Apple TV+ review: Catching up with full seasons of Apple's original shows
As Apple TV+ nears its first anniversary, our critic explores the second halves of the streaming service's original shows.
Ever since Apple TV+ made its debut on November 1, 2019, we here at AppleInsider been running reviews of each series as it has premiered. These reviews have in most cases been based on the first handful of episodes.
In every case, only a limited number of episodes were made available in advance. In others, embargoes were in play, limiting discussion to only certain episodes in advanced reviews. In the cast of most shows, if three episodes debuted the first week, we reviewed the show on the strength of those first three, because that's all we had to go on.
With the first anniversary of Apple TV+ approaching, AppleInsider has decided to revisit those shows, watch them to the end, and see the shows got better or worse following those initial episodes. And now that Apple has extended its free year of Apple TV+ by three months, you'll have more time to do a catchup of your own.
The Morning Show — better with time
We were underwhelmed by The Morning Show when it debuted last November, as Apple TV+'s most obvious prestige play. While we had positive things to say about the look and feel of the show, but in the early going, it was somewhat disjointed.
But The Morning Show, as the season went along, got a great deal better. The early choppiness, possibly the result of behind-the-scenes shuffling, stabilized as the first season went on, and solidified into a story about a behind-the-scenes war at a cable network.
The season also did a great job, with plentiful use of flashbacks, of telling the story of anchor Mitch (Steve Carell) and his downfall at the network. And the series really showed off its top-notch cast, with veteran actor Billy Crudup outshining his A-list cast mates with the performance of his life.
After a long coronavirus break, The Morning Show will resume production in October.
For All Mankind — as good as we thought it would be
We loved For All Mankind when it first launched last November, calling it the best of Apple TV+'s opening slate of shows. The series represented a revisionist history of the U.S. space program, one in which the U.S. fell behind the Soviet Union in the original space race.
Since then, there's been a glut of space-related programming, much of it on streaming services. Disney+ has a new version of The Right Stuff on the way, following Netflix's recent documentary about the Challenger disaster, and its Space Force series before that.
For All Mankind, though, features things none of those shows offer: Ted Kennedy as president, a moon base established in the 1970s, women astronauts inspiring the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a very different version of the Cold War. The later episodes also featured a fine, melancholy performance by veteran character Chris Bauer as Deke Slayton.
The show paused filming due to the pandemic but is set to resume production soon.
Dickinson — consistent, through the first season
Dickinson may have felt, at the time of its launch, like a bit of a gimmick, but it was at least a very pleasant gimmick. The series, starring singer/actress Hailee Steinfeld as the famed poet Emily Dickinson, told Dickinson's 19th century story with a modern-day sensibility, including anachronistic music and language.
We liked the show at first, upon first seeing it at its premiere at New York's Tribeca TV Festival in September of 2019. And we gave it a mostly positive review when its landed on Apple TV+ the following month.
The rest of the season is up to the quality of the first portion, in part because it continues to infuse Dickinson's story with modern-day commentary about feminism, racism, and even sexting photos. Special praise goes to comedian John Mulaney, for a dynamite guest turn as Henry David Thoreau.
Dickinson was renewed for a second season before it premiered, and is set to return in January. It also, on October 9, became the first Apple TV+ show to get a third-season pickup, so get ready for more "Wild Nights" with Emily Dickinson.
See — no real improvement over the run
We didn't much like See upon first viewing last year. We found it a boring slog with a limited premise, and worst of all, it didn't make very good use of Game of Thrones veteran Jason Momoa, its leading man.
Momoa, as he has shown in movies like Aquaman and in Saturday Night Live hosting stints, is very good at being affable and funny, but a show as deadly-serious as See didn't give him much opportunity to do either. In fact, the character's name, "Baba Voss," was probably the funniest thing about him.
In its eight-episode first season, See didn't end up improving much as it went on. The show offered very little forward momentum, and didn't do a great deal to change our first impression that this wasn't a world worth spending much time in.
See will be back for a second season, but hasn't begun filming yet due to the pandemic, so don't expect it to show up anytime soon.
Servant — solid start, slow finish
Servant arrived at the end of October, to deliver Apple TV+'s dose of creepy. The series' marketing had M. Night Shyamalan name all over it, and while the famed suspense filmmaker wasn't the creator or show runner, he did direct the first episode.
We loved the first three episodes, as Servant set up an extremely eerie scenario, in which a couple (Toby Kebbell and Lauren Ambrose) recently suffered the loss of their young baby. So they have replaced him, as a therapeutic measure, with a doll, and even hired a spooky nanny. But eventually, a real baby appears in the doll's place.
One thing great about the opening of Servant is that its premise could go in any number of directions. Unfortunately, the later part of the season doesn't exactly deliver a payoff that's worthy. Servant took its time in getting to its explanation of what was really going on, and once it did, it was underwhelming.
Still, Lauren Ambrose's performance is unnerving, as is the show's running gag in which Kebbell's character, a chef, is constantly bringing home grotesque animals. Servant may have felt like a limited series, but it actually got an early renewal, and it recently resumed filming for Season 2 in Philadelphia.
Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet — quality, maintained
The gaming company-based workplace sitcom earned high marks from us when it debuted back in February. It came from much of the creative team behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but the humor wasn't nearly as raunchy or degenerative.
