What Apple TV+ shows are actually worth watching
The Morning Show, Dickinson, For All Mankind, and See
It's time to recharge your Apple TV remote! Apple TV+ debuts Friday, marking the beginning of a months-long rollout of several new subscription streaming services. But while Apple TV+ might not have a show for everyone just yet, Friday nevertheless marks a major step for the company, which is seeking to "expand its offerings from hardware to services" in order to stay competitive.
The nitty-gritties look like this: Apple TV+ costs $4.99 a month, but comes free for a year with the purchase of a new iPhone, Mac, or Apple TV. At the time of launch, Apple TV+ includes all of the series listed below, as well as the documentary film The Elephant Queen, the literary series Oprah's Book Club and the children's series Snoopy in Space, Ghostwriter, and Helpsters (none of which were not provided in advance to critics). Other marquee titles, like the psychological thriller Truth Be Told, starring Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul, and M. Night Shyamalan's thriller series Servant, will debut later this year.
Here's what's on Apple TV+ as of today — and what's worth watching.
The burning question: What if Emily Dickinson twerked?
The gist: An anachronistic take on Emily Dickinson's teen years, with Hailee Steinfeld starring as the death-obsessed Amherst poet. Dickinson, though, is a far cry from other recent, staid interpretations of the poet's life. Described by showrunner Alena Smith to The New York Times as "a coming-of-age story about a radical young female artist who was ahead of her time," Dickinson is queer, feminist, and absolutely bonkers.
Watch if you're interested in: Seeing Wiz Khalifa play Death or John Mulaney play Henry David Thoreau.
If you just watch the pilot: You might be a little put off. To many, Hip Teen Emily is like nails on a chalkboard (Dickinson scholars, for what it's worth, seem to be loving it). If you don't like the pilot, you won't like the rest of the series either. If you're on the fence, stick it out until episode three — in which Emily, Austin, Lavinia, and Sue throw a house party — before deciding whether or not to toss in the towel.
What to look forward to beyond the pilot: Cross-dressing; Mitski's "Your Best American Girl"; 19th century New England mean girls; "so Jeffersonian"; opium-induced bee hallucinations; menarche; and, because it bears repeating, John Mulaney playing Henry David Thoreau.
Is it worth watching? Despite rubbing some critics wrong way, Dickinson, like its protagonist, is oddly charming. Its gambles can be surprising, and don't always pay off, but it is by far Apple TV+'s best original show.
For All Mankind
The burning question: What if the Soviet Union beat us to the moon?
The gist: The year is 1969, and the Space Race is in full swing. But rather than tell the more familiar story of Apollo 11 that we all know, For All Mankind explores what the world would have been like if we had been defeated in the race to the moon. Spirits are low at NASA after the administration is humiliatingly bested by Roscosmos, and astronaut Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) can't shake his frustration that his Apollo 10 mission could have been to the lunar surface first. The series explores the subsequent efforts of Ground Control and the astronauts (including ones whose names will be familiar) to catch up with the USSR.
Watch if you're interested in: Alternative histories; space; flashy cars; Hidden Figures.
If you just watch the pilot: You might be bored. For All Mankind starts slow, especially for anyone who's wondering why they were promised a sci-fi show from the Battlestar Galactica and Outlander creator, but are watching a workplace drama instead. Still, while For All Mankind drags, the pilot gives glimpses of how — if a few wrinkles get ironed out — it could be a worthwhile show. Chris Bauer gives a great performance as Ground Control head Deke, and the script doesn't skimp on providing us the stories of the brilliant women of NASA, who history often forgets to include.
What to look forward to beyond the pilot: Women astronauts; Nazis; Chappaquiddick; potentially falling asleep on your couch.
Is it worth watching? Yes and no. If you're not immediately hooked, it's worth noting that For All Mankind is being described as something of an acquired taste. But who has time for that?
The Morning Show
The burning question: What if a series explored Matt Lauer's disgraced exit from the Today Show without actually calling any character "Matt Lauer"?
The gist: Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) wakes to the predawn news that her longtime co-host, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), will not be joining her on The Morning Show any longer — he's been fired for sexual misconduct. Devastated over the loss of her "TV husband," she tries to hold the pieces together. Meanwhile, conservative news reporter Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) goes viral after chewing out a coal mine protestor; she earns herself an interview slot on Alex's show to discuss the video, only to be sucked deeper in. Based on Brian Stelter's Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, The Morning Show is a topical, behind-the-scenes #MeToo-era drama.
Watch if you're interested in: Media scandals; relevancy; Jennifer Aniston pouting.
If you just watch the pilot: You might wonder why it's not very funny. The trailer for the show sold The Morning Show as a comedy, or at least a dramedy, but in reality the show lands more firmly in the straight drama category, with only a smattering of semi-funny jokes per episode. I found myself wishing I could watch the show being sold by the trailer instead — The Morning Show never really gets over the hump of its own self-seriousness, and if you're looking for something light to laugh at, this is not your program.
What to look forward to beyond the pilot: Steve Carell crying over a Keurig; scarves; "I am as innocent as any straight, middle-aged man there is,"; Jennifer Aniston slamming her hand on tables; teleprompters; people using the word "Sorkinian" whenever they talk about the show.
Is it worth watching? Apple sure hopes so — The Morning Show is the face of Apple TV+, with the biggest ensemble and most commercially-accessible premise. But the most devastating thing you can call a TV show in 2019 is "unmemorable." With nearly 500 new scripted television shows debuting every year, there is no room to not be great (or, alternatively, so terrible it's almost worth it). The Morning Show lands somewhere in the dreaded middle: it's fine. You won't likely bemoan wasted hours if you choose to put it on, but let's face it; there are probably more engaging ways you could spend your time.
The burning question: What if a virus wiped out mankind's ability to see, and Jason Momoa was there?
The gist: Several hundred years after a pandemic renders all of mankind blind, the two million people left on Earth have returned to a primal state of life. Baba Voss, a beefy warrior, rules over the Alkenny Tribe, which has recently taken in a pregnant and dangerous stranger named Maghra. Or rather, Maghra herself isn't dangerous, but her twins are — they are believed to carry a genetic mutation from their mysterious father that allows them to see, and which threatens Queen Kane and her cult. Baba Voss, Maghra, and the rest of the Alkenny Tribe are forced into hiding in order to prevent their deaths at the hands of the Queen's Witchfinders.
Watch if you're interested in: Jason Momoa getting repeatedly called "a big lug."
If you just watch the pilot: You might roll your eyes. See is a desperate bid at being the next Game of Thrones, but throwing money at a TV show won't fix a terrible script and bizarre acting and casting choices. Despite spending some $15 million per episode — that being about the cost of "a typical independent feature film," according to The Wall Street Journal — the show only ever manages to look good (and that's before the fighting begins and the CGI starts to look hokey). Shot on location in British Columbia, the world nevertheless springs to life, even if the characters and premise never do.
What to look forward to beyond the pilot: Jason Momoa fighting a bear; Jason Momoa saying "I enjoy tasty deer,"; Jason Momoa vomiting; Jason Momoa cutting some guy's head off; Jason Momoa shoving his sword down another guy's throat.
Is it worth watching? As far as attempts to replace Game of Thrones go, this isn't the worst I've seen. If you can get past the show's multiple logical loopholes and inconsistent adherence to its own rules, See is actually quite a bit of fun: It's enormous, it's beautiful, and it's ridiculously goofy and dumb. Sometimes that hits the spot.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.