With multiple Emmy Award wins for “Ted Lasso” and the launch of prestige titles like “Foundation,” Apple TV+ has been gaining momentum, becoming more of a must-have for viewers in the streaming age. Unlike the big guns — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ — Apple TV+ isn’t a service that gives you access to an extensive library of old movie titles. It relies more on new and original content.
As a result, it has had to up its acquisition game. We already put together a list of 10 Apple TV+ movies that justify a subscription, one that only promises to get longer as films like Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” join the growing Apple TV+ catalog.
Here, we’ll look at a corresponding list of 10 Apple TV+ shows that justify a subscription. This is just a starter pack — there are even more critically acclaimed shows like “Mythic Quest” that aren’t covered here. While a comedy or two is included, the following list is weighted more toward dramas with a genre bent: thrillers, science fiction, fantasy. Get ready to take a big bite out of some TV fruit from the Apple TV+ tree.
“Ted Lasso” is a natural starting point for anyone coming to Apple TV+ for the first time, and it’s easily the streamer’s most talked-about show. Season 1 garnered seven Emmys and the can-do Lasso way has had such a wide-reaching cultural impact that Hollywood is now looking to follow suit and produce more uplifting content.
Even if sports and comedy aren’t your things, Jason Sudeikis may quickly win you over with his character’s viral celebration dance and indefatigable Kansas kindness. I like to think Sudeikis was doing the same dance backstage on awards night. On the plane to England, where Ted is set to coach a Premier League soccer team — despite having a background in American football, not soccer — he offers homespun wisdom like: “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
“You know what the happiest animal on earth is?” he asks one player. “It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.”
The owner of Ted’s team, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), has deliberately set him up for failure. When he takes the field, he hears a stadium full of people chanting, “Wanker!” Even schoolchildren taunt him this way. Yet in the face of an uncaring and downright hostile world, Ted manages to remain cheerful.
As a journalist who profiles Ted for The Independent observes, you “can’t help but root for him.” “Ted Lasso” is the kind of show that can brighten a dark day or make you want to be a better person. It’s a consistent delight and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Cloned emperors. Stormtrooper-like guards. Spaceships firing on planets and landspeeders moving across desolate terrains. No, it’s not “Star Wars” — just one of the many things that inspired it.
“Foundation” is a ten-hour ride on a starbridge, full of world-building wonder. It’s the first stately screen adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s seemingly unfilmable science fiction book series, which began in the early 1950s. The show could have easily come out looking like a cheap Syfy series, but instead, it puts some real production value on display.
Jared Harris, who was so good in the first season of AMC’s “The Terror,” stars as Hari Seldon, a mathematician who predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire through “psychohistory.” He wants to minimize the catastrophe and assemble an Encyclopedia Galactica, a foundation of human knowledge that will allow future generations to rebuild.
He runs into denialism, however, from Lee Pace’s Brother Day, who is part of a genetic dynasty that currently includes two other versions of himself, one young and one old. Day wants to control the narrative and the news, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or even a psychohistorian to recognize that there’s a climate change allegory in here.
Apple TV+ dropped the first two episodes of “Foundation” the same day, and not without good reason. The second one ends on a major cliffhanger that recalls “Game of Thrones” at its most twisty and addictive. At least one actor who appeared on that show and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” shows up here.
“Please respect and enjoy the peace.”
Ayelet Zurer is, like fellow Israeli actress, Gal Gadot (AKA Wonder Woman), perhaps best known to American audiences for her role in a shared superhero universe: two of them, actually. In “Man of Steel,” Zurer played Superman’s Kryptonian mother, Lara, and in Netflix’s “Daredevil” series, she played the Kingpin’s wife, Vanessa.
The demands of playing wife and mother also actively constrain her character’s creativity in “Losing Alice,” which otherwise liberates Zurer from DC and Marvel and the confines of the supporting cast. In this eight-episode, Hebrew-language psychological thriller, she strikes out on her own as Alice Ginor, a film director whose best work is seemingly behind her. She’s married to a prominent actor, David (Gal Toren), whose career now comes at the expense of her own.
On a train straight out of a Hitchcock film, Alice meets an alluring young stranger named Sophie (Lihi Kornowski), a screenwriter who professes to be a fan of her work. Sophie soon inveigles herself into Alice and David’s life, becoming a kind of dark muse for Alice and reawakening the dormant artist in her. Yet the more Alice learns about Sophie and her past, the more suspicious she becomes.
Blurring the lines between art and life, “Losing Alice” plays with the femme fatale trope and other thriller conventions to tell a story about people using each other and the lengths to which they will go to fulfill their creative ambition, even if it means sacrificing those they love.
