Sick of new streaming services yet? Well too bad, you're going to have to get used to them, because November brings two big ones into the streaming wars via Apple TV+ and Disney+. First up will be Apple TV+ (Friday, Nov. 1), which launches with nine new shows, including a showbiz drama starring a trio of major stars and a dystopian adventure that brings Jason Momoa back to our lives. But big names in shiny settings only go so far. The real question is: Are any of these new shows good?
We took a look at five of the marquee titles to figure that out, but the short answer is this: Apple has a ways to go before becoming a must-have subscription service, but some shows will stick out for select viewers, especially those fascinated by space and literary figures. Let's start with the big one:
Jennifer Aniston! Reese Witherspoon! Steve Carell! Wasted potential! That's the story with The Morning Show, which takes place in what should be a goldmine for TV drama: the tumultuous set of a top-rated network morning show. Aniston plays America's sweetheart, the anchor it wakes up to each morning, and Carell plays her disgraced co-host who got fired for sexual misconduct.That leaves the door open for Witherspoon's fiery small-town reporter to be thrust into the bright lights of New York City as the new co-host, creating a show-within-the-show that's all smiles when the cameras are rolling and all claws when they stop.
With all these A-listers, you'd expect Apple to parade them around, make them bump into each other a lot, and let the magic happen, but The Morning Show, at least in the first three episodes available for review, keeps them too separated with a script that seems slapped together. Unsurprisingly, The Morning Show is a lot better when these stars share scenes, which is far too infrequently. Carell could be doing an entirely different series; as the ousted male in a sex scandal, he mostly holes up in his house railing to anyone who will listen that he's the subject of a witch hunt and that #MeToo has gone too far, so if you're into seeing one of comedy's greats lash out against the most important movement for women in decades, then choke it down.
Based on the sunny promotion for The Morning Show, I expected it to be somewhat light and fun, but its tone is the opposite. Dour, serious, and with almost zero laughs, The Morning Show isn't the type of show you want to start or end your day with. — Tim Surette
TV Guide Rating: 2.5/5
"Historical setting with a modern twist" isn't a new idea, but there are still fresh takes to be found, like Dickinson, which builds a hip-hop-soundtracked coming-of-age comedy around Emily Dickinson, the canonical American poet with a morose reputation that the show suggests was not totally deserved. Hailee Steinfeld gives an immensely fun and appealing performance as the young poet in the years before she became a recluse. This Dickinson is discovering her powers as a writer, drawing inspiration from the people around her and her own imagination to describe a world she doesn't get to see, since her role as a woman in 1860s New England was rigidly prescribed.
Creator Alena Smith has thought the world out well, and the show feels grounded in its own reality. It doesn't overdo the ironic modernity, instead sprinkling a handful of mild swear words and slang terms into each episode in a way that doesn't take the viewer out of the story. It's pretty artfully done. Of the three episodes sent to critics, the first two are directed by David Gordon Green and the third by Lynn Shelton, both of whom are indie film and prestige TV heroes, and the show looks fantastic, with meticulous period detail and an HBO-like sheen. This is one where Apple's money paid off. — Liam Mathews
TV Guide Rating: 3.5/5
For All Mankind
The 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing this year reminded us how intense the space race of the 1960s was. It also reminded us that after America landed a tin can on the cheese rock and Neil Armstrong planted a boot on it, the race was pretty much over. Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) returns to space with For All Mankind, an alternative history drama in which Russia was the first to put a man on the Moon, and the oneupmanship continued as the two superpowers exchanged space milestones with the same intensity of the real race to plant the flag.
As someone who spent a lot of the summer gorging on Moon programming, seeing the way things could have been different if a comrade touched some Moon first is wildly fascinating. And though For All Mankind takes a bit of time to get comfortable in this new orbit, once it does, the results are riveting and the possibilities — could you imagine what we would have accomplished if we continued to throw resources into the space program? MOON BASE!!! — are endless.
A lot of the male characters, headlined by Joel Kinnaman and Michael Dorman, are flat and stereotypically predictable, but the show tells its best stories with the women involved in the space program, be it the first class of female astronauts or the wives of the original astronauts. Thankfully, large chunks of episodes are devoted to them. And the space scenes look good too, with Moore's preferred minimalist and silent approach showing off the emptiness the universe. As a space freak I may be biased, but I watched five episodes and was ready for more. This is a good show for dads or anyone else who has desired to make giant leaps for mankind. — Tim Surette
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
It was an unwise move for Apple to give this show a title that lends itself to denigrative pun headlines: "Don't See It." "See Something Else." "You Hate to See It." The $15-million-an-episode Jason Momoa-led post-apocalyptic fantasy series set in a future where a virus leaves survivors blind is Apple's first swing at a Game of Thrones-style epic, but it misses the fact that scale was only the third-most important piece of Game of Thrones' success, behind writing and acting. There's no way around it: The writing and acting on See are bad. The mythology-heavy dialogue is dull, confusing, and unintentionally goofy, and over-enunciated by actors pitching their performances toward the back rows of the theater.
Nothing in the show works. The characters lack depth. The action scenes are cheesy and use CGI blood instead of squibs, which makes the show's half-hearted attempts at brutality land even more lightly. The costumes look great — lots of fur — but then you remember that the characters are all supposed to be blind and would have no use for all the decorative flourishes. The show seems to only remember its characters are blind when it's convenient, and applies the rules incoherently (people can hear a baby crying from half a mile away, but can't hear someone running behind them on a clattery old rope bridge). There's also aunt-nephew incest, an absolutely insane choice to make so soon after Game of Thrones.
There are a couple of nice world-building details, like plastic bottles that have survived a thousand years into the future, and the grand cinematography of the Canadian wilderness is beautiful. But for the most part, See proves that all the money in the world can't save a dud script. — Liam Mathews
TV Guide Rating: 2/5
The Elephant Queen
The Elephant Queen isn't a show, but it does raise the curtain on Apple TV+ films and will be available at launch. The 90-minute nature documentary is a tale of survival against climate change and follows a herd of elephants (and the animals they encounter) over several years. The footage is stunning and on par with what you'll get with the Planet Earth family of nature documentaries, but it's decidedly more family-friendly. While not afraid to show the difficult challenges that bring life and death to these African giants, a massive frog orgy is referred to as a "foam party" and fish fertilizing eggs engage in "hugs" to keep your kids' ears clean. The soundtrack is also more fun, and many animal interactions veer on the humorous with some added sound effects, like a battle over elephant poop by a gang of dung beetles or a frog unwittingly hitching a ride on an elephant tusk.
I never thought I'd say this, but you also won't miss Sir David Attenborough's narration. Chiwetel Ejiofor — who has experience with African animals as the voice of Scar in the new Lion King — adds his silky smooth British inflection, which serves its purpose perfectly, letting the footage speak the loudest. That becomes especially important in the emotional final third of the film, when the elephant herd stares down dire consequences for tough decisions. It's cool though, there's a happy ending. — Tim Surette
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
Note: Apple TV+ will also launch with Oprah's literary series Oprah's Book Club and the children's programs Snoopy in Space, Ghostwriter, and Helpsters, but Apple did not provide advanced screeners for review.
Apple TV+ launches Nov. 1. Find out more about the streaming service here.