Apple TV+'s Surface is making quite a splash, but some critics say it's a belly flop. Should you dive in?

Some say the memory-loss thriller Surface isn't deep enough. Others say it's, ahem, ferry good.

Surface (TV show)
(Image credit: Apple)

(Content warning: suicide)

In Apple TV+'s new thriller Surface, Sophie (the brilliant Gugu Mbatha-Raw) wakes up with head trauma, apparently after throwing herself off a ferry in a suicide attempt. There's just one problem. She doesn't remember jumping. Or anything. So when a mysterious man claiming to be a detective tells her that what she's been told about the incident isn't true, she has to question everything. Is anybody what they seem?

Skipping quickly past the unfortunate fact that Surface shares its name with a shonky, short-lived mid-2000s series about an aquatic alien, it sounds rather like SJ Watson's thriller Before I Go To Sleep – something Radio Times was quick to notice. But reviewer James Hibbs feels that it isn't quite as good: "the problem is that's all Surface really does – resemble other, better stories."

It's been a while since I've seen such a difference of opinion between reviewers: to many, Mbatha-Raw is wasted in a show whose writing doesn't measure up to her considerable charisma and talent. But to others, Surface is a brilliantly twisty pot-boiler that'll keep you gripped until its big reveal.

Is Surface a belly flop?

The Guardian certainly thinks so: "We’ve seen this paint-by-numbers psychological drama a hundred times before, from its sluggish plot about memory loss to characters so inert they make a kitchen island look lively," says Ellen Jones, and that's just the review's subheading. iNews' Emily Baker says Mbatha-Raw is let down by a flat script and formulaic characters, while Joel Keller at Decider says Surface "doesn't seem to have enough story to justify an 8-episode series. 

But other reviewers  enjoyed it. After watching the first three episodes, The Verge's Andrew Webster said "I can't even tell if the show is even any good at this point – but I know I need to keep watching to find out." IGN's Tara Bennett says it's "a soapy mystery that gets stronger as it goes along", and while "it's a smorgasbord of tropes" it "manages to arrange the pieces in suitably entertaining ways, shifting and playing on our assumptions with enough finesse that the outcome feels unexpected and worth the ride."

I think "soapy mystery" is a good way to describe it: having read tons of reviews now there's definitely a consensus that Surface feels more soap opera-ish than, say, Severance-quality. But if you're looking for a fun and fairly twisty thriller to keep you amused for a few evenings it's worth adding to your watch list.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (