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It's been 1 year since Apple TV+ began, and I have watched every one of their shows (except the kids stuff)! Here's my ranking...[No Spoilers]
34 - Greatness Code - Documentary
Summary: Each episode features a different athlete talking about a key moment in their careers. The show features athletes from many different sports, including basketball’s LeBron James, soccer’s Alex Morgan (sorry…footballer Alex Morgan), snowboarder Shaun White, sprinter Usain Bolt, swimmer Katie Ledecky, surfer Kelly Slater, and (American) footballer Tom Brady (who is a co-producer).
My Take: This is the easy winner for the worst thing on Apple TV+. The only good thing about this “show” is that the episodes are usually no more than 10 minutes long. The monologues by the athletes are…fine. There’s nothing you haven’t really heard before here. The problem is that the special effects take away from actually seeing the athlete in action. Almost every bit of action has some animation or filter or something over it, so we almost never actually see the events being discussed. It’s pretty ridiculous. After watching this, I genuinely wondered if this series was intended to be part of Apple TV+’s children’s offerings, because that is the only level where it could at all seem “great”.
33 - Oprah Talks Covid-19 - News (Miniseries)
Summary: Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic started major lockdowns across the United States, Oprah quickly began to do online interviews with people who she hoped would bring perspective and uplifting messages, from celebrities to pastors to nurses to people who had experienced isolation in prison and the holocaust. This series ran for nearly a month from mid-March to mid-April in 2020.
My Take: One of Oprah’s three series, this one is the lowest ranked just because much of the information within it is out of date, and is aimed at people at a certain time, which was months ago. But in a way, it’s a bit of a time capsule of the early parts of the pandemic in the public eye, which is interesting. It’s almost as interesting to see the production value (or lack there of), as the majority of the episodes are screen recordings of online interviews. It’s perhaps only worth watching now for being a curiosity, but Apple and Oprah did good getting something up in a timely fashion.
32 - Amazing Stories - Adventure
Summary: An anthology series executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the show brings back the “Amazing Stories” brand with five independent stories about incredible adventures that play with sci-fi and fantasy about regular people put in amazing situations.
My Take: Amazing Stories was to be one of Apple TV’s tentpoles for the summer. Unfortunately, the series landed flat, and is by far the biggest disappointment. It’s yet another TV series that original co-Producer Bryan Fuller left. The show was originally to have ten episodes, it ended up with just five. The stories were not very groundbreaking, though they were beautifully shot. It might be worth checking out for Robert Forster’s last project before he died (Dynoman and the Volt), and for the touching “The Heat” about high school runners from Oakland.
31 - Home - Documentary
Summary: As you might imagine, this documentary series is not just about the architecture of a house, but about the people behind building and designing them. Each episode features a different house and story, with houses chosen from around the world, from urban environments like Chicago and Hong Kong to remote locations in Maine and Bali.
My Take: Although cable and streaming is littered with television programs about houses and architecture, this show passes on the drama, which helps Home become a documentary, and not a reality show. The cinematography is predictably beautiful, but the pacing is slow, and it’s very hard to really get into. It doesn’t help that a couple of the home builders behind the stories are honestly not very likable. The final episode of the first season is really good, but ultimately, this show is a bit of a snooze beyond the real enthusiasts.
30 - Dads - Documentary (Movie)
Summary: Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, this movie looks at fathers across the many levels of fatherhood, anchored by Howard’s own relationship with her father, actodirector Ron Howard, and her grandfather Archie, as well as Bryce’s non-celebrity brother who is an expecting father. The movie shifts to stories about fathers from around the world, and back to the Howards, to celebrate the ever-shifting role of fatherhood in modern society.
My Take: This documentary is a sweet, if simple, tribute to modern fatherhood. There’s nothing special here, it does exactly what you would expect it to. It has cameo interviews from comedian fathers, interspersed with random recordings of fathers from home movies and social media, and stories of fathers in different situations. There’s nothing bad about it, but it’s pretty dry overall. It’s not a waste, but it’ll probably end up being the thing you see in the list and say “Oh, I’ll watch that another time…”, which might as well be next Father’s Day with your dad.