Harrison Ford once called “The Mosquito Coast” his best film role. It was based on a Paul Theroux novel, and Apple’s streaming series enlists the author’s nephew, Justin Theroux, to take over as Allie Fox, the character Ford played. Paterson Joseph, who co-starred with Theroux on “The Leftovers” as Holy Wayne, also pops up.
Allie is a wild-eyed inventor who watches the mail for patent office envelopes, only to receive foreclosure notices. When not devising get-rich-quick schemes, he drives his pickup truck across expanses of farmland outside a town full of weathered retail and chain restaurant signs. Plastic bottles pile up in his boss’s trash can, while on his front porch, his son listens to radio voices rant about global warming being a hoax.
It turns out Allie has been reinventing himself: he and his wife, Margot (Melissa George), are on the run and have burned through six identities over nine years. No problem, they can always start again, even if it means scouring the dump for discarded computer parts. “There’s gold in them thar hills,” Allie says, but in this case, it’s garbage hills with culture vultures circling overhead.
“The Mosquito Coast” isn’t just here to relay environmental concerns. It wants to interrogate the American dream, and the Foxes and their triumphalism are all bound up in that. As they enact their own Southwest version of “Ozark,” we see them MacGyvering and outmaneuvering or just plain screwing over everyone in their path. There’s a hitman who looks like Heisenberg from “Breaking Bad,” and instead of Han and Chewie, there’s Juan and Chuy, two coyotes who help smuggle the family across the border to Mexico.
Chuy tells Allie, “You are America, a**hole. And you’ll never get away from that.” Straight shot, brother.
On January 20, 2020, the day before the first confirmed Covid case in the U.S., we spoiler-reviewed the first season of “Servant” and talked about how it fits into M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography. That review touched on Shyamalan’s love for contained settings. At the time, one criticism going around about “Servant” was how it conspired, sometimes awkwardly, to keep its characters stuck indoors, with the outside world only being seen through video screens.
There’s also a plot point where one of the show’s main characters, a stay-at-home chef named Sean Turner(Toby Kebbell), loses his sense of taste. As the coronavirus spread, of course, some people would lose their sense of taste in real life, and many of us would find ourselves sequestered in our homes in a “Servant”-like fashion, relying more and more on video links to the world outside.
How many of us would nurture our spouse’s delusions that an inanimate reborn doll was their baby? How many of us would manhandle that doll and invite a mysterious nanny into our houses to take care of it?
Not very many, probably, but that’s the route that “Servant” goes. Nell Tiger Free (“Game of Thrones”) plays the nanny, Leanne Grayson, and Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) plays the mother, Dorothy Turner, a local TV reporter. Rupert Grint, all grown up since his “Harry Potter” days, plays her brother, Julian Pearce, who always has a glass of red wine in hand.
The characters in “Servant” don’t always act consistently. It can be hard to parse their motivations and frustrating to watch their lack of communication. But if we’re being honest, this was the first show intriguing enough to justify an Apple TV+ sign-up.
Five minutes into the first episode of “Calls,” someone phones the police. They’re on the horn with a 911 dispatcher, and it feels appropriate because the show puts the viewer in a similar position. “Calls” engages the ears more than the eyes, holing you up in the dispatcher’s console, letting you listen in on calls from both coasts as an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-like scenario seems to play out in New York and L.A.
That’s just the first episode. The series begins with “The End,” which quickly ratchets up the tension, and continues with “The Beginning,” which winds back the clock and shifts to a different city and story, where a man driving away from his pregnant wife’s house gets caught in a time-warp.
Episodes are only fifteen or twenty minutes long so that the total series running time is about the length of a movie. Each ep features a new star-studded voice cast. Pedro Pascal is an example of one actor whose voice is instantly recognizable, if only because we’re so used to hearing it through Mando’s helmet on “The Mandalorian.”
Along the way, there are bank robberies, love triangles, and calls from the past and future. It soon becomes apparent that something is happening to the cell phone waves, making it possible for characters to talk between different moments in time.
Fede Álvarez, the director of “Don’t Breathe” and the 2013 “Evil Dead” remake, developed this anthology based on the French series of the same name. It’s not quite a podcast; the screensaver-like visuals do serve to heighten the mood at times. However, as you listen and read the subtitles, “Calls” asks you to see things in your mind’s eye.
After watching “Calls,” being able to hear the characters but not see them, you might be better able to identify with the characters in “See,” most of whom have no sense of sight. I came into season 2 of “See” having not watched season 1. That might seem counter-intuitive, but I was mostly just curious to witness Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista battle it out as blind, bearded brothers in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
They’re in “Dune” together and have teased a future buddy cop movie, but here, they’ve got a real grudge match going. Momoa plays Baba Voss — his name is always said in full like that — and Bautista plays the scar-headed Commander General Edo Voss, who uses that full imperious title to introduce himself.
