The 17 Best Apple TV+ Series
“Parties should be like shipwrecks, you should emerge from them soaking wet, out of breath, and hopelessly disoriented,” Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) wistfully tells us. Parties, maybe—streaming platform launches less so. But that is more or less the feeling of bingeing through all of Apple TV+’s inaugural offerings.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Overall, Apple has provided a slate of shows that are also calculated to hit every genre from slick sci-fi to documentary features. It may not have a library or back-catalogue like Disney, or even Netflix and other streaming hubs that borrow from a variety of studios, but it does have exceptional brand loyalty and the offer of a free year of service for those who purchase Apple devices. (It’s currently $4.99/mo for everyone else).
The amount of money that Apple has put towards these shows is on full display—they are gorgeous and feature A-list talent, many just need more cohesion and substance in the writing (others are truly great). On the fully positive side though, women are featured at the forefront of almost all of these productions, which cynically you could chalk up to Apple being great at optics, but sometimes it’s nice just to take the win.
Below is our ranking of (most of) Apple TV+’s scripted series so far—including kids shows! Movies and documentaries are not included though. We will also be updating this with new series in the coming months (after we catch up with Amazing Stories). For now, check out our thoughts on what you should watch and what you should skip:
17. Mythic Quest
Workplace comedies centered around fun rom-com-esque jobs are risky. Sure, it might sound engaging and might convince the execs that those crucial youths will watch your show, but pick something too niche or too limiting and you end up like that Zach Braff podcasting show Alex, Inc. And once you’ve cleared that hurdle, you have to make it funny. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the Apple TV+ series from the folks behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, gambles it all on being a hilarious, brash, cool take on the modern videogame industry. It’s almost as terrible as its name.
The show, named after its central MMORPG’s first expansion (more tongue-twister than tongue-in-cheek), sees creators Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz attempt to go both broad and hyper-specific—sillier than Silicon Valley but with nerdy bonafides. I scoured all nine half-hour episodes of its first season on a quest for comedy, finding only squandered potential wandering its depressing office space.
Creative director Ian Grimm (McElhenney) lords over the Mythic Quest team—including souless monetization lead Brad (Danny Pudi), uncool programming head Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), washed-up writer C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), and eager testers Dana (Imani Hakim) and Rachel (Ashly Burch)—who are all ostensibly under the management of wimpy executive producer David (David Hornsby). Ian, ever the rock star with his pickup artist styling and silly name, makes that fantasy immediately transparent. Even David’s scary assistant Jo (Jessie Ennis) gravitates towards Ian’s tech-bro confidence. Each character has a trait, no more no less.
A late turn in the season trying to make its characters overly-sympathetic might’ve worked if it was done better and earlier, but the structure—hell, the format of the show—undermined this attempt from the beginning. This makes Mythic Quest not just an unfunny comedy, but an entirely ineffective show that doesn’t seem to know what it is or where it’s going in a second season that Apple has already greenlit. Mythic Quest certainly won’t woo a gaming audience, and has little to offer anyone else. [Full Review] —Jacob Oller
Here’s an inauspicious way to begin a TV review: Remember Waterworld?
See looks great. It also looks expensive, which it was, reportedly clocking in at $15 million an episode; it was composed with obvious care, arriving at shots that’ll just knock your socks right off your feet a few times an episode. The richness of the production design echoes the detail of the world-building, which in turn reflects the ambition of the filmmaking. All good things. But the quality that most defines this Apple TV+ series is one that is, unfortunately, just as thickly layered: It is deeply, inescapably, and not even all that enjoyably ridiculous. So again I ask, do you remember Waterworld, the wildly expensive post-apocalyptic movie where Kevin Costner and Tina Majorino search for a mythic place known as DryLand? See has big Waterworld energy. Both determinedly commit to even the most ludicrous elements of their premise, swinging for the fences with the energy and confidence of a dude who once read a thing about baseball and is now clearly an expert. It strikes out at nearly every turn, but you’ve got to admire the spirit.
