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The Big Door Prize


The cast and creator of this surreal, profound comedy discuss a second season that challenges its characters to reflect on their life choices and explore new possibilities

After arriving in Deerfield and wreaking havoc on its small-town inhabitants, the Morpho machine — a retro arcade-like game doling out cards containing the player’s life potential — levelled up at the end of the first season, asking high school teacher Dusty (Chris O’Dowd) and the other Deerfielders: Are you ready for the next stage? “We felt like, if part of the draw is the magic of the machine, and our characters are evolving, we really wanted the machine to evolve too,” says showrunner David West Read (late of Schitt’s Creek).

That in mind, if the first season raised the question of, “What is your potential?” season two asks, “Now that you have that info, what do you do with it? “It’s a show about the path not taken,” says Read. “It’s also about the road you have taken and the awareness of where you have ended up. All of our characters are trying to figure out which path is going to make them the happiest.”

The Big Door Prize on Apple TV+. Pictured: Gabrielle Dennis as Cass, who was forced by the Morpho machine to thoroughly reconsider her comfortable small-town life at the end of season one.
Apple TV+

Happiness feels especially elusive after the first season of The Big Door Prize left most characters shaken. Having been together for 20 seemingly happy years, the second season sees Dusty and his wife Cass (Gabrielle Dennis) take a break from their relationship. “They’re college sweethearts, and I think they both feel they maybe missed their chance of freedom,” says O’Dowd. “Now, the Morpho machine is making them think, ‘Should we have a little time to ourselves?’ We watch as that plays out and the consequences of their actions.” This is quite a leap for the character — a man whose potential was revealed to be “Teacher/Whistler” — that initially dug his heels in while the rest of Deerfield fantasized about their hidden aptitude. “Dusty was a bit of a critic of the whole thing,” says O’Dowd. “He was watching the rest of the world lose its mind. To then be brought into the mad dance and to see the ramifications of that literally change his living situation is interesting, because that’s not where we started with him.”

For Cass, her “self-ploration” may have been initiated by Morpho declaring her “Royalty” at the top of season one, but in season two that metamorphosis goes beyond the hypothetical. “When you get into Cass’s storyline, she’s got a lot of boxes in the basement, both figuratively and physically, and I think they speak to this happiness that she hasn’t gotten to prune yet. They’re flowering there without her,” says O’Dowd. “I think she’s determined to see them into fruition.” Dennis agrees that Cass is ready to take some big swings to figure out exactly who she is. “In season two, Cass is rolling the dice and almost gambling everything to find her identity outside of a wife and a mother,” the actress explains. “It’s fun to cheer her on and hope that she lands on her feet. It’s a season that’s such an emotional rollercoaster.”

The Big Door Prize on Apple TV+. Pictured: High school teacher Dusty (Chris O’Dowd) had his life and marriage turned upside down by the arrival of a strange arcade game that tempted/taunted his friends and neighbours with their own untapped potential.
Apple TV+

As the mysteries in Deerfield start to compound, one of the biggest is the history of out-of-towner Hana (Ally Maki), who appears to know more about the Morpho than she initially let on. “She seemed like the bartender who doesn’t even seem interested in the Morpho and by the end of the first season, of course, everyone is looking to Hana for answers. In season two, we find out that she has a personal connection, potentially, to where the machine came from,” Read says. Meanwhile, for Maki, it has been both intriguing and joyful to explore a character who is wholly uncomfortable with the idea of community. “You’re seeing this new layer of her, of what would happen if Hana stays in a town past the first stage,” the actress muses. “It’s something she’s never chosen to do before, but for some reason she chooses this town and these people. It’s kind of awkward when you have to try for the first time to be friends, or try to fit in. What is that like for her?”

The Big Door Prize on Apple TV+. Pictured: Ally Maki as vagabond bartender Hana, who looks to put down roots for the first time in her life.
Apple TV+

Of course, there is no show without the Morpho as a catalyst. “In the second season, the visions that characters are getting from this machine really feel like an escalation from the cards,” Read teases. “And at the end of the second season, something really big happens with the machine that no one really sees coming.” The creator compares the Morpho to an alien that descends upon a small town. “In both seasons, you want it to recede into the background for a while so that you can tell these human stories and not just be obsessed with the mystery. It’s such a catalyst for growth,” he says. “And then, eventually, you’re like, ‘Wait, what about the alien? Someone should check on the alien.’ That very much happens at the end of the season. But, for me, the machine is a catalyst to tell stories about people revealing more of their true selves to each other and learning about each other and struggling to grow together. The comedy comes out of that.”

The Big Door Prize, streaming Wednesdays on Apple TV+

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