If Netflix was “the phantom menace” of online streaming options then with the launch of Apple TV+ this weekend, and the impending arrival of Disney+, “begun the streaming war has”.
Apple’s first foray into streaming is a relatively cheap one: $7.99 (Australian dollars) per month after an initial free one-week trial. But if you are expecting to see a glut of content like Netflix or Stan then you will be disappointed. Currently there are only eight shows to watch with the promise of new “Apple Originals” every month including Servant from M. Night Shyamalan, Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul in Truth Be Told, and the needing-no-explanation Oprah’s Book Club.
Apple has wisely launched with premium, star-studded original content: Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell front Morning Wars, a timely drama exposing the fallout for a morning TV news show when its star male co-anchor (Carell) is fired for sexual misconduct. Tackling everything from fake news and journalistic integrity to the #MeToo movement and gender inequality, the show is Apple TV+’s binge-worthy centrepiece. Aniston steals the screen from heavyweight co-stars and Marc Duplass leads an interesting and perfectly-cast supporting ensemble. A particularly powerful cameo by Martin Short as a predatory director illustrates the show’s ability to tackle complex topics head-on.
See is second on the list of headliners. The sci-fi drama, set centuries into the future, stars Jason Momoa as the chief of a tribe battling to survive after a deadly virus has left the world we know in ruins with less than two million people remaining, all of whom are now blind. Visually stunning, See is captivating from the first scene. The show’s believability quickly helps the viewer to bond with Momoa’s character and root for the tribe’s survival. What really got my juices flowing was the portrayal of the main villains, Queen Kane (the terrifying Sylvia Hoeks, Blade Runner 2049) and Tamacti Jun (Penny Dreadful’s Christian Carmago). If you’re looking for something to scratch that Game of Thrones itch then, dare I say, this might be it.
Some viewers may struggle with For All Mankind, an alternate take on the Moon Landings of the 60s and 70s in which the Soviets beat the USA to landing the first man on the moon. If you can get over the “it never happened so why are we watching this” angle (my wife’s exact take) then there is much to enjoy here. The ever-watchable Joel Kinnaman leads a cast of “oh, look it’s that person from that show we love” actors such as Chris Bauer (The Wire, The Deuce), Kiwi Michael Dorman (Patriot) and Wrenn Schmidt (The Looming Tower).
Hailee Steinfeld stars as the reimagined young poet Emily in Dickinson, Apple’s half-hour coming-of-age tragicomedy, which quietly acts as the charming underdog that may prove to be the best show of the launch. At times absurdly funny, the poet’s impending fate is dealt with most creatively: all I will say is there are midnight carriage rides with Death, played by rapper Wiz Khalifa. Need I say more?
My two-year-old daughter and I laughed and giggled at the new Snoopy in Space series; and she was particularly engrossed by Helpsters, the new live-action show from the makers of Sesame Street, featuring colourful monsters who happily strive to solve everyday problems. The family offering also features a reboot of the popular Ghostwriter series from the 90s and the exquisitely shot The Elephant Queen, a feature documentary chronicling the journey of a family of elephants across the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
Although I enjoyed pretty much everything Apple TV+ had to offer on launch (and with a free one-week trial it’s a no-brainer), a nagging question arises: “how many streaming services can you fit into your life?” Once you have answered that, “which ones do you choose?” With Netflix, Amazon Prime, Stan, Apple TV+ and more services offering high-quality content, and Disney+ looming on the horizon, the sheer amount of viewing choices is mind-boggling – and potentially paralysing.