Instead, the show emphasized character-based humor, especially in an episode involving Nazis infiltrating their game.
The full season of Mythic Quest kept up the quality for the long haul, even offering up some surprising plot twists. But where the show really impressed was with its special quarantine episode in May. Funny, impressively put together and touching, it was far and away the best show of that kind to emerge during the pandemic.
Mythic Quest was renewed for a second season, but the status of filming is unclear.
Amazing Stories — we have hope for the future, but it isn't here yet
Apple TV+'s reboot of the famous sci-fi anthology series from the 1980s looked like a big disappointment when it debuted back in March. It featured only five episodes, only one was made available to critics in advance, and Steven Spielberg didn't end up directing any of the installments.
There was one gem in the first season, however. That was "Dynoman and the Volt!," the story of a grandfather (Robert Forster) and his grandson (Tyler Crumley), who bond when the grandfather discovers a secret ring that he once ordered from a comic book. It's an uncommonly sweet story of three generations of men, brought together by superhero stories.
Adding poignancy is that it was the final role for Forster, who died in October of 2019. The episode is dedicated to the memory of the accomplished character actor.
Amazing Stories is a rare series from Apple TV+'s first year that has not been renewed, although it hasn't been cancelled, either.
Defending Jacob — unnerving to the end
This series, starring Chris "Captain America" Evans as a lawyer defending his creepy teenaged son (Jaeden Martell) from murder charges, appears to have struck a chord with viewers in a way no other Apple show has.
Defending Jacob, up to the end, was exceptionally well-produced, always unnerving. It was one of those mystery shows in which the audience's mind is meant to go back and forth, many times per episode, on whether or not he did it. It ended on a note of ambiguity, the kind that set off many arguments.
Much as Apple would probably love to find a way to bring back this kind of hit for future seasons, it was a limited series. The premise and ending make it clear this isn't the sort of thing that could possibly be retconned into something ongoing.
Little America — uneven, but compelling
This anthology series, which debuted in January, told uplifting stories about American immigrants, based on true stories. We found it uneven but mostly compelling, when we first saw it in at the start of the year.
Of the episodes we didn't watch at the beginning, one that stood out was the finale, titled "The Son," which told the story of Rafiq, a gay Syrian refugee seeking asylum in the U.S., after he was thrown out of his father's home. After a scene in which Rafiq, in a metaphor for his immigration journey, has trouble gaining entrance to a nightclub, the episode ends triumphantly,
with a drag queen performing Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway."
Little America received a second season renewal, but there's no word on the progress of filming.
Trying — solid execution of tried-and-true sitcom plots
Trying, a British series about a couple (Rafe Spall and Esther Smith) trying to have and eventually adopt a baby, doesn't appear to have made much of an impact when it debuted on Apple TV+ at the start of May.
But we loved it. It's such a sweet show, about a couple that actually seems to like either, and it managed to put them into situations that earned laughs. The show was charming enough that we could forgive its reliance on tired sitcom plots.
The remainder of the season kept up the quality, and certainly succeeded in its primary objective of getting the audience to root like hell for this couple of have a baby.
Trying has been renewed, although coronavirus has affected filming.
Central Park — momentum, maintained
Debuting back in late May, Central Park is a delightful show from the creator of Bob's Burgers. It followed the caretaker of Central Park and his family, as they get into mostly low-stakes adventures- accompanied by three or four original musical numbers per episode.
The show kept up the quality and momentum through the end of its season, thanks to top-notch writing, splendid animation, and fine songs written by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson. It also helped to have a cast led by Hamilton veterans Leslie Odom, Jr., and Daveed Diggs, along with Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci and Tituss Burgess.
Central Park got a second season in late May, and since it's animated, it's less likely to be affected by coronavirus delays. However, Kristen Bell this summer stepped down from voicing the biracial character of Molly, and will instead voice a different character.
Little Voice — obvious end, fun watch
We had mixed feelings about Little Voice when it arrived in July. The show, which Apple sold as a musical tribute to New York City, had cast an outstanding lead (Brittany O'Grady as Bess), featured pleasurable music, and cultivated an attractive visual style.
On the other hand, the show was kind of dramatically inert, Bess' multiple romantic suitors were all deathly dull, and subplots involving Bess' closeted roommate (Shalini Bathina) and her autistic, Broadway-loving brother (Kevin Valdez) tended to be more interesting than the Bess-centered ones.
In its back half, the series gets unbelievably dark, and while the season's ending is satisfying, it's the exact ending that was obvious from the beginning.
Little Voice has not, as of yet, been renewed.
Ted Lasso — better than our preview, but only by a little
We're getting the sense Ted Lasso is starting to break through. The fish-out-of-water comedy about an American rube football coach (Jason Sudeikis) sent to coach an English Premiere League soccer club has been building up online buzz, mostly from those praising the show's relentless positivity.
We gave Ted Lasso a mixed review when it arrived this summer, finding it a one-note comedy that didn't bring much depth beyond the series of NBC Sports commercials that introduced the character. Having now watched the whole season, it grew on us slightly, although we don't quite see the reason for the over-the-top praise.
Juno Temple remains a highlight, as a WAG type, and the show finds a way to wring dramatic tension out of such soccer concepts as stoppage time and the quest to avoid relegation.
Ted Lasso has been renewed for a second season.