There are all kinds of issues with See, and we’ll get to some but not all of them. (What happened to braille? Who’s dying the fabrics? How come there are so many psychics, and are they actually psychic? They lose the word for “steel” but keep both “queen” and “parliament”? You hire Tantoo Cardinal and then give her nothing to do? I could go on.) But whatever other complaints might be made or questions raised (The blindness was caused by a plague but is now inherited?), it cannot be said that creator/writer Steven Knight and director Francis Lawrence are phoning it in. This series is never not at 11: it’s revealed that Woodard’s Paris has psychic dreams, reads the minds of birds, and has psychic dreams about mind-reading birds in the show’s earliest moments; at one point a character draws a knife on another from the hiding place inside her own forearm. The language is often beautiful, the visual and sonic designs thoughtful and surprising, and the chilly, elegant cinematography consistently striking. There’s a shot in the third episode that frames Jason Momoa as he’s about to shove a sword into a kneeling guy’s throat, and it’s so perfectly composed it should hang in a museum.
Except, of course, it shouldn’t, because the show itself just isn’t very good. A near-total lack of character investment is the biggest impediment to engaging with the series on an emotional level, but it’s also damned hard to engage with it intellectually, because unfortunately See also doesn’t seem to know what it’s saying. [Full Review] —Allison Shoemaker
Just like you wouldn’t expect a mediocre adult show that stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell, you wouldn’t expect the people behind the long-running, iconic and adored Sesame Street to come up to come with a mediocre kids show. But alas, my friends, they have. The helpsters are monsters who like to help people. The sing about it. They dance about it. Each episode features two people or groups of people who need help. A woman getting ready to climb a mountain. A starlet who can’t sleep. A brother and sister who need to figure out who is the fastest runner. The willingness to help people is a great lesson to teach children. The problem is that while some of these problems are ones the preschool set might have, I don’t see your three-year-old extrapolating and relating it to his or her life. As they should be for the show’s target population, the lessons are redundant. There’s a lot of talk across many episodes about the word “sequence” and what it means. That’s because the show is trying to teach kids the early concepts of coding and how important it can be to put things in the right order. The helpsters—Cody, Mr. Primm, Scatter, Heart and Jackie—aren’t as instantly lovable and relatable as say Cookie Monster, Elmo, or Abby Cadabby. Alan Cumming is among the celebrities who pop up, but the show is missing those inside jokes to keep parents entertained (think TV parodies like Game of Chairs, A’s Anatomy, or Upside Downton Abbey). The whole thing plays out like a knock-off Sesame Street. Why watch this when you can spend time with Big Bird and the gang? —Amy Amatangelo
Apart from the retention of a few key building blocks, Sesame Workshop’s new Ghostwriter is less a revival of its early ‘90s Children’s Television Workshop-era PBS property than it is a complete reimagining. Yes, it’s still set in Brooklyn. Yes, it still features a core cast of kids who are deliberately diverse in terms both of race and family situation. Yes, those kids still become friends with a mysterious ghost who can only communicate with them through writing. But where the OG Ghostwriter used these elements to cultivate a generation of code-cracking, clue-tracking middle school mystery buffs (raise your hand if you wore the binding out of your official Ghostwriter Clue Book), the new Ghostwriter, which is set in a dusty old bookstore owned by the recently widowed grandpa of two of the main kids, is ready to use the same set-up to build a new generation of avid readers. This isn’t to say that Ruben (Justin Sanchez), Chevon (Amadi Chapata), Donna (Hannah Levinson) and Curtis (Isaac Arellanes) aren’t still solving mysteries—they are. Just, more of the “who are these celebrity-voiced CGI-ed characters that Ghostwriter freed from the shelves of Grandpa’s bookstore to teach us important life lessons, and how do we get them back into the books they came from?” variety. Think less Harriet the Spy and more Wishbone. Or, if you’re an adult viewer of a more modernly nerdy sensibility, less Riverdale Season 2, more Legends of Tomorrow Season 4.
