The New Look TV Review

Ben Mendelsohn and Juliette Binoche are excellent in a historical drama series that fails to live up to their talent.

PLOT:: This emotionally thrilling series reveals the shocking story of how fashion icon Christian Dior and his contemporaries, including Coco Chanel, Pierre Balmain, and Cristóbal Balenciaga navigated the horrors of World War Il and launched modern fashion.

REVIEW: Fashion design has found great success as fodder for reality series and romantic comedies. Films like The Devil Wears Prada, Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter, and Ryan Murphy‘s limited series Halston have looked at the intricacies of the fashion world, mostly from a contemporary standpoint. The new AppleTV+ series The New Look is designed as the start of an anthology series by looking at the tumultuous period after World War II when French fashion icons Christian Dior and Coco Chanel reinvented what we consider haute couture. With a stellar cast led by Ben Mendelsohn and Juliette Binoche, The New Look should have been an instant frontrunner for series of the year. Instead, The New Look is a ploddingly thin drama that barely scratches the surface of the subject matter at hand, resulting in a ten-episode season that barely registers any interest.

The New Look review

Opening in 1955 with on-screen text claiming that the story to follow is about how the creative spirit reinvigorated the world after the end of the Nazi regime, The New Look begins with Christian Dior (Ben Mendelsohn) being lauded at the Sorbonne as the saviour of fashion. Simultaneously, Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche) is being interviewed upon her return to Paris after years away. The two icons, one representative of the past and the other of the future, are meant to be rivals. The New Look is focused on creating a rift between the two that the series will chronicle, but it never quite reaches that point. For most of the series, The New Look focuses on the designers and their lives over the preceding decades as they developed to their current point at the start of the first episode. Much of the time is dedicated to Chanel’s tenure during the war, including her close connection to the Nazi party. At the same time, Dior is shown trying to save his sister Catherine (Maisie Williams). With a decade serving as the bulk of this series story, it is shocking how little is explored in the course of The New Look.

Ryan Murphy’s Halston spent a great deal looking at how the designer created the revolutionary clothes that gave him fame and fortune. The New Look forsakes the creative process as anything more than a necessary component in telling the stories of Dior and Chanel. Had more time been spent in the creative process, there likely would have been more energy to this story, which is consistently languishing in sadness and depression. Equally underexplored is the personal life of Christian Dior, a gay man living during one of the most repressive regimes in history. The series only superficially looks at what it meant to be a homosexual during World War II, and it seems a disservice to the life of Dior. Equally, the series skirts a lot of the tumultuous elements in Coco Chanel’s involvement with the Nazis, ignoring claims she was a spy for the Reich. Instead, a lot of attention is paid to her using her connections to the Nazis to reclaim controlling stakes in her empire, and she tries to explain it away with barely a thought. For a series that runs ten, hour-long episodes, there should have been substantial time to give these elements screen time.

The faults of The New Look are not due to the cast, who are all exceptional with the time they are given. Ben Mendelsohn has long been deserving of a showcase like this. The actor has appeared in supporting roles for so many years and shined as the lead in HBO’s The Outsider. Here, Mendelsohn imbues Dior with a simmering fear of failure and exposure but does not get the chance to explore the designer’s genius to a satisfactory level. Juliette Binoche, an acting legend, equally tries to make do with Coco Chanel’s trademark mannerisms and affect, but she ends up playing second fiddle in a story that should be all hers. The supporting cast touted in the trailers are all underused, especially John Malkovich as Dior’s mentor, Lucien Lelong. It should be a rule that if you have Malkovich, you use Malkovich. Maisie Williams is excellent as Catherine Dior, providing a powerful if understated performance. Glenn Close appears in a brief role as Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, but I wish we had seen more of her. Claes Bang, Emily Mortimer, and Nuno Lopes all provide solid work but none of them are given enough to work with.

Series creator and showrunner Todd A. Kessler, who created the Netflix series Bloodline and the FX series Damages, wrote or co-wrote most of The New Look and helmed multiple episodes. As a director, Kessler does not elevate the series above television quality, with much of The New Look smacking of small-scale visuals. Because Kessler directs the premiere chapter, the other filmmakers in the series, including Jeremy Podeswa, Helen Shaver, and Cannes Palm d’Or winner Julia Ducournau (Titane) have to follow his lead and keep things in check. With so many World War II-era films and series in recent years, I had higher hopes for the look and feel of this series, but it never can truly come together. Maybe it is because the scripts feel disjointed, as if the writers tried to tell two completely disparate stories and then attempted to weave them together. Neither Dior nor Chanel is given enough weight, and the goal of pitting them opposite each other fizzles very early in the series. I had multiple issues with this series, and almost all of them fall on the written page and behind the camera rather than the actors on screen.

The New Look review

A series about fashion designers and the importance of their creations should at the very least spend a modicum of time on how they realized their designs. The New Look wants so badly to be a relevant tale about perseverance in the face of true evil and yet never gives us anything to root for. Ben Mendelsohn, Juliette Binoche, and the entire ensemble of this series are excellent actors and do their best with material that is far below the quality it should have been. With a second season looking to be greenlit by Apple, I hope they find a more energetic way to deliver their next foray into The New Look. This series, which has a fantastic trailer, feels underwhelming, underdeveloped, and ultimately boring. I would expect that even the most ardent fan of Dior or Chanel will find little of interest in this series that feels twice as long as it actually is and painfully wastes every talent involved.

The New Look premieres on February 14th on AppleTV+.

The New Look




About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.