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Apple’s star-studded new TV show Calls is basically a podcast you watch

Don’t Breathe director Fede Álvarez is behind the experimental series

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

What is television? The definition becomes a little hazy in the streaming era, when programming can roll out at movie-length or in “quick bites,” and can tell interconnected narratives across 18 different shows or anthologized one-offs without any semblance of plot. Apple’s newly announced series Calls promises to blur traditions even further.

Coming to Apple TV Plus later this month, each installment of the nine-episode thriller series “follows a darkly dramatic mystery that unfolds through a series of seemingly average, unconnected phone calls that quickly become surreal as the characters face growingly unsettling experiences,” according to a news release.

And it really is that bare bones: Based on the trailer above, Calls matches vocal performances with abstract visuals that intensify the conversation. This is new territory for director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead), who directs each episode.

Álvarez’s big-name cast suggests that Calls is the ideal project for the pandemic era, when shooting in person has become more challenging than ever. Actors appearing — er, calling in — for the first season include Nicholas Braun (Succession), Clancy Brown (Carnivale), Lily Collins (Mank), Rosario Dawson (The Mandalorian), Mark Duplass (The Morning Show), Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame), Judy Greer (Halloween), Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell), Danny Huston (Children of Men), Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), Joey King (The Act), Stephen Lang (Avatar), Jaeden Martell (Knives Out), Paola Nuñez (Bad Boys for Life), Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Laura Harrier (Hollywood), Edi Patterson (The Righteous Gemstones), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Danny Pudi (Mythic Quest), Ben Schwartz (Sonic the Hedgehog), Jennifer Tilly (Bride of Chucky), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tenet).

Calls is based on a CANAL Plus French series by Timothée Hochet, which itself based on a short film Hochet directed in 2016. For a taste of what Apple’s cooking up, you can watch the original concept below.

“I listened to real 911 calls on YouTube and was terrified by the experience of it,” Hochet said in an interview at the time. “I wanted to show that, particularly in the horror or thriller genre, that it’s possible to do something interesting and stressful without any pictures or visuals.”

Apple confirms that each episode of Calls is 12-15 minutes and while they each stand alone, do connect in unique ways over the course of the season. The series premieres on March 19.

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