Genuinely happy couples are some of TV’s greatest magic tricks. So often, people in a contented relationship are used as flat foils for a pair of others caught in a dysfunctional loop. Other times, those couples’ joy is the narrative equivalent of cotton candy, empty calories designed to provide comfort and nothing else.
All of this makes “Trying” feel like that much more of an achievement, not to mention a welcome respite. The Apple TV+ comedy, debuting its Season 2 this week, revolves around Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall), two Camden residents on an extended journey to add to their family. The events of the first season eventually saw them approved by an adoption panel, and now begins the next stretch of the process.
Of course, Nikki and Jason are still not 100 percent certain in their potential parenting skills. In that way — amongst a handful of others — “Trying” continues to cement itself as a surprising relationship story that just happens to have a substantial sweeter, joking outer covering. “Trying” draws most of its strength from the fact that in their various tiny misgivings about what’s to come Nikki and Jason truly seem to be ideally matched. It’s not because both of them are perpetual rays of sunshine — Jason certainly has his lazy and defeatist moments, while Nikki’s constant optimism is sometimes as much of a strain as it is a balm. By the time this stage in the series has rolled around, though, series writer and creator Andy Wolton is so attuned to the rhythm of their partnership that even a simple discussion of olives can turn profound.
It’s helpful to have that base as Season 2 gets through some initial shakiness. The premiere takes some time to lock into the situations of everyone in Nikki and Jason’s web. The charm that powered much of the opening season takes a little extra time to show up, sending Nikki and Jason to the background as the misadventures of their friends and family take center stage. It makes sense that Season 2 would open up its scope — it’s additional context for any potential addition to Nikki and Jason’s family. Perhaps appropriate given the show’s subject matter, it just takes a little time to get settled.
As the focus shifts back to Nikki and Jason and their efforts to bring a child into their lives, that shift really does feel like a beacon cutting through the gloom. Even when developments in the adoption process run afoul of some of their biggest plans, the easy, acoustic-guitar engine of the series keeps everyone from standing in one place for long. “Trying” is at its best when it uses its two stars’ momentum to push forward, no matter which direction they’re headed.
“Trying” isn’t afraid to use a few choice coincidences now and again, but once things get past the small contrivances of the premiere, the show makes the most of the opportunities to dig into those personal hurdles facing the estranged Freddy (Oliver Chris) and Erica (Ophelia Lovibond), Nikki’s sister Karen (Sian Brooke), and any of the show’s would-be grandparents. Particularly as one wedding looms large later in the season, it becomes the thematic braid into which each of the anxieties in this web of acquaintances fit in surprisingly well. (The staging of a few of those key convergences is some of director Jim O’Hanlon’s best work of the series so far.)
Though she’s not in quite as much this season, of course there’s also the always-welcome presence of Imelda Staunton as Penny, the couple’s adoption liaison. Always good for the ideal dose of the outrageous — Penny has one line about her…unique relationship to Westminster that’s as perfect a delivery of a joke as you’ll see anywhere — her presence drives home the reality of what Nikki and Jason are facing. Still, she manages to do it with the lightest of a fairy godmother touch, giving “Trying” just the faint fairytale sheen it needs when the moment calls for it.
It’s almost as if “Trying” knows that the power of Nikki and Jason is so strong that it can withstand some of their less-advisable choices. (When one of their plans involves some light trespassing, it’s easy to imagine a situation where even under the worst case scenario, they’d be able to talk their way out of it.) Yet time after time, they demonstrate how much of a force for good they can be in the lives of those who desperately need their helping hands. In turn, that makes their continued frustrated adoption attempts all the more emotional.
Through it all, “Trying” is a bright show. There are plenty of sunny exteriors. The inside of the car rental call center where Nikki works has more charm than most fictional offices. Even the inside of the flats of the most reserved characters have a distinct amount of warmth to them.
But it’s not a delusional brightness. Embedded within Nikki and Jason’s relationship is a frequent reminder that living solely in an idealized fantasy future can be dangerous. Happiness this natural and palpable takes work, both in what you do for yourself and the cooperation you have to find with whatever partner you want to share that happiness with. Thankfully, “Trying” is a journey that’s set to continue its own efforts, ready to follow wherever this collection of hearts floats next.
The “Trying” Season 2 premiere is now available on Apple TV+. New episodes will be available on the platform every Friday.