29 - Dear… - Documentary
Summary: A documentary series that details the history and life of various individual celebrities, and uses letters written by people they have affected to frame those celebrities’ impact on people and society.
My Take: Apple has used the advertising method of using letters written to Apple or Tim Cook about how things have changed their lives (particularly the Apple Watch), and in that context this series feels like, well, advertising. Not to take anything away from the celebrities involved, but the marketing push feels very heavy here. And, of course, one of the celebrities featured is Oprah, who is a big presence in ATV+. It also gets absurd with one episode around Big Bird (in character); of course, the Muppets have a spin-off in the kids section of ATV+ called Helpsters. It’s best with the smaller names, where even I learned a little bit. It’s a decent feel-good if that’s what you’re looking for.
28 - Long Way Up - Documentary (Miniseries)
Summary: The third docu-series by Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman as they take a long road trip by motorcycle. This trip, they are traveling from the southern tip of South America up to Los Angeles, and are doing it (almost) entirely on electric vehicles. The series highlights both the places they visit along the way, and the travails (and successes) of using these new, custom-made electric motorcycles. (The other two series Long Way Round and Long Way Down have also been added to ATV+, though they are not ‘Apple Originals’.)
My Take: I’ve got to be honest, it’s hard to get into watching others take a road trip. It’s nice enough. The footage is beautiful, as they use everything from GoPro helmet cams to drones to capture the scenery. But the major source of tension here is Range Anxiety, and the biggest drama is in whether or not they can do it all on electric bikes. Still, it’s interesting to see parts of South America many aren’t familiar with, including deserts and the vast Patagonia. And Ewan does seem like someone that would be a great bloke to be mates with. Some people will really enjoy this, I’m just not one of them.
27 - The Elephant Queen - Documentary (Movie)
Summary: Narrated by the soft-spoken Chiwetel Ejiofor, an elephant herd must navigate the climate of the savannah to survive. Led by the matriarch, they must migrate before the dry season hits to stay around water, and then return to their normal grazing land. Along the way, we meet the many other creatures of the savannah and face the changing climates and droughts that get in the way of these pachyderms.
My Take: A documentary much in the style of the old Disney documentaries, the Elephant Queen does a lot of anthropomorphizing its subjects, who range from elephants to dung beetles, and follows them through a difficult season. It is borderline kids-oriented, but adults might enjoy this as well. It’s not afraid to delve into some sad situations, and there is an overriding theme of what happens in droughts that can not be ignored. A sweet film, perhaps a bit saccharine.
26 - Hala - Drama (Movie)
Summary: Hala is a Pakistani-American teenage girl and her trying to balance her family and cultural pressures with being a teen in America. She longs to be out of the pressures of her family’s culture as she interacts with friends and teachers outside of the home. When she does try to act out, she begins to discover more about her family, both discovering secrets and sides she never knew about, as she discovers more about herself.
My Take: Apple TV+’s first fictional feature film release, this coming of age film is never really surprising, but it is a well made film that hits all the right nuances in trying to share Hala’s experience. It’s not a perfect film, as there are some shifts in tone and character that are rather sudden and jarring for the viewer, though all things considered, that’s probably what writedirector Minhal Baig was trying for. The emotions shift quickly and non-family characters disappear quickly, as it’s clear that this is Hala’s story, and not anyone else’s. It’s a solid watch.
25 - Trying - Comedy
Summary: A British couple, Nikki and Jason, have decided to adopt when they have trouble conceiving. They struggle with the truly difficult process of adopting, as well as insecurities about whether or not the two (who could be called slackers) are truly ready to be, or even worthy of being, parents.
