dear…, the show’s episodes focused on Oprah Winfrey, Misty Copeland, Jane Goodall, Stevie Wonder and more. In season two’s nine episodes, we get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Billy Porter, Malala Yousafzai, Sandra Oh, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Ava DuVernay, Laird Hamilton and Andre Leon Talley.
The filmed sequences with the people who write letters to their heroes are more involved and interesting this time around, re-creating little scenes out of their lives with extras and great lighting. You can try and steel yourself against the very emotional testimonies, but I personally recommend just giving in and being inspired. What harm can it do?
You don’t know what your future’s gonna be
Produced by Donny Jackson, Jane Cha Cutler, Todd Lubin, Jay Peterson and RJ Cutler, Dear… is a show that you can’t quite argue with, though it’s tempting.
To wit: It’s a show that rewards, for the most part, extremely wealthy people with positive reinforcement. If you can see past that (no shame if you can’t), there is a little more at work. There’s a reason they’re not interviewing, say David Crosby or Paul Schrader. Very talented guys, inspiring in their own ways, but they’re not known first and foremost for their philanthropy or benevolence.
To wind up on Dear…, you don’t have to be successful on your own terms. The show focuses on the people who go the extra mile to use their fame to do positive things for the communities they came from and the ones like them.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Malala
There’s little argument against celebrating the lives of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a genuinely brave man who’s been doing important social work longer than most of us have been alive. Same goes for Malala, the Pakistani activist who was born around Jabbar’s 50th birthday and has changed the world through nonviolent resistance.
Maybe these types of celebrities are an easy thing to make a show about, and maybe I’m just a sap, but I find Dear… very persuasive and affecting. It’s very satisfying to be able to see Abdul-Jabbar talk about his conversion to Islam, or actor Billy Porter discussing his HIV diagnosis without any hysteria.
History does always have the last laugh when it comes to outdated prejudice, though. It’s a rare pleasure to see someone like Jane Fonda (nicknamed “Hanoi Jane” in the ’70s for her protest of the Vietnam War) celebrated for doing things her way, for following her heart. I’m only 32, but I never thought I’d see the day that a woman pilloried for pro-Communist leanings, the star of Clute and All rightsaluted alongside Oprah and Malala.
Fonda may have mellowed ever so slightly with age, but she’s still getting arrested at protests (and has lost none of her vigor in describing the appalling sexism that first greeted her in Hollywood). It’s cool to see that recognized.
More like this, please
With the freedom of a network like Apple TV + enjoys, it should produce more of this type of content. Why not go big, be bold? Say things a network or a censorship board can’t stop you from saying. You are in charge – swing for the fences!
The producers for this show are old hands at reality TV. Between them are producer credits on shows like Cosplay Melee, Lip Sync Battle, The Surreal Life and Project Runway. So there is also something to hear about people who could be making TV about decidedly less-inspiring subjects shooting for something higher.
Why not take our power, whatever it is, and talk about how there is always something more important you can be doing? Making art and being yourself is often a radical act, especially when you’re not in the same demographic as the people who run the world, and living like people will be watching you is not easy.
It’s easy to be selfish. I like a show that exhibits what good can come of being anything but.
Watch Dear… on Apple TV +
Season two of Dear… premieres March 4 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, 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.
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