Growing up is hard. And if you’re a young girl looking for relatable content about friends, shifting family dynamics and staying true to yourself in this digital world, you’d be hard pressed to find many solid viewing options. That’s where Apple TV+’s new original “Amber Brown” fills a void.
The 10-part show is an adaptation of Paula Danziger’s popular children’s book series of the same name. When viewers meet Amber Brown (played by Carsyn Rose) she is starting the sixth grade in the middle of three big crises: her parents are getting divorced, her mom is with a new man and her best friend Justin (Joshua Gallup) is moving away.
Creator, writer and director Bonnie Hunt ages Amber from nine to 11 in this iteration in order to appeal to those younger viewers who historically “watch up.” The result is a series about a girl dealing with real-life issues that affect her world, with valuable lessons in communication, adapting to change and navigating big feelings.
Amber isn’t in a rush to grow up, but she does want more independence. She craves agency over her own schedule and wishes she were taller and had pierced ears, but also considers a touch of lip gloss and blush fancy makeup. Rather than document her every move on Instagram or TikTok, she keeps a video diary expressing her feelings, which also allows Amber to break the fourth wall and speak directly to audiences during times of internal struggle.
That struggle to navigate the period between childhood and the teenage years is at its most obvious in the school scenes, where Amber doesn’t quite fit in with the popular girls but impresses the boy she likes with her sense of humor and ability to be herself. At home, her relationships are strikingly positive, and although she relates most to her free-spirited Aunt Polly (Ashley Williams) she is also close with her mother, Sarah (Sarah Drew).
Her home life is what anchors the first-season storylines after Amber learns her father, Philip (Michael Yo), is moving home from Paris where he’s been stationed for work. As she dreams about her parents getting back together, she also struggles with the realization that she likes her mom’s fiancé, Max (Darin Brooks) and the fact that her father has begun dating and can’t always make time for her with his busy job.
On that front, the problems the show’s adults face are equally relatable to those of adults watching with their kids. The parents’ central relationship is complicated and nuanced, with both parties coming to terms with their separation while co-parenting and watching each other move on. These adults know they aren’t right for each other, but they’re still bonded by their former friendship and their child. It’s an optimistic display of a blended family that feels relevant and timely as they find footing to make it all work.
Through it all Rose is a light and positive force that dominates every scene. Her range feels beyond her years, making her a young talent to watch closely in the future. Liliana Inouye is also perfectly cast opposite Rose as Amber’s new best friend and next-door neighbor, “Brandi with an I.” Together the pair offer a unique friendship rarely seen between tweens on television, one filled with support and compassion and puns but lacking in competition or betrayal.
Cinematically, “Amber Brown” is also a joyous exploration of art and expression thanks to the animated transitions representing Amber’s art. They’re another way for the character to showcase her thoughts and feelings while adding comedy and a familiarity for younger viewers who are only now transitioning from animated to live-action fare.
With the somewhat recent cancellations of tween-positive series like “The Baby-Sitters Club” and “Julie and the Phantoms,” this is all to say “Amber Brown” is a rare and essential series aimed at an important, formative age group that Hollywood frequently neglects.
All 10 episodes of “Amber Brown” debut Friday, July 29 on AppleTV+.