My Take: This is a British comedy co-produced by BBC that is about an intensely serious subject. If you know British humor, you know that it will be very intentionally awkward, and this series can definitely hit that mark. While the show is certainly has about its two main characters (Rafe Spall and Esther Smith as the couple), it has a surprisingly large cast of supporting characters, but with only one star most Americans would know (Imelda Staunton as the most unintimidating social worker ever). It’s an interesting concept, and it finds some sweet moments, but not as many funny ones. It’s not bad, but is just okay.
24 - Oprah’s Book Club - Talk Show
Summary: This was the first Oprah show to appear on Apple TV+, serving as a cross-section of Apple services (which advertises Books and Podcasts), and the only one that got to meet the pre-pandemic style of Oprah’s shows. The idea was that Oprah would interview authors and let an audience ask questions. But the series also shows the effects of the pandemic. Once the pandemic hits, the audience is gone, and it becomes direct virtual interviews for a couple of episodes before Apple and Oprah find a way to have a virtual audience.
My Take: I admit, I didn’t read any of the books selected for this list. I still got something out of these shows, but more of an analysis of Oprah than the books. It did show off one of her worst traits, which is how she answers for an interviewee when they were slow to find a point, and she talked over a lot of people. But you could also see her energy change when she had a live audience versus online interviews, and even different with a virtual audience. You could also see her energy change about what books she is passionate about versus those less so. So this wasn’t a waste, but I wasn’t enthusiastic.
23 - Truth Be Told - Drama
Summary: Poppy Parnell (Octavia Spencer) is a true crime podcaster after a successful career as an investigative reporter, but she comes to dwell on the first case that made her famous, where a teenager was put away for murdering his neighbor. Now an adult (played by Aaron Paul), Poppy begins talking with him to see if she made a mistake. Meanwhile, the victim’s family is forced to revisit the crime, including twin daughters (both played by Lizzy Caplan), and Poppy’s family confronts her for supporting Cave, who has joined a white supremacist gang in prison.
My Take: This show has an incredible cast, with Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, and Ron Cephas Jones in big supporting roles. Race is an unavoidable part of this story, but so is culture, as Poppy is split between her family’s blue-collar roots in Oakland, and the Silicon Valley lifestyle she now lives with her husband across the bay. The Bay Area setting of this series is a big part of the symbolism. The problem is that the mystery viewers came for was never really important. This would’ve been a good third season of a show, once a status quo for these characters had been found, rather than a confusing first season with lots of subplots.
22 - Central Park - Animation
Summary: Animated by the people behind Bob’s Burgers and created in part by Josh Gad, Central Park is an animated musical. The show revolves around the family of the manager of Central Park (Leslie Odom Jr.), and the villainous hotel owner (Stanley Tucci) who wants to undermine the park to buy it and develop it. Gad plays the busker at the park who serves as the audience’s narrator, and it plays like musical theater, with songs written by a range of artists, including Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, and Meghan Trainor, among many others.
My Take: The show is silly, but not always in a funny way. The music is reminiscent of the irreverent nature of Avenue Q, and has some star power behind it, though a lot of the music is just meh. I’m not surprised my favorite song, “Spoiler Alert”, was cowritten by Alan Menken of 90’s Disney musical fame. The story, however, very often deviates from the main thrust of the plot and doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere at times, as it’s more bothered with the humor in ridiculous situations, like the park manager’s son being obsessed with the villain’s dog Champagne. Ultimately, though, the show is just meh. The humor is fine, the story is barely relevant, and the majority of the music will not be found on many people’s playlists going forward, although of course you can find it all on Apple Music.
This show has been one of Apple TV’s only controversies, however. The cast is made from many of Gad’s friends. That led to some controversy, as Gad chose stars before choosing parts. Kristen Bell was put into the role of a bi-racial character, and the two villainous women in the series were played by men (Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs, though it’s hard to fault either performance). The controversy was first brought up over the winter. After the summer’s social upheaval, Bell stepped down from the role and her former character will be played in season 2 by Emmy Raver-Lampman. Bell will return as a new character in season 2.
