13 Great Things to Watch on the Suddenly Hot Apple TV+
Bad news for anyone hoping to keep their streaming budget reigned in: Apple TV+ has slowly but surely gotten good. Sure, things got off to a slow start when the service launched in November 2019 with a handful of series notable mostly for their impressive budgets. But now Apple has scored a Best Picture win with CODA (beating Netflix, which has been trying much harder for years to win the biggest Oscar award), to add to unexpected critical hits with shows like Severance and the Emmy-dominating Ted Lasso. If you’re just catching up, here’s a guide to the hits, underrated gems and must-watches on the service right now.
Severance. Severance is TV Twitter’s chic new show to love, and for good reason: It’s an expertly curated set of strange things – IBM-era office design! Mysterious, sinister authority figures! Bizarre workplace rituals! Christopher Walken and John Turturro inching toward a love affair! – whose significance is revealed at slow burn pace or not at all. There’s a big metaphor to chew on if you want to: The titular procedure involves severing the connection between a person’s job and home life, such that neither half is aware of the other; for Adam Scott’s lead character, this helps deny the tragic death of his wife. But the real pleasure of the show is watching the weirdness unfold.
CODA. This year’s surprise Best Picture winner made history with a predominantly deaf cast. CODA centers around Ruby Rossi, a kindhearted 17-year old girl who is the only hearing member of her family in a fishing community in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her days are spent waking before dawn to help her struggling father and brother on the water, falling asleep in class, and blasting music at home that only she can hear. But things change when she joins the school choir and becomes the choirmaster’s reluctant prodigy. Simultaneously quiet, tense, and explosive, this incredibly charming story is a wholly new take on the coming of age drama.
Ted Lasso. There’s no way around this: Ted Lasso is corny. But it’s delightfully, unfailingly, endearingly corny. You probably already know that it’s about an American football coach played by Jason Sudeikis who brings his homespun jokes and aw shucks attitude to a losing English soccer team, turning them into a band of brothers who believe in themselves and, more importantly, each other. Maybe because its earnest themes of togetherness and civility were a comfort during the pandemic, Ted Lasso somehow landed in the middle of the zeitgeist. Watching it just feels good—like a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for jaded adults.
Pachinko. Every Apple TV+ show looks like it cost tens of millions, but those lavish production values really show up on this sweeping intergenerational saga built around one Korean family’s experience of Japanese occupation in the 30s through to uneasy assimilation in the late 80s boom. It’s not just gorgeous to look at: Pachinko is stuffed with compelling characters, big but believable plot twists and wrenching emotional beats. This is 19th century novel-level television.
Slow Horses. What if you blended the morally complex spy novels of John Le Carré with the acid bureaucratic satire of Veep? You’d get something a lot like Slow Horses, which focuses on a group of would-be spies who’ve flunked out of MI5 and now spend their days sitting around a satellite office called Slough House. At first, Slow Horses feels like a dark, genre-inflicted take on the workplace sitcom, with Gary Oldman’s over-the-hill Jackson Lamb flinging insults at his subordinates. But then they find themselves smack in the middle of a fast-moving conspiracy, and the show shifts gears into a proper spy thriller. It’s tense, funny, and sharp as all hell.
The Tragedy of Macbeth. Take two of the most charismatic and bewitching actors of their generation (Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand), add one of the most celebrated directors (Joel Coen), and have them do their interpretation of one history’s greatest dramas (The Tragedy of Macbeth). Coen’s inventive staging leans heavily into the spookiness of the Scottish play with black and white cinematography, abstract, claustrophobic sets, and scary closeups. It’s one of the best Shakespeare adaptations on film.
For All Mankind. This 60s space race drama got off to a slow start: The early episodes are full of wooden dialogue and pat conflicts like the skirt-chasing astronaut who makes his wife jealous. But by Season 2, the writing got crisper, the pacing tighter, the characters more nuanced, and suddenly For All Mankind quietly created a new genre — let’s call it “Barely Altered Timeline” — by departing from the historical record. America’s failure to reach the moon ahead of the Russians ultimately leads to more substantial progress, like electric cars and a quicker acceptance of Black and female astronauts. It’s a show about how our reaction to failure can make or break us.
The Morning Show. If we’re dealing in binary terms of good and bad, The Morning Show is at the very least not good. But if you like to watch a great trainwreck, it delivers with a three-headed Hollywood hydra (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell) and messy takes on everything from #MeToo (drawing heavily on Matt Lauer’s fall from grace) to cancel culture. The characters make increasingly bizarre decisions; the plotlines get more ham-fisted. It’s a chaotic delight.
WeCrashed. You can’t throw a rock these days without hitting a streaming series based on a podcast based on a magazine article about a grifter, whether in the rideshare or blood testing or fake European heiress biz. But WeCrashed is the most entertaining of the bunch, simply because the WeWork saga involved so much deranged excess. Featuring Jared Leto with a great impersonation of Adam Neumann, the hubristic, oddball founder of WeWork—and an equally great Anne Hathaway as his wife (and Gwenyth Paltrow’s cousin) Rebekah Neumann. Gaze into the dark heart of the coworking space.
Mosquito Coast. This show isn’t particularly deep – the original, Harrison Ford-starring movie’s critique of egomaniacal, self-styled genius men has been softened a bit by essentially turning the plot into a series-long chase scene. But it’s a good chase scene, traversing arid desert, lush jungle and watery prisons, and Justin Theroux (whose uncle, Paul Theroux, wrote the book both movie and series are based on) is suitably maniacal.
Dickinson. Apple TV’s Dickinson is a heartfelt and quirky take on the life of the tragic poet Emily Dickinson. With Hailee Steinfeld at the center, the queer coming of age story is historically grounded in the 1800s but infused with pop songs and modern colloquialisms. Steinfeld’s portrayal of the blossoming and ever-dramatic literary genius pays homage in a fresh, multifaceted way.
The Velvet Underground. The legendary rock band was poorly documented in its day, especially on film, and most of the principals – singers Lou Reed and Nico, guitarist Sterling Morrison, patron Andy Warhol – are dead. Todd Haynes gets around that by loading up on people who were part of the band’s milieu, like La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, and Jonas Mekas, and integrating experimental films to establish the dominant aesthetic of the day in downtown New York. The rare music documentary that doesn’t rely on random talking heads (no Bono!), this is a love letter not only to the Velvets, but to a generation of avant-garde filmmakers.
Boy’s State. Chronicling the 2018 edition of a nationwide summer program that encourages high schoolers to create a government platform from scratch, this immersive piece of verite features apple-cheeked kids stabbing each other in the back, purposely bending the truth to win elections and actively sharing racist memes. To see these clearly intelligent, ambitious kids almost subconsciously demean their values in the pursuit of power is to see the excesses and moral failings of the Trumpian moment reflected back. The good news is that they’re also self-reflective, self-critical and still willing to learn. It might be too late for the rest of us. But it’s not too late for them.