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Apple TV+ review: 'Dickinson' returns for a triumphant season 2

Hailee Steinfeld in season two of "Dickinson," premiering January 8 on Apple TV+.

Emily Dickinson and friends are back, for more anachronistic adventures in the 19th century, as the Apple TV+ hit returns for its second season.

When Dickinson debuted in late 2019, as one of the first original Apple TV+ shows, it was clear that it had a conceit that viewers would either buy into immediately or not. The show follows the life of the famed 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld), and while the characters wear period-accurate costumes, the series offers anachronistic dialogue and pop music.

The series seems to have struck something of a chord with Apple TV+ viewers, though, and along with The Morning Show, emerged as one of the most successful of the original crop of Apple TV+ shows. It also took home a Peabody Award in 2020.

Now, Dickinson is returning with its second batch of episodes on January 8, becoming the first Apple show to debut a sophomore season. The show had been renewed even before the first season aired, and appears to have finished filming prior to the start of the pandemic.

More of the same

Hailee Steinfeld and Finn Jones in season two of
Hailee Steinfeld and Finn Jones in season two of "Dickinson," premiering January 8 on Apple TV+.

The new season isn't especially different, stylistically or thematically, from the first one. This may because, unlike some of the other Apple shows, it's kept its showrunner and creator, Alena Smith, in place.

Like the first season, the second season of Dickinson is ten episodes, of which we have seen four. The first three episodes debut on January 8, with the remaining seven to follow, once a week through February 26.

The episodes follow the continuing adventures of real-life poet Emily Dickinson, living with her family in 1850s Massachusetts, and practicing creative writing at a time when such pursuits were not part of the expectations for a woman of her station.

In this new season, Emily continues to attempt to get her poetry published, while still pining for her best friend Sue (Ella Hunt), who is now married to Emily's brother Austin, portrayed by Adrian Enscoe. Meanwhile, Emily has begun hosting literary salons.

Her efforts are tainted with melancholy, as we know that in reality Emily Dickinson's incredible writing would not become known until after her death.

However, the show has its title character's energy and wit, and star Hailee Steinfeld continues to be the best thing about it. She is a wildly charismatic performer who commands the camera in every scene she's in. There's also a fine dynamic between veteran TV performers Toby Huss and Jane Krakowski as Dickinson's parents.

New faces

Pico Alexander and Anna Baryshnikov in season two of
Pico Alexander and Anna Baryshnikov in season two of "Dickinson," premiering January 8 on Apple TV+

The season's most prominent new characters are publisher Samuel Bowles (Finn Jones), who speaks with the cadences of a TED Talk host, along with another character calling himself Nobody (Will Pullen), who appears to be a ghost. Wiz Khalifa's grim reaper character, meanwhile, is listed as showing up later in the season, along with a ghostly version of Edgar Allan Poe (Nick Kroll.)

The characters also continue to speak in modern aphorisms, which is generally charming. Although, the use of the phrase "Emerson is canceled" comes across as more than a little awkward.

The show's premise also makes room for guest appearances by actors playing historical figures. This season, Timothy Simons (from Veep) has an amusing guest turn as Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the men who first proposed New York's Central Park. His strong performance recalls John Mulaney's turn as Henry David Thoreau in the first season.

More 'Wild Nights' to come

Adrian Blake Enscoe and Ella Hunt in season two of
Adrian Blake Enscoe and Ella Hunt in season two of "Dickinson," premiering January 8 on Apple TV+.

In addition to its status as the first Apple show to get a second season, Dickinson is now also the first show on the service to be renewed for a third. This indicates that the series will have a relatively long life.

We wrote in our review upon the series' debut that Dickinson had a chance to emerge as the signature show on Apple TV+. It isn't quite that, but based on the start of its second season, Dickinson remains in the upper echelon of the service's shows.