21 - On The Rocks - Comedy (Movie)
Summary: Laura (Rashida Jones) is worried that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) may have gotten bored in their marriage and having an affair with a coworker. Laura’s father (Bill Murrary), a charming and unabashed ladies man, tries to help her figure out her suspicions as they follow Dean around.
My Take: Well, Apple TV+ paid for a Sofia Coppola film, and boy, did they get one. What this means is that this is a movie where the plot is less important than the conversation, and in particular, this might as well be a 2-person play between Jones and Murray. Murray is charming as basically a more chauvinistic version of himself, and Jones deadpan is the perfect counter. Ultimately the conversations are predictable, and the very obvious plot takes away any suspense. This lets the movie’s most emotionally revelatory scene go almost completely under the radar. Ultimately, it and any lessons from this film get lost in conversation. Luckily, though, Murray and Jones are enough to carry the film and stop it from becoming just plain lost.
20 - See - Drama
Summary: In the future, the world was hit with a virus that made all humans blind, and predictably led to a societal downfall. The remains of civilization live either in a world wildness has mostly reclaimed, or the ruins of what once was. The story centers on a family where two children have been born with sight, and their adoptive father (Jason Momoa) and their mother (Hera Hilmar), with friends, try to find others with sight, while being chased by a religious monarch and her soldiers, trying to rid the world of the sin of sight.
My Take: One of Apple TV+’s first showcase shows, with a bankable action star in Jason Momoa and a huge budget, See ended up as one of the platform’s disappointments. The show suffers because it’s trying to world build throughout its first season, but is constantly changing the status quo of the world through its first season. Time flies for the characters, as the kids born in the first episode are teens in 3 episodes. Supporting characters are set up and then lost in the shuffle. The show does a fantastic job putting together a realistic world of how the sightless would build a civilization, but it’s not enough to make up for a plot that barely sets a status quo before blowing it up for a new quo.
19 - Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You - Documentary (Movie)
Summary: A documentary recorded while Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band recorded their first studio album since 2012, Letter To You was inspired as Springsteen lost a former bandmate from The Castiles, his band in the 1960’s. The documentary goes between the band playing the songs, and talking about themselves and their history.
My Take: This is a solid musical documentary, but there’s nothing groundbreaking here. It was filmed in 2019, when Springsteen was 70, and there’s no avoiding that this is and old white rocker feeling nostalgic and sharing wisdom and concerns of a life having survived rock and roll. Filmed in black and white, the documentary is comfortable and the music is nice, but it kind of fades into the background even while people are talking. Bruce and 80’s rock fans will love this. Others might turn it on and forget it’s playing.
18 - Little America - Comedy
Summary: A serial about the immigrant experience, Little America tells different stories about the immigrant life in America, from different time periods and different original countries. Whether it be a child prodigy who is left behind when his parents are deported, an African immigrant interested in becoming a cowboy, or a silent retreat where language is not a barrier, this serial tries to tell stories from every background
My Take: With Executive Producers Kumail Nanjiani and Emiliy V. Gordon as the true star power, this anthology series looks at eight different stories about immigrants living in America, all inspired by real life stories. Quality varies per episode, and sometimes it gets a little predictable and repetitive. Still, it has enough high points to work overall. My personal favorites were “The Manager” and “The Grand Prize Expo Winner”, the latter doing an amazing job of humanizing an often-mocked stereotype in media.
17 - The Oprah Conversation - Talk Show
Summary: Oprah’s intended talk show to bring in celebrities and experts and talk to them, but because of the pandemic, it is without a live audience. However, Oprah brings guests in remotely with huge and small screens that feels futuristic, not limiting in the way many pandemic shows have been. Oprah and the guest are in separate spaces but both are professionally filmed, and the limited audience members are present like portraits on the wall in a gallery.