That said, adult viewers, in general, need not apply. As fun as this literary reimagining mostly ends up being—the complete system shock of Alice in Wonderland’s lost CGI March Hare in the first pair of episodes notwithstanding—the new Ghostwriter, like its predecessor, is not for us. Its intended audience is still the under-twelve set, meaning the dialogue is uncomplicated, the acting tops out at earnest, and the take-home lessons are painfully on the nose. The cinematography is really lovely, and the ghost-related visual shenanigans are engaging, but there are no sly jokes for the adults in the room here—you want that, navigate on over to Disney+. You want something that might get the kids in your interested in reading, though, well, this just might do the trick. —Alexis Gunderson
13. Little Voice
In Little Voice, aspiring singer/songwriter Bess King (Brittany O’Grady) is living in New York, trying to break into the music industry and juggling many, many side gigs. She walks dogs, bartends, teaches piano, and performs Sinatra tunes at nursing homes all while writing, composing, and performing her own original songs. She always has her notebook with her so she can jot down a lyric whenever it comes to her. She has the hustle and the drive. But as we all know, that often isn’t enough. Bess needs the dumb luck that can propel her, if not to fame, to a place where she can support herself through her music. Unfortunately, her life is full of serious distractions.
The series was created by Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson, the duo behind the Tony nominated Broadway musical Waitress, another story about a woman who wanted more out of her life. The pair ensure that Bess’s songs are beautiful, charming tunes that you may just find yourself humming along to long after you’ve finished watching the series.
The show hinges on the viewers’ desire to see Bess succeed, and to ride her rollercoaster of two steps forward and one step back as she navigates the tricky landscape of the music business—
the strong supporting cast helps this immeasurably, as do the snappy 30-minute episodes. But ultimately, while the series is charming and O’Grady is a knockout, Little Voice is still largely looking for its own “it” factor. [Full Review] —Amy Amatangelo
12. The Morning Show
The most damning thing I can say about The Morning Show, the star-studded drama that is part of Apple TV+’s big launch, is that it’s fine. Reminiscent of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with its frenetic take on putting on live television, the show is like an old-school network drama—which again is perfectly fine, but not exactly what one would hope for when discussing the crown jewel of the streaming launch.
But let’s back up. Clearly inspired by Matt Lauer’s firing and allegations of sexual misconduct (which also broke two years ago in November of 2017), The Morning Show follows popular morning show co-hosts Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Mitch (Steve Carell). They’ve worked together for 15 years amid declining ratings for their network UBA. As the show begins, Mitch is fired for his behavior and, with only a few hours notice, Alex must go on air and address the situation. “You are part of this family and we will get through this together,” she says at the top of the hour. Meanwhile, feisty whippersnapper Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) is biding her time as a reporter for a conservative local affiliate in West Virginia. Her job prospects are stagnated by her uncontrollable temper, but Bradley’s career begins to change when one of her politically-tinged outbursts is videotaped and goes viral.
The Morning Show is chock-full of big names and they all do a fine job. It’s great to have Aniston back on a TV series. Billy Crudup oozes smarm as UBA news division president Cory Ellison. The real problem is that, so far, I don’t have a clear idea of who these characters really are. They do a lot of telling us who they are without really showing us. The writing fails to make anyone distinct. The Morning Show is a fine drama. But when launching a streaming platform you expect people to pay for, you need more than fine. You need to break the mold and give us a TV show we didn’t even know we needed but cannot live without. The Morning Show is not that. [Full Review] —Amy Amatangelo
11. Truth Be Told
Truth Be Told, based on Kathleen Barber’s novel Are You Sleeping, is a fine if uneven murder mystery. Octavia Spencer stars as journalist-turned-podcaster Poppy Parnell, who is reopening a case from 19 years ago to investigate whether a boy was sent to jail for a murder he did not commit. Poppy has a personal connection to the case, because her reporting at the time helped paint the teenage suspect, Warren Cave (a fantastic Aaron Paul), as a psychopath who should be tried as an adult. Cave was then sentenced to life in prison for stabbing his neighbor, Chuck Buhrman, to death on Halloween night. But from the start the circumstances were strange; how did Chuck’s wife and twin daughters (Lizzy Caplan) sleep through the attack, and why did one of the daughters later change her statement in order to implicate Warren, who had previously been a friend?
