‘The Last Thing He Told Me’: You’ll covet the decor but won’t buy the story

Jennifer Garner stars in Apple TV+ series as a California mom whose idyllic life shatters when her high-profile husband disappears.

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Hannah (Jennifer Garner) is living in Sausalito with her highly successful husband and his teen daughter when “The Last Thing He Told Me” begins.

Apple TV+

We love to watch limited series about Privileged People in Peril, which usually include the following ingredients: a bestselling novel or high-profile true-crime story as source material; the casting of esteemed and well-liked actors in the lead roles; glossy visuals that often include sleek and modern homes worthy of an Architectural Digest spread, and unabashedly salacious material.

Think “The Undoing” with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. “Defending Jacob” with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery. “The Staircase” with Colin Firth and Toni Collette. “Little Fires Everywhere” with Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon. “Big Little Lies” with … everybody.

The Apple TV+ limited series “The Last Thing He Told Me” follows this recipe for success in that it stars the enormously likable and reliable Jennifer Garner, is based on the bestselling novel by Laura Dave, is filled with striking visuals and quickly plunges us into a conspiracy-laced mystery involving stunning betrayals, long-buried secrets, revealing flashbacks and shocking revelations. Alas, despite the best efforts of Garner and the outstanding ensemble, and the genuinely intriguing premise, the deeper we get into the story, the less plausible it becomes, with a number of episodes containing moments that will have you muttering, “Are you kidding me?” or just reaching for the remote to see what else is available.

‘The Last Thing He Told Me’

Untitled

First two episodes available now on Apple TV+, with a new episode premiering each Friday through May 19.

“The Last Thing He Told Me” opens with a frantic in medias res scene in which Garner’s Hannah is desperately racing around one of those large hotels where the balconies are indoors and face the lobby, as she desperately searches for someone named Bailey, only to realize Bailey has gone missing.

Cue the obligatory “Four Days Earlier” title card, and we’re introduced to Hannah’s seemingly idyllic life. She’s a high-end woodturner* who lives in a picturesque Venetian floating home in Sausalito with her highly successful, computer tech engineer husband Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Owen’s 16-year-old daughter Bailey (Angourie Rice), ah, so that’s the “Bailey” from that earlier scene. Bailey resents the hell out of Hannah because no one can replace Bailey’s sainted mother, who was killed in an auto accident when Bailey was just 4, but Hannah is determined to win over Bailey with helicopter step-parenting and constant offers to make her a grilled cheese sandwich or drop her off at school.

(*It’s definitely a thing for leads in recent series and films to have cool occupations. In “Showing Up,” Michelle Williams is a sculptor. In “Beef,” Ali Wong has a high-end plant store. In “Unprisoned,” Kerry Washington is a relationship therapist with a constant social media presence.)

Hannah’s world explodes when news breaks that Owen’s tech startup, called The Shop, has allegedly been involved in an Enron-type Ponzi scheme. As regulatory investigators swoop down on the company’s headquarters, Owen goes missing, leaving behind a bag filled with cash and a cryptic note for Hannah: “Protect her.” Here we go.

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Angourie Rice plays Hannah’s resentful stepdaughter.

Apple TV+

With Bailey whining and complaining every step of the way, Hannah quickly segues from mild-mannered woodturner to ace detective, as she believes Owen wouldn’t abandon her and Bailey just like that, and there has to be more to the story. With her journalist best friend Jules (the wonderful Aisha Tyler) often lending a helping hand, Hannah manages to stay one step ahead of the various local and federal authorities who find it hard to believe Hannah knew nothing of Owen’s alleged involvement with the Ponzi scheme.

The first few episodes of “The Last Thing He Told Me” move along at a brisk pace and keep us guessing as to the true reasons behind Owen’s departure. Certain details are provided via flashback sequences, but it still strains credulity that Hannah apparently never questioned any of Owen’s stories through the course of their relationship, and never pressed him for any details about his first wife’s death or his background. We spend a lot of time in Austin, Texas, where Bailey might have spent some time with her father when she was a very small child, and it’s borderline ridiculous when Bailey hears a sound or catches a glimpse of something, and all of a sudden has a strong recollection of events that occurred when she was all of 3 or 4 years old.

It doesn’t help that Coster-Waldau’s Owen disappears from the main storyline so early on. To be sure, Owen resurfaces in those aforementioned flashbacks now and again (when we go back to Owen’s college days, Coster-Waldau is digitized to the point where he looks like an A.I. creation), but because we see relatively little of the dynamic between Hannah and Owen in the golden days, before all hell broke loose, we don’t really understand how Hannah could have been so easily conned by this guy. She’s really, really smart, except for those times when she’s oblivious.

The series finale is overblown and yet anti-climactic, and the last scene is nearly laughable, likely ensuring “The Last Thing He Told Me” is destined to be easily dismissed and quickly forgotten.

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