My Take: Of the three Oprah shows, this feels most like “Oprah”. Due to the timing of the show after social upheaval, many episodes take on the subject of race and race relations. But others are oddly promotional, like Mariah Carey (who coincidentally has a holiday special coming with Apple TV) and Matthew McConaughey (and his new book). The episodes about race are particularly worth watching (as a white man, who is often uncomfortable talking about race). This is definitely peak Oprah.
16 - Little Voice - Drama
Summary: Sara Bareilles, Jordy Nelson, and. J.J. Abrams are the powerhouses behind this series, a sweet but not exactly groundbreaking story about a singer-songwriter trying to make it in New York. Bess (Brittany O’Grady) is a songwriter with anxiety about performing, despite a father in the business. As Bess tries to overcome her anxiety, she has to deal with her autistic brother (Kevin Valdez, an actor who is actually on the spectrum), her roommate/best friend, a coworker at the bar who wants to be her manager, a new musician partner, a potential love interest or two, and her alcoholic father and absent mother. That’s all.
My Take: It works on the back of star Brittany O’Grady, and a compelling cast of people around her life, especially Valdez’s performance, which is one of the most realistic portrayals of autism you’ll find. Bareilles wrote the music, which is beautiful as usual. Where the show falters is that it seems like it’s trying to do every single possible story at once, and every episode feels manic. It almost seems to exhaust every possible plot point and stumbling block in one season. But O’Grady and the music help you keep watching.
15 - The Banker - Drama (Movie)
Summary: Inspired by a true story, this movie follows Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie), an African-American prodigy, as he makes himself a success in Los Angeles real estate in the 1950’s and 60’s, and tries to move into banking in his home state of Texas. He and his wife (Nia Long) partners with businessman Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) and white front-man Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) to try and succeed in two racist industries.
My Take: One of Apple TV’s first movies, The Banker has big name stars in Avengers stars Mackie and Jackson and a big-time story. The movie is fast paced and at times feels like skimming a book. It doesn’t skimp on laughs in the first half (with Jackson providing his own laugh track), but it does get much more serious in the second half as it and the characters directly address the racism around them. This is the first Apple TV+ movie that feels distinctly “Hollywood”, both in style in structure. That helps raise ATV+’s profile, but it puts limits this film as well. It’s a good story and worth watching, but is not ground-breaking, and clearly is not an in-depth or entirely accurate look at the story.
It was also a source of a major controversy, as the movie’s release was delayed by allegations of childhood sexual abuse were levied against Bernard Garrett Jr., the son of the main character and a producer on the film, by his half sisters and their mother.
14 - Tehran - Thriller
Summary: An “Apple Original” in title only, this show was made in Israel for their public channel Kan 11, and Apple purchased the international rights. It follows Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), a young Jewish spy who was born in Iran, as she is inserted into Tehran to try and neutralize Iran’s air defenses so Israel can bomb their nuclear plant. The plot is foiled in the first episode, and Tamar is sent on the run in an enemy city, pursued by the head investigator of the Revolutionary Guard Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub).
My Take: In many ways, this is a fairly standard spy thriller. There’s a mission, it goes wrong, and everyone is sent scrambling. Tehran gets points, from this American viewer, for exploring the largely unexplored environment of urban Iran (albeit filmed in Athens). The characters switch between Hebrew, Farsi, and English very quickly, which is challenging to hearead. But ultimately, this is a personal spy story of pawns in a bigger war, as the scope grows with each episode. There’s plenty of grey in every side of this conflict. Even with the scope, Tehran gets bogged down and the middle episodes feel filled with filler. Ultimately, it’s solid, and does feel different than most spy shows. And though we get a satisfying resolution, the door is left open for season 2, which is as yet officially unannounced (but reported that they are signed on for two more seasons).
13 - Boys State - Documentary (Movie)
Summary: Every year, young men are brought together in the Texas State Capitol for what is basically a political science camp, where they are broken into their own political parties, and must come up with a platform and compete in an election for roles inspired by state government. During it, these 16-18-year old boys must work together while competing against each other, and learning what politics are.