The detective work here is really the thing, as they begin to unravel the past (some flashbacks from which we are privy to whereas Poppy is not, in rather random ways), and as Poppy works through her guilt. Did she help put the wrong man in prison when he was just a child? As a black woman, can she defend a man who is now part of the Aryan Brotherhood? Will her guilt end up making things right, or causing more harm? These worthy explorations are when Spencer is given the opportunity to shine, but there’s not yet enough of it.
Though the series is only eight episodes (four of which were available for critics to screen), each of which hover around 40 minutes, the pacing is incredibly scattershot. There is so much to unpack with the twins (one of whom briefly sports an English accent!), Warren, and the two families caught up in this crime, but then we shift to Poppy’s family and it feels like jumping to a different show. The same is true after we’ve spent time in their world with their histories, and then come back to the crime. Good detective shows always pepper in a little bit of the investigator’s personal life alongside the crime being solved, and on paper Truth Be Told does exactly that, but currently it’s too disjointed as it adds in a variety of twists and reveals that aren’t given enough buildup or explanation to really land. It’s the same feeling one has watching the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show, which also boasts an outstanding cast and a great premise. It’s interesting, but it drags; it’s enjoyable while you watch, but you don’t rush to return to it. It’s just fine—but it’s not essential TV that you need to pay for a streaming platform to enjoy. —Allison Keene [ Full Review ]
10. Defending Jacob
Defending Jacob is an eight-episode series based on the 2012 novel of the same name by William Landay. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber (Chris Evans) and his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) are living a lovely upper middle-class life in the wealthy suburb of Newton, Massachusetts when a classmate of their son is found murdered in a nearby park. Their shock and grief are compounded when their 14-year-old son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is arrested for murder.
The show flits back and forth between the events unfolding before and right after the murder, and Barber being interrogated on the stand 10 months later by his former colleague/frenemy Neal Logiudice (Pablo Schreiber). “I was protecting him from his own stupidity. I was being a father,” he bellows.
Clues are dropped along the way. “I know you think you know Jacob but you don’t,” Jacob’s classmate Derek tells Andy. Various red herring suspects pop up over the course of the episodes, but none compelling enough to truly pique your curiosity. That’s really too bad, because Evans and Dockery are fantastic. Dockery, in particular, is captivating as the mom who wants to believe her son is innocent but begins to second guess every single parenting decision she’s ever made.
“But what if … I just didn’t look closely enough?” she wonders. Evans, blessedly not trying to lean in to his native Massachusetts accent, tracks as the father who thinks this is a problem he can solve with dogged determination and righteous indignation.
The novel was a gripping, stay-up-way-too-late-to-read page turner. The series, not so much. Even though the eight-episode length is much shorter than most TV shows, it’s probably still two episodes too long. Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) has an eye for gorgeous aerial shots. The show looks amazing. I had full-on kitchen envy during every single scene that takes place in the Barber home. But it’s also languid. The camera follows Laurie for too long on her morning jog, and is extremely fond of gazing on Evans’ furrowed brow (aren’t we all to be honest?). But the pacing takes away any urgency that is inherent in the storyline. The shocking reveals are way too drawn out. The result is a murder mystery you can put down. [Full Review] —Amy Amatangelo
What if the terrifying denizens of the infant Uncanny Valley were put to good use for once? What if Twilight’s bug-eyed Renesmee and American Sniper’s stiff plastic baby were intentional aesthetic choices meant to inspire anxiety? Servant, the gripping Apple TV+ series from writer/creator Tony Basgallop and pilot/penultimate episode director M. Night Shyamalan, is all about the horror of inviting a new presence into your house, be it Cronenberg baby anxiety or the equally ancient fear of a younger woman from outside the fold.
When Philadelphia parents Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) hire a weird nanny, Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), it never seems fine. Things are never normal. There is a ghost in the house. That’s because Leanne has been hired to take care of a reborn doll. These hyper-realistic dolls, morphed and sculpted uniquely to match a real baby, can serve a variety of purposes. The Turners’ helps them cope with the loss of their child, Jericho, at thirteen weeks. Reality is simulated for therapeutic purposes. Until it’s not. The first episode ends with a very real cry from a very real baby and uh, where did HE come from?
