They say write what you know. Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award nominee Sara Bareilles does just that with Apple TV+’s Little Voice, loosely inspired by moments in her life and thoroughly infused with a Bareilles vibe. Bareilles co-created the series with her Waitress collaborator Jessie Nelson and her songs drive the narrative of this New York-based story that’s appeal reaches far beyond existing Bareilles fans.
Little Voice centers around Bess (Brittany O’Grady), a struggling singer-songwriter who’s set up shop in a storage unit away from prying eyes and eavesdropping ears. She’s undeniably talented but after an unfortunate performance, she needs time to regain her confidence and allow her original songs to be heard by more than her super well-behaved – and adorable – dog.
Music doesn’t pay the bills and so she tends bar and works as a dog-walker to make ends meet. She fills what little downtime she has with her close circle of friends who support her through thick and thin. Benny (Phillip Johnson Richardson), a co-worker, is eternally optimistic and whole-heartedly believes in her talent. Roommate/BFF Prisha (Shalini Bathina) is a sounding board and confidante who’s hiding a huge secret from her caring but overbearing parents. Samuel (Colton Ryan) is a new member of Team Bess, a handsome and talented guitar player who challenges Bess and urges her to trust in herself.
And then there’s Ethan… Ethan (Sean Teale) also works out of a storage unit and is artistically inclined. A struggling filmmaker in a relationship that’s on its last legs, Ethan ignites a passion in Bess that helps restore her self-confidence.
Of course, there’s a ‘will she or won’t she thing’ going on with both Ethan and Samuel over the course of season one. Samuel’s decent, earnest, and a good match musically. Ethan, on the other hand, comes with a lot of baggage including a girlfriend who moved across the ocean to support him while he follows his dreams in America. One offers a smoldering, comfortable warmth while the other’s almost too hot to get close to for fear of permanent emotional damage.
Little Voice features existing songs Sara Bareilles wrote over the past few decades as well as new songs penned expressly for the series (including the gorgeous and mesmerizing “Ghost Light.”) The titular song was actually written when Bareilles was in her 20s and, in a fortuitous twist of fate, did not make it onto her first album as she had intended but instead fit snugly here.
“When Jessie Nelson and I were discussing the idea of a theme song, I tried to write something and just couldn’t seem to crack it. I remembered this song and sent it to her to see if there was anything that resonated about our show. And here we are,” recalled Bareilles in an interview with Variety.
Brittany O’Grady’s voice is perfectly suited to Bareilles’ smooth pop tunes and there’s a sweetness about her that makes you want to protect her as she slowly spreads her wings like a butterfly emerging from her comfortable, sheltering cocoon. O’Grady also has terrific chemistry with all members of Team Bess, but in particular with Sean Teale as Bess and Ethan gauge each other’s worth.
Bareilles and showrunner/writer/director Jessie Nelson incorporated select aspects of Bareilles’ life into Bess. Bess has a brother who is on the Autism Spectrum and Bareilles had an uncle with a developmental disability. And, like Bess, Bareilles practiced in a storage unit. Fans will also connect other attributes of Bess’ character to Bareilles, however, Little Voice doesn’t box out those who aren’t hip to the Bareilles Easter eggs.
Little Voice is sweet, genuine, and hopeful. It’s full of flawed people striving to achieve their dreams and not always making the best choices. Watching Bess find her way as she struggles to discover who she is as both an artist and a person is a journey well worth following.
Little Voice season one consists of nine episodes. The dramatic series premiered on Apple TV+ on July 10, 2020.