My Take: A documentary about young men’s mock political competition in Texas, you’ve probably just envisioned something about what this looks like, and no doubt, you’ll probably see exactly that in this documentary. But this Sundance Documentary-winning film doesn’t quite go the way you think, but also close enough that it might not matter. These teens have more nuance than I would’ve expected, and I wish adults had in politics. But it has too much nuance to be received well, I think. Still, if you want a reason to watch this, I’d put money that at least one of the featured boys in this becomes a politician of note in the near future. Also, I am interested in seeing a documentary about the same event for girls, Girls State.
12 - Tiny World - Documentary
Summary: Narrated by Ant-Man’s Paul Rudd, Tiny World takes a look at the world of small animals living in diverse natural habitats around the world. Ranging from the African savannah to the Australian outback to the north American backyard, the show features animals from monkeys that can fit in the palm of your hand, down to the ants that are ever-present.
My Take: Nature documentaries are everywhere, but the cinematography on this is mind-blowing to the point you truly wonder how some of this was shot. Clearly, a large amount of it was manipulated, with rare parts where the CGI shows through, but it doesn’t take away from just how beautiful the shots are. With Rudd’s occasionally wry narration, it makes this a nature documentary that competes with the best stuff on Netflix. The nature never gets too gory, but it does deal with the life and death (sometimes brutal) of tiny nature. And it’s even a great follow-up to the movie “The Elephant Queen” because the first episode features what could be the same dung beetle that featured in that movie! (The movie and this series were not done by the same company, though, so it might just be a look-alike dung beetle they hired.)
11 - Beastie Boys Story - Documentary
Summary: A telling of the Beastie Boys career, by the surviving members Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz themselves. Directed by Spike Jonze, this documentary is shot as the two tell their story to a live audience in a theater, alternating between them on stage laughing and joking around, and video sequences they narrate about their career, and their friends, especially the late Adam “MCA” Yauch.
My Take: This is such an unusual format for a documentary, and it works so well. It allows for some of the goofing off that one might expect from the stars, but it’s still coherent and interesting, especially for me as a casual fan of the band growing up. On a service with a lot of traditionally-made documentaries, this stands out because of both its style and its quality, and if you like pop music at all, you should enjoy this.
10 - For All Mankind - Drama
Summary: An alternate history series based off a simple question: What if the Soviet Union beat America to the moon? From Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore, the answer is that the Americans, more competitive than ever, try to push for more ambitious goals than just landing on the moon and leaving.
My Take: One of the first Apple TV shows, it is a sometimes nerdy but very interesting look at the space race. It balances fictional characters with real life figures (sometimes making interesting decisions when changing their fate), and really tries to focus on the science side of science fiction. The show jumps across years of development, so it’s not as tedious and slow as it could be. It hasn’t captured fans’ imaginations as much as it obviously has its creators’ imaginations, but it’s a quality drama that could get better in future seasons, although it is clearly now swerving to the fiction side of science fiction.
9 - Home Before Dark - Drama
Summary: Hilde Lisko (Brooklynn Prince) is a 9-year old daughter of a journalist who wants to do what he does. When her family moves from New York to her father’s small hometown in Washington, she stumbles onto a mysterious death and does what any reporter would do: writes about it in her blog. But as the mystery expands to her father’s past, she challenges an entire city’s reluctance to face up to a tragedy from decades ago, in the name of journalism.
My Take: A dark horse series that did not get much press, Home Before Dark seems like a show for kids, but is a show is made for adults, with a mystery of twists and turns more like Gone Girl than any children’s show. Prince is the star of this show and keeps viewers attached, even as the mystery’s twists get harder to follow. The show is vaguely inspired by a real life young journalist, but realistically is not at all the same story. It doesn’t matter, as this is as much about family and youthful stubbornness as anything else.