Servant isn’t scary, really, but its mysteries make for an enthralling nightmare. If you were dreaming about it, it’d reflect the opening titles. A long slow walk down a hallway leads to a closed door, which opens just enough to get a glimpse of what might be a baby and then—oops! You woke up. You’re not sure what was wrong with that last look, but you can’t shake it all morning. Servant is like that. Its horror references are child-based, relationship-heavy, and demonic. But it’s not just the spooky baby stuff. Sean’s a chef, so Shyamalan and company also throw in a hefty amount of food porn for those longing to see haute cuisine for nothing more than fancy animals tearing apart less fancy animals. If Hannibal made horror food the height of bloody elegance, Servant rips it down to its fleshy ferality.
As things begin to get weird—with the first uneven glimpses of Leanne’s strangeness coming in fits and spurts—Sean keeps acquiring physical maladies of increasing severity while he and Dorothy see their tense relationship, strangely, soften. It’s unhealthy, whatever this is, but pressing on it only makes it worse. Over eight of its half-hour episodes, various metaphors rise and fall (sometimes working wonders, other times distracting from the well-crafted genre flavor), but the main idea of watching a couple suffer for taking the easy way out of death, trauma, guilt, and loss is never lost in this still mostly fun fairy tale. Servant is an unfocused yet ultimately creepy good time with enough character and charm to keep its hazy nightmare from lulling you to sleep. —Jacob Oller [Full Review]
8. Snoopy in Space
You get a little nervous when you hear that AppleTV+ will be putting on a show with Snoopy. We all grew up watching (and probably still watch every year) A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. We don’t really need a modernized take on the beloved beagle. But I’m happy to report that Snoopy in Space which finds Snoopy traveling to the International Space Station to fulfill his dream of becoming a NASA astronaut, is true to the property we all know in love. There’s the beleaguered Charlie Brown (“Why can’t I have a normal dog?” he wonders). There’s the ever-bossy Lucy. There’s know-it-all Peppermint Patty and her sidekick Marcie. There’s the ever-observant and wise Franklin. The gang is all here and, good grief, it’s terrific.—Amy Amatangelo
7. Losing Alice
This Israeli series is a psychological thriller akin to classics films Single White Female—or even campier flicks like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle—except with the special twist that the woman at the center of it all is fully aware that she’s being manipulated. The question, really, is why is she letting this happen? Is it her quest for fame? Boredom? Jealousy of a younger woman’s freedom, of not being tied down to a husband and kids? The answer is kind of up to the audience to decide as they watch the titular Alice (Ayelet Zurer), a director who once made highly regarded avant garde films and now is relegated to silly commercials, agree to direct her actor husband (Gal Toren’s David) in a tantalizing and dangerous film that co-stars its free-spirited writer, Sophie (Lihi Kornowski). In doing so, Alice becomes obsessed with the plot and her new collaborator’s script and personal life—and if the truth is stranger than fiction. — Whitney Friedlander
6. Home Before Dark
Given how unkindly television and film routinely treat female journalists, it’s possible that Hilde Lisko, star Brooklynn Prince’s resolute lead in the new Apple TV+ series, Home Before Dark, might be just the kind of female journalist hero that we need right now. Inspired by award-winning crime reporter Hilde Lysiak, the character has an almost supernatural memory for detail, knows how to build up a rapport with local law enforcement (and decipher which ones she can trust), and isn’t afraid to stand up to established community leaders who may be hiding the truth.
She’s also nine.
Set amid a damp and murky small-town logging community that seems specially made to delight the likes of Special Agent Dale Cooper, Home Before Dark follows the Lisko family as they move to dad Matt’s (Jim Sturgess) childhood home from Brooklyn after he loses his newspaper job. This sets off a chain of events that has Hilde on the case of a potential massive cover-up of a child abduction in the 1980s that envelopes everyone from the sheriff and mayor to Hilde’s grandfather, dad, and school principal.
