Peggy Newman (High Desert)

Created by Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford & Jennifer Hoppe-House

If you want to mine the vein of modern day gonzo noir, as popularized by St. Leonard, Carl Hiaasen and others, you have to go big.

And if you’re gonna go big, you should go really BIG.

High Desert (Apple TV) doesn’t even try. Purportedly set in the western Mojave Desert of Southern California, an area whose sun-fried boundaries vary depending on who’s doing the considering, the show is equally gauzy and ill-defined. It’s billed as a comedy, though the guffaws are few and far between, and the supposedly outrageous, over-the-top characters often seem at best mildly eccentri—more tired and sad than hilarious, invoking more pity than belly laughs (leaking breast implants, anyone?).

It stars Patricia Arquette as PEGGY NEWMAN, a blowsy, convicted drug dealer and recovering addict just out of the hoosegow who decides to make a fresh start after the death of her beloved mother with whom she lived in the sun-bleached town of Yucca Valley.

Despite her proclamations, Peggy’s not actually planning to straighten up and fly right, mind you—she may have decided to become a private investigator mostly mostly because she sniffed an easy score—much to the dismay of Bruce (played by Brad Garrett), an actual P.I. who reluctantly hired Peggy, thinking she’d bring in some much-needed new business.

Fat chance. Peggy blows off the P.I. classes Bruce paid for her to attend. Instead, the eternal scammer plans on staging a self-written musical at the pioneer village tourist trap where she works, selling a forged painting, finding a missing woman for the reward, making peace with her dead mother, dodging her parole officer, keeping her sister and brother from selling off the family home, conning a TV weatherman turned New Age guru, popping pills, having sex with her ex-husband Denny (an underused Matt Dillon), etc. Peggy, it seems, has trouble focussing, and it’s often not clear whether she know where she’s going or what she’s doing. Her train of thought doesn’t always stop at her station anymore, and it’s only her dogged, if woozy, stubbornness that allows her to muddle through.

Well, mostly.

People suggests that “life’s troubles have left her zonked and wonky,” leaving her with an “air of smudged, messy Zen.”

Which is another way of saying that, much like the show, Peggy’s a mess, and not even a particularly hot one.

The show does end with a bang, but as bangs go, it’s definitely more of a whimper.


Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford, Jennifer Hoppe-House, the creative team behind High Desert, also worked on Nurse Jackie and the little-seen Get Shorty television show (which I really liked), based on the Elmore Leonard novel, but the anticipated sharp and stylish writing failed to make an appearance this time.


    (2023, Apple+)
    May 17, 2023 (USA)
    Created by Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford, Jennifer Hoppe-House
    Writers: Nancy Fichman, Katie Ford, Jennifer Hoppe-House
    Directors: Jay Roach
    Patricia Arquette as PEGGY SULLIVAN
    Also starring Matt Dillon as Denny
    Rupert Friend as Guru Bob
    Weruche Opia as Carol
    Brad Garrett as Bruce
    Also starring Bernadette Peters, Christine Taylor, Carmine Giovinazzo, Carlo Rota, Jeffrey Vincent, Tracy Vilar, Keir O’Donnell, Susan Park, Michael Masini
    • “Pilot” (May 17, 2023)
    • “Two Knockers and No Boyfriend” (May 17, 2023)
    • “I’m Getting Close to This Guru Bastard” (May 17, 2023)
    • “Is This About the Fucking Silver?” (May 24, 2023)
    • “Soul Retrieval” (May 31, 2023)
    • “Fucking Monsoon Season” (June 7, 2023)
    • “This Doesn’t Have to be a Tragedy” (June 14, 2023)
    • “I Need a Hero” (June 21, 2023)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

2 thoughts on “Peggy Newman (High Desert)

  1. I do reservedly like the idea of bringing the PI story back to even a limping pass at gonzo reality. Stumptown (still mourning) and Terriers for me were promising templates, but Magnum is 5-0 without a badge — the same Hawaiian no-client/secret mission actioner Hollywood seems stuck in. Psych was a shitload of fun most of the time, but Bored to Death and even Andy Barker PI were truer to any kind of genre faith. In terms of High Desert, I think Brad Garrett’s loser plugger shows more promise for a series, tho it and the Jimmy John’s commercials are the only times he wasn’t annoyed the living crap out of me. Haven’t seen the finale yet, but if there were to be a Season 2, maybe Arquette could bring the gonzo to actually detecting. Prolly not, which is disappointing considering AppleTV’s normal standard of innovative, quality programming (Morning Show, Truth Be Told, Severance, Shrinks). Hey, you wouldn’t want a piece on the 2010-2023 TV eyes, would you? I got a smart TV.

    1. Sure!!! I’m always looking for stuff like reviews and think pieces. Just email me. And when you do watch the HIGH DESERT finale, please explain it to me. Did they just run out of steam, or what? (OH, as as for Apple TV… SLOW HORSES!!!)

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