8 - Dickinson - Comedy
Summary: A historical comedy-drama about the life of poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld), this show follows her as a modern-thinking woman in a restrictive 19th century setting, growing up as a teenager. It shows both what’s going on around her, and into her imaginative flights of fancy as she deals with romantic trysts, less-than-friendly friends, and restrictive parents (notably Jane Krakowski as her mother Emily).
My Take: One of the first series from Apple TV+, Dickinson is an ambitious series, but shifts between being a period piece with setting-appropriate acting, and characters acting like modern people but set in the past. As great as parts are, it does struggle with focus and tone, particularly John Mulaney’s guest role as Henry David Thoreau, which feels better suited for a Will Ferrell absurdist comedy than what this show is trying to be. Steinfeld shines in the lead role, but Ella Hunt as Dickinson’s best friend Sue and Jane Krakowski as her mother both are fantastic. The relationship between Dickinson and her best friend Sue, and hints about Dickinson’s deteriorating mental health, are both handled very well. This is a show that has a chance to really find its footing in future seasons.
7 - Greyhound - Action (Movie)
Summary: Captain Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) has been given command of a destroyer, and a convoy of supply ships to cross the U-Boat infested Atlantic early in World War II. Without air cover, he spends days awake, attempting to outmaneuver an enemy he can not see, or even count. As ships in his convoy are attacked one by one, he must save as many as he can before getting back under the protective air cover from Great Britain.
My Take: A movie that really was meant for the big screen, Greyhound is not interested in your character development or subplots or mandatory romances (mostly). After an initial scene introducing Krause in the lone bit of character development, this movie is about the tense travel of the Atlantic with submarines hunting you. It never shows the human villains, only the occasional peak at the metal beasts when they surface. It also doesn’t jump between ships on this convoy. Strictly a single viewpoint, which makes for a fascinatingly and a little fatiguingly tense film that is shorter than it feels (only 91 minutes!) because of the thrills. This movie is a fantastically different take on the war films we know, and especially for those with military experience, a strong film.
6 - Servant - Drama
Summary: Without significant spoilers, the show focuses on a couple who recently suffered the loss of a child, and have undertaken a real doll therapy, where they take care of a doll to help the psychological effects of losing a child, and go so far as to bring in a mysterious young girl to be the doll’s nanny. Over the span of the series, secrets about the nanny, and the troubles of the couple themselves, slowly leak out.
My Take: M. Night Shymalan’s first television show is a return to the Shymalan of his early years. With the space of a series instead of a movie, Shymalan has the room to explore each character: the almost-grieving mother (Lauren Ambrose), the disaffected and disbelieving husband (Toby Kebbell), the mysterious nanny (Nell Tiger Free), and the doubtful brother of the wife (Rupert Grint, Ron from Harry Potter), who acts as an outside world anchor. By the end, it feels a bit as if the original mystery has become a subplot, but it’s left on a cliffhanger the will leap the plot forward. And throughout the series, Shymalan allows food to be a visual cue and cinematographic toy, setting the mood. This ranks as one of Shymalan’s better stories from his long career.
5 - Visible: Out on Television - Documentary (Miniseries)
Episodes: 5; Stauts: Completed
Summary: A documentary series about how all facets of LGBTQ people have been represented on television, from the 1950’s through today. As a series, the documentary takes time with many the facets of every letter in LGBTQ, and all the letters hidden within it, talking about struggles of people of color. With interviews and clips, it takes it’s time with different eras and weaves it all together. And it’s all done with an undertone of how storytelling works, and the tool that television is, both for misinformation but also for connection.
My Take: Making this a series really allows the time to give this topic the time to really explore it. It’s an engaging documentary, especially for anyone who’s spent any time watching television. There’s nuggets of memory for all of us, where we can connect to the shows we used to watch, both their flaws and triumphs. Certain critics might point to this as Apple trying to force representation down our throats, but this documentary is excellent at telling a compelling story with both history and context.