I appreciate that there is an effort, both by Prince and the writers, to make sure that Hilde is more than just some one-dimensional cute or precocious brat, and that there seems to be some serious fire in her veins when police officers initially dismiss her with a pat on the head. And do I indeed want to see—and do I want mine and other kids to see—an intrepid female reporter on the case? Yep. Do I wish that there were more adult versions of her on screen? Of course. But do I also wish the particulars of the job were handled more responsibly, especially in the era of fake news, and certainly if kids were going to watch? Uh huh. [Full Review] —Whitney Friedlander
Despite all the mystery surrounding her long, hermetic life, it’s hard to imagine that the real Emily Dickinson (she of the poetic syntax so wildly removed from the style of her time that it wasn’t until 1955 that publishers stopped editing all her linguistic ecstasies into comparatively dull normalcy), wouldn’t get a kick out of Dickinson, Alena Smith and Hailee Steinfeld’s lovingly weird imagining of the poet’s young adulthood. Dickinson is so fun and so strange and so tireless in handing out little moments of character development, with wildly original mood setting, you could watch thousands of hours of television and still not think to expect, of course, the Dickinson who scrawled out “Wild nights – Wild nights!” and left behind thousands of scraps of genius in a locked chest would dig it.
To be clear, this is not me saying that rapturous anachronisms of Dickinson will be to everyone’s taste. Would Emily’s parents, in reality or as played here by Toby Huss and Jane Krakowski, be into it? Nah. Emily’s peers? Sue (Ella Hunt)—yes. George (Samuel Farnsworth)—yes. Everyone else—it depends. You? Who’s to say! Death showing up in the guise of Wiz Khalifa in a black silk top hat inside a ghostly black carriage to take Emily (Steinfeld) away from the funeral of her bosom friend/true love Sue’s last remaining sister (as Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” pulses underneath the dialogue almost too quiet to hear) will read to many as try-hard poptimist-adjacent gimmick, and it feels likely that Apple is trying to buy the affections of a Gen Z audience through clout rather than substance. But.
But with such gorgeous cinematography, costuming, and metatextual design, and with every actor putting in such fun, charming, deeply specific (read: often deeply odd) performances—and with Smith and Steinfeld, especially, so blazingly self-confident in their vision—it seems entirely likely that Dickinson will be one of the brightest debuts of 2019. I genuinely want to be shut up in the prose of its walls, for as long as Emily will have me. [Full Review] —Alexis Gunderson
4. For All Mankind
America has never lost gracefully. Exploring alternate histories where America loses usually involves the country’s moral stance defeated by a great political evil. The Nazis win World War 2; the British suppress the revolution. But what if the loss was more complicated than that? More ideologically gray. Less focused on Superman’s truth and justice, and more on his American Way. Apple TV+ asks this question with alt-history For All Mankind’s opening, where the Soviet Union stuns a watching world by beating the U.S. to the moon, and answers it with an enthralling drama dedicated to the flawed pursuit of greatness.
It’s certainly appropriate for a show about the best pilots in the world to have a great pilot episode, but its early success is matched by a show where politics and science branch in ways pleasing for space junkies and astro-nots alike. The sprawling sociopolitical butterfly effects—like how the Nixon administration reacts to, and is affected by, losing the first leg of the space race—are just one of the pleasures to be found in Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi’s creation. After seeing eight episodes of the ten-episode season, For All Mankind has already set itself apart as the must-see show of Apple TV+.
NASA, pushed as much by a president needing a political victory as by their own wounded pride, shoots for sci-fi. And the writing is smart. Potentially saccharine rah-rah patriotism is undermined by dashed hopes and a permeating need for American exceptionalism that is, in this version of events, proven untrue. Instead, the series works towards a new national culture in its large scale and quiet, workhorse dignities in its small scale. America gets back to its scrappy roots through its space program.
Those scrappy (bordering on irresponsible) elements—government employees doing their best at the behest of their overlords—see a powerhouse turn underdog. Nothing’s more humanizing than trying to break ground with equipment from the lowest bidder. Avoiding the truly sappy by showing the scars left by the program (the fuck-ups, the deaths, the near-misses, the battered relationships) earns the show its most moving moments. Rather than pure golden glow, For All Mankind leaves you smiling and ugly crying at the same time, amazed that humanity has achieved so much despite all its stupid pettiness. Unlike the space program it follows, For All Mankind pursues greatness, succeeds, and plants an Apple flag for the world to see. [Full Review] —Jacob Oller
In Trying, thirtysomething couple Nikki (Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) have been together for three years. The series’ title refers to their continued attempts to have a baby. They monitor Nikki’s ovulations cycles (the series kicks off with them having sex on a bus so they don’t miss Nikki’s ovulation window. Not a great way to start, but definitely a way to get the viewer’s attention) and try IVF where they are unceremoniously informed that the chances of conceiving with Nikki’s eggs is very unlikely given her sub-par fertility numbers. “Are you sure? I definitely feel higher than that,” Nikki says.
