Apple TV+ series reviewed, from 'Morning Show' to 'See' to 'Dickinson'
Whether you want it or not, the streaming TV apocalypse is coming, starting with the Nov. 1 launch of Apple TV+, the tech giant's first major foray into original television.
The new streaming service opens with just nine TV shows and films: four live-action scripted series, three kids' shows, a nature documentary and a revival of Oprah's famed book club. The series are all quite different, spanning multiple genres and styles, but they have the uniting factor of being rather bland and generic, without much vitality, save one potential gem. Apple may expect viewers to love the series simply because they come from a storied brand, but, like the company's much-derided stylus pen, not everything the company makes is perfectly designed.
As you decide which (if any) streaming service is worth a subscription, here's our take on the Apple crop, from the truly terrible to the pretty good.
'The Morning Show'
There's an extra sense of sadness watching a TV series that so spectacularly wastes a cast as talented as the one on "Morning Show" (★½ out of four), which not only includes headliners Jennifer Aniston (in her heavily promoted return to series TV after "Friends"), Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, but also supporting players Mark Duplass and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
"Morning," about a "Today"-like show that fires its male anchor (Carrell) after sexual harassment allegations, is a dreary, dull soap that feels distinctly dated, like a glammed-up version of HBO's "The Newsroom." Witherspoon is woefully miscast as an "All About Eve" up-and-comer threatening Aniston's position, and nothing about the drama, which is little more than gloriously stilted feuding wealthy people, is remotely engaging. Although it attempts to be relevant to our current #MeToo era, it has nothing new or insightful to say about sexual harassment and power dynamics other than pointing at a problem that is constantly popping up in the news. The stakes are low, the writing is clichéd and the overwhelming vibe is one of disappointment and wasted potential. Rachel Green deserved better.
“Crunk Emily Dickinson” is not a winner. Apple’s “A Knight’s Tale”-style interpretation of the celebrated American poet's teen years (★ out of four) is a try-hard “comedy” that is more laughable than funny. Hailee Steinfeld plays the young Emily, a family black sheep trying to carve her place in a misogynistic and homophobic world. Underscored by hip-hop music, modern slang and Wiz Khalifa as the personification of the Death that kindly stopped for her, "Dickinson" is a mess of conflicting tones that never jell into a show that does more than relish the chaos of twerking in long dresses.
The acting is terrible, and not in a let's-drink-wine-and-make-fun-of-it way. A primary problem is that the children speak in a 2019 manner and the adults speak with the more appropriate antebellum affect. The two dialects don’t mesh, and make the parents seem like they’re putting on some kind of play. The script is boring, the sex sensationalized and the ambition far above the actual grasp. A Generation Z touchstone, this is not.
The streaming service’s attempt to glom onto “Game of Thrones” fandom (★★ out of four) doesn't yield the next best thing in ambitious high fantasy and sci-fi. The world the series creates is a fascinating thought experiment about how a society built by a blind population would function. Unfortunately, the story hasn’t caught up to the ambition of the production design in the first few episodes.
Jason Momoa stars as a burly tribal leader (hardly new ground for him) in a post-apocalyptic Earth where a virus has rendered the surviving human population blind, except for a select few who are reviled as heretics.
Much of “See” feels like it could have been resolved far more neatly in a two-hour movie. It also features several scenes in which “prayer” is achieved through sex or masturbation, a gratuitously risqué addition with no discernible storytelling value.
To stream or not to stream:All the major services, from Netflix to Apple TV+ to Disney+, ranked
'For All Mankind'
Apple’s least star-studded and most under-the-radar series (★★★ out of four) is actually the best of the bunch, although it does not cross over into the realm of so good that it’s worth subscribing just to see it.
The series, from “Battlestar Galactica” and “Outlander” creator Ronald D. Moore, is an alternative history drama about what would have happened in the Space Race if the Soviet Union had beat the U.S. to the moon. Moore’s take is surprisingly optimistic, and gets weirder the further into the series you get. The show ostensibly stars Joel Kinnaman as a Serious Astronaut Man, but the story becomes far more compelling when other characters take the lead. Episode 3 introduces a group of female astronaut trainees who make the series sing. "Mankind" isn't trying to say anything important about history, but imagines a world where space became a vital part of society mid-century and changed the priorities of entire nations.