They trek across a snowy landscape where people finger-read identification knots and jingle, cluck, or tap sound wands to communicate their location non-verbally. Baba Voss has an eccentric, hunched way of walking, almost as if he’s knuckle-dragging, but he’s still adept at hacking off limbs. “You can’t see a kill,” he tells his son. “You have to feel it … the ripping and the tearing.”
Sylvia Hoeks, who gave a standout performance as the replicant antagonist in “Blade Runner 2049,” is dialed up to 11 here as a murderous queen with a sing-song voice. Alfre Woodard dons a grey dreadlock wig like Ezekiel in “The Walking Dead,” and if any of this sounds ripe or half-baked, well, that’s just the mythology. “See” sets you down in a strange new world and asks you to keep up and not judge it too harshly.
Hailee Steinfeld made her feature-film debut in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination at the age of 15. Compared to the poet Emily Dickinson, whose genius went largely unrecognized throughout her lifetime, Steinfeld was an overnight success.
In “Dickinson,” she’s at the center of an anachronistic teen comedy with a hip-hop sensibility. It’s the type of show that will have Emily say, “Nailed it,” when she writes a good 4 am poem, or that will have her huff “This is such bulls**t” when her mother (Jane Krakowski) assigns her menial chores.
Mom is concerned that Emily doesn’t know how to behave like a proper young lady. “I was married at 18,” she says, “It’s high time for you to get a husband.” And, “You’re going to make a good housewife one day, Emily Dickinson.” She’s trying to marry Emily off to gentlemen suitors, but as far as Emily is concerned, she has but “one purpose on Earth, and that is to become a great writer.”
The plucky heroine of “Dickinson” is also in love with her best friend, who’s betrothed to her brother, and she’s in love with Death, who’s played by the rapper Wiz Khalifa. Death takes her out for a ride every night on a carriage drawn by billowing white ghost horses.
“Dickinson” airs its third and final season in November 2021. That same month, Steinfeld leapfrogs over to Apple’s streaming rival, Disney+, to play the co-lead on Marvel’s “Hawkeye” series.
Part of the original lineup of shows on offer when Apple TV+ debuted, “For All Mankind” showcases an alternate history where the U.S. lost the space race and Russian cosmonauts were instead the first to land on the moon. You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when they dedicate the moon landing to “the Marxist-Leninist way of life.”
“For All Mankind” hails from Ronald D. Moore, the creator of “Outlander” and the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica.” Joel Kinnaman brings a brooding presence to the role of Edwin Baldwin, an astronaut who gets demoted to a desk job when he runs his mouth to a reporter at a bar, where good old boys pin a newspaper with the headline “Red Moon” to the dartboard.
The official logline of “For All Mankind” bills it as a series that “presents an aspirational world where NASA and the space program remained a priority and a focal point of our hopes and dreams.” Season 1 accompanied the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 2019. It recreates that event but with added suspense since the story is on a different trajectory, and we no longer know what will happen.
Season 2, which premiered in 2021 and currently boasts a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, jumps forward in time to the 1980s. NASA is now militarized and the space race has ramped up to become a full-on cold war on the moon, with astronauts carrying guns.
The U.S. military established its own real-life Space Force in December 2019, the month after “For All Mankind” premiered. Now, we have billionaires like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos locked in a space race. Who’s to say the future won’t come to resemble this alternate history?
Speaking of NASA, “For All Mankind” isn’t the only Apple TV+ series that will take you into the space agency’s control room. The trailer for “Invasion,” which premieres its first three episodes on October 22, 2021, ends with the words “Hold onto your humanity.” But the sight of Sam Neill and the overall vibe of the thing might have you thinking of that “Jurassic Park” quote, “Hold onto your butts.”
Crop circles form, locusts swarm, kids spout nosebleeds, and mothers steal cars as an alien invasion unfolds across Earth. The series takes a “Babel”-like, cross-continental approach to said invasion, showing the perspective of characters in different places like Tokyo and Afghanistan.
Rinko Kikuchi, who actually did co-star in “Babel,” appears in “Invasion” as an astronaut. She’s joined by Shiori Kutsuna, who made an impression as the effervescent Yukio in “Deadpool 2.” That movie was co-produced by Simon Kinberg, who serves as co-creator here with David Weil, the showrunner behind “Hunters” and “Solos” for Amazon Prime Video.
Amazon is just one of the many competitors that Apple TV+ faces in the streaming wars. Apple TV+ is cheaper than Netflix or other services, however, and after two years, it has developed enough quality content to warrant at least a trial subscription.