4 - The Morning Show - Drama
Summary: Apple TV+’s centerpiece, with superstar stars Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carrell, and yet a scene-stealing supporting cast of Gugu Mbahta-Raw, Billy Crudup (who won an Emmy for his role), Mark Duplass, and Jack Davenport (who is never not good), the show is about a, believe it or not, morning show whose male lead is fired in a sexual misconduct scandal and the after-effects. Witherspoon’s character is unexpectedly brought in to replace him, as power battles go on behind the scenes with everyone from the network head down to the assistant producers, as the secrets spill out about the truth.
My Take: What could be a preachy show about the MeToo movement never gets that way, and attempts a nuanced discussion about the less clear-cut issues. It’s not done perfectly, as some conflicts from the episodic storyline seem to disappear in the next episode, and Mitch is frustratingly (and probably intentionally) likable even as he is hate-able, with Carell showing his range. One flaw of this show is that the extremely likable supporting cast pulls attention away from Aniston and Witherspoon, the former being appropriately lauded with praise but not getting enough to win awards, and the latter getting a little stuck in her character spot. The season finale flurry hits hard, even if it doesn’t feel completely earned, but this show has definitely become the first bankable piece ATV+ has.
3 - Defending Jacob - Drama (Miniseries)
Summary: A boy is murdered, and after an investigation, suspicion falls on one of his classmates, Jacob, who is the son of Andy Barber, one of the assistant district attorneys (Chris Evans). Andy and his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) must do their best to defend their son, investigating other leads, but also facing the possibility that their son is guilty, and hiding family secrets.
My Take: Starring Captain America’s Chris Evans, Defending Jacob became the summer hit for Apple TV+, drawing viewers in. The tension between Andy and his wife Laurie, and their slightly creepy son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) as the teen is accused of murder, is filled with tension and, unlike many of the series on Apple TV, comes to a full conclusion in one season. Fans of mysteries like Gone Girl will appreciate this series. Although it can feel slightly stretched, this series hits hard and makes the most of its star power.
2 - Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet - Comedy
Summary: Mythic Quest is an online game akin to World of Warcraft, and it’s launching a new expansion to keep its fans engaged. The studio is led by a charmingly sycophantic designer Ian (pronounced EYE-an, played by Rob Mcelhenney), and lead engineer Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao). With a staff of obsessive assistants, disinterested programmers, earnest game testers, snippy game streamers, and an elderly lead writer lost in technology, the show hops along the daily struggles of keeping a game going and its fans happy.
My Take: An absolute home run of a show, as one would expect from the team behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Mythic Quest is absurdist comedy at its best, with McElhenney and a breakout performance from Nicdao. However, it’s also an ensemble cast with no weak spots, and a wonderfully obvious premise that is contemporary. It is at its best in two standalone episodes. The first comes out of nowhere, not featuring the main cast but instead acts as a “How the Game Industry Got Here” prequel in heartbreakingly personal fashion. The second is a special Quarantine episode that was perhaps the best quarantine-focused special episode done anywhere.
1 - Ted Lasso - Comedy
Summary: An American Football coach is inexplicably hired as a Soccer…er, real Football coach in the Premiere League in London. The titular Lasso is genuine and earnest, openly saying he doesn’t think winning has to do with the score, and he faces a soccer world where the opposite is true. He faces disbelieving players, abusive fans, unsure team staff, and a devious owner, but he barely blinks in the face of it all, and tries to keep his team from relegation…once he learns what that means.
My Take: An absolute surprise of a show, based on NBC Sports comedy promos, that has no right to be so great. Ted Lasso is on its face a fish-out-of-water sports show about an American football coach going to Europe to coach football/soccer. But it’s really a movie about a polite man in an impolite world, and bending rather than breaking, and sticking to your principles. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it is surprisingly emotional. It’s also a show that champions maturity in a way that hits harder in a 2020 world, and so it’s also very well-timed. The only problem with Ted Lasso the show is that even though it gives Apple TV+ a recognizable character to market, it’s not a must-subscribe show. But it’s unquestionably one of Apple TV+’s best.