Apples Never Fall starring Annette Bening and Sam Neill is part murder mystery, part family drama

Apples Never Fall starring Annette Bening and Sam Neill is part murder mystery, part family drama
  • PublishedMarch 25, 2024

Apples Never Fall, starring Sam Neill, Annette Bening and Alison Brie and adapted from the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name, is the latest trashy, bingeable thriller to hit the small screen.

In the vein of its predecessors Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers, it’s a story of long-held secrets suddenly and dramatically coming to light; of envy and jealousy, and dysfunctional personal relationships.

The formula has worked before for Moriarty, who, with Big Little Lies, was the first Australian author to debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

After the smash success of the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies, starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley, it was only a matter of time before Moriarty’s latest novel made it onto TV.

Apples Never Fall plays out over seven episodes after Delaney family matriarch Joy (played by Annette Bening; Nyad) suddenly goes missing.

Here’s what you need to know about the TV adaptation of Apples Never Fall:

Sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme. What is Apples Never Fall about?

Apples Never Fall, the TV series, is about the Delaneys, a family who live in Miami.

Alongside Joy, there is her husband, retired tennis coach Stan (an Australian character, played by Kiwi actor Sam Neill; The Twelve). He still resents that one of his former students went on to become a world champion — with a new coach. When Joy goes missing, the curmudgeonly Stan is suspected of her murder.

A TV still of Sam Neill standing in a shadowy living room, holding a jacket in one hand.
“A good ending … shouldn’t be predictable. I think it’ll take a lot of people by surprise,” Neill told IndieWire.(Supplied: Binge)

Joy and Stan have four adult children: Amy (Alison Brie; Community), an aspiring life coach; Troy (Jake LacyThe White Lotus), a venture capitalist; Logan (Conor Merrigan-Turner; Thai Cave Rescue), who works at a marina; and Brooke (Essie Randles; Speedway), a physical therapist.

While some of Joy and Stan’s children believe their father is behind their mother’s disappearance, others point the finger at “Savannah” (Georgia Flood; Tangle), a mysterious stranger who, months earlier, turned up on the Delaneys’ doorstep looking for help.

The episodes jump in time between the present, marked by the number of days Joy has been missing, and the recent past. In each episode, we get more of an insight into the characters, one by one — from their relationship with Joy to their own messy personal lives (they all have messy personal lives).

It’s part murder mystery, part family drama — and believe me, there’s a lot of drama.

I recognise a few big names in that cast, but wasn’t the show filmed in Australia? Are there any locals in the cast?

Yes! Apples Never Fall was shot on the Gold Coast (despite being set in Florida). That means there’s a bunch of Aussie actors on the show: there’s two Sydneysiders taking on their breakthrough roles, WAAPA graduate Conor Merrigan-Turner; and Essie Randles, who trained at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Then there’s Melbourne actor and musician Georgia Flood, who studied in Paris at the prestigious theatre school Lecoq.

A TV still of Essie Randles sitting outside on a chair, her arms folded, with a disbelieving expression.
Randles (pictured) and Merrigan-Turner are relative newcomers, and Lacy and Brie informally mentored them on set.(Supplied: Binge)

A number of local actors also featured in minor roles, including Robert Taylor (The Newsreader), Madeleine Jones (Population 11) and Ana Marie Belo (It’s Fine, I’m Fine).

If much of the main cast are American, does that mean the show was impacted by the strikes in the US?

It sure was. Apples Never Fall began shooting in March 2023 and was scheduled to run until the end of August, but halted in July due to the American actors’ and writers’ strikes.

The writers’ strike kicked in first, in May, leading showrunner Melanie Marnich to step back from the project, with the directors and actors continuing the shoot but staying true to the original scripts.

A TV still of Annette Bening on a tennis court. She's smiling, and holding her racket up.
The cast bonded on set by watching Bening’s movies in a screening room in their hotel.(Supplied: Binge)

Crew were stood down without pay for a month, and then formally terminated with no pay and a week’s notice. Following this, impacted crew and entertainment union members signed an open letter demanding a week’s severance, but the production companies didn’t budge.

Production resumed on the Gold Coast in December, after the actors’ strike ended. The time away led to some “changes in direction”, according to Sam Neill: “When we came back to work, what I thought would be the ending was more or less it, but it was kind of refined,” he told IndieWireMarnich has said when she came back to the series, she could look at the finale “with clear eyes” and rewrote 60 per cent of it.

Why shoot a show set in America on the Gold Coast?

While the Gold Coast plays a pretty convincing Miami, we suspect that generous tax incentives for film and TV productions were a factor in the choice to shoot the show in Australia.

Apples Never Fall — which had an estimated $79 million budget — received the Australian Government Location Incentive program grant (now defunct) and the federal government’s ongoing Location Offset rebate (which recently rose from 16.5 per cent to 30 per cent). It also received funding from Screen Queensland, as part of its Production Attraction Strategy Incentive. The two incentives were credited as supporting 260 jobs for Australian cast and crew.

A TV still of Georgia Flood, with a concerned expression. She has a small wound on her forehead.
Savannah is the only lead character who doesn’t get her own episode.(Supplied: Binge)

Apples Never Fall, along with American sci-fi series La Brea and Singaporean action-drama Shero, reportedly generated a total of $198 million in expenditure in Australia. Before filming started, the federal and Queensland state government boasted that the series would inject more than $79 million into the Australian economy — $29.5 million of which would go to Queensland.

Visual effects for the show were completed in Sydney, with support from Screen NSW, while digital and visual effects were done in South Australia, with support from the South Australian Film Corporation. City of Gold Coast is also credited as supporting the production.

What does Liane Moriarty say about the book and the series?

Apples Never Fall is Sydney author Moriarty’s ninth book for adults (she’s also written for kids), and was released in September 2021.

Moriarty told ABC RN’s The Book Show in 2022 that she wrote Apples Never Fall when she was meant to be taking a year off writing, following the publication of Nine Perfect Strangers and the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies. Her sister, Jaclyn, had sent her a short story prompt about apples lying next to a bike, and before long Moriarty had the first chapter of the book.

But she didn’t know how the story would end. “I did not know where Joy was, and I did not know if Stan was innocent or guilty,” she said.

She didn’t know exactly how Savannah fit into the picture either. “It was an interesting device to have someone who turns up and knocks on the door, [but] I had no idea who she was or how she would be involved with Joy’s disappearance,” she said.

A TV still of Alison Brie, her hands pressed to her heart. She is surrounded by people, with a scarf over her head.
Brie (pictured) loves Liane Moriarty’s books, but hadn’t read Apples Never Fall before she joined the show.(Supplied: Binge)

It’s par for the course for the writer, who said that she tends to work out how a book will end about two-thirds of the way through.

When it came to the TV adaptation, Moriarty was an executive producer and has been sharing her excitement about casting announcements and the trailer on her Facebook.

And while she doesn’t have an issue with her book being transplanted from Sydney to Miami for this series (showrunner Melanie Marnich made the change because Florida is the home of professional tennis training in the States), she’d love to see a later adaptation of one of her books retain its Australian setting. “I would love to see [more] Australians play my characters,” she said.


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