Nikki and Jason thus embark on a journey to adopt a child, where they are faced with one of society’s most perplexing double standards. Anyone who can get pregnant can have a baby. There are no screenings. No home visits. No forms to fill out. No one assesses your health or your habits. No classes you have to take. You just … have a baby. But the adoption process is long and arduous. They have regular visits from Penny (Imelda Staunton), the case worker assigned to assess them and issue a report. They have meet-ups with other prospective adoptive parents. They go to workshops where they are lectured on things like “oppositional defiant disorder” and “object permanence.” And, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes, have to go in front of a panel to defend that they are worthy of adopting a child.
Written by Andy Wolton and directed by Jim O’Hanlon, each episode ends with a lovely montage that checks in on all the characters the viewer has seen over the last half-hour. The way it’s structured reinforces how much we as humans have in common. How love and friendship sustain us.
The eight episodes go by far too quickly, but end in a place where you can easily envision multiple seasons. We are only at the beginning of Nikki and Jason’s journey. I can’t wait to watch them keep trying. [Full Review] —Amy Amatangelo
2. Ted Lasso
Seven years ago, NBC Sports released a very funny sketch starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach named Ted Lasso who manages to get hired as the manager of Tottenham, one of the top soccer clubs in England’s Premier League, which is one of the best leagues in the world. The comedy is the culture clash—a shouting alpha male with a southern accent trying to figure out a totally unfamiliar sport in a strange place, too stubborn to adapt and bringing all the wrong lessons over from America. As soccer becomes more familiar in the U.S., that sketch becomes increasingly quaint, since even your average deep-south gridiron jock knows more and more all the time about the world’s most popular sport. Which makes the premise of Ted Lasso the 2020 TV show questionable; can you really translate a premise that’s thin in the first place, and extend it to a ten-episode season even as soccer becomes less and less exotic to us all the time?
Wisely, creators Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence didn’t really try. Now focused on AFC Richmond, a middling English soccer club facing relegation, the success of the show begins and ends with Sudeikis (whose Lasso is almost pathologically nice as a coach and motivator rather than tactical genius), but the rest of the cast is also superb. In short, I found it genuinely moving more than it was uproarious, although the climactic scene in the final episode might be one of the greatest athletic set pieces in comedy history, and will make any sports fan bust a gut. There’s also something very timely about the fact that the competitive drama here isn’t about winning a glorious championship, but about avoiding the shame of relegation. And yet, when faced with the unofficial AFC Richmond credo, “it’s the hope that kills you,” Lasso disagrees. “It’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you,” he tells his team, and whether or not that’s strictly correct is irrelevant. What actually matters is, do you believe? —Shane Ryan
1. Little America
Boasting a robustly talented set of executive producers, including Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, Apple TV+’s anthology series Little America may be its best to date. Over the course of eight half-hour episodes, Little America explores immigrant stories inspired by real events that are unique and full of heart. Though each story is incredibly different in terms of time and place, the series is united by a gorgeous, cinematic style and a theme of finding one’s home—often through unconventional means. The experiences are awkward, bittersweet, funny, raw, and triumphant, as each lead character follows their heart to create a new life in a new world. Some episodes feature recognizable actors, others do not; all will basically make you cry from their wonderful storytelling.
With each episode telling a complete vignette, Little America is worth savoring instead of bingeing (even though all episodes are available now). The segments end with a picture and a micro epilogue regarding the real person at the heart of the story, putting a point on the fact that these experiences are happening all around us every day. There’s no agenda beyond a hopeful note for a country deeply divided and fueled by vitriol to be reminded of these very grounded, human stories— ones that should unite us in the varied and often beautiful tapestry of American life. —Allison Keene