As streaming services wage war for our attention, a new player enters the battlefield. Not to be outdone by Netflix, Amazon or Disney+, Apple’s own streaming service offers a small selection of original programming featuring A-listers and top-notch talent. Putting their money where their mouth is, each production is lavish, to say the least, but surprisingly, few seem to be aware of the platform’s programming. Does this new batch of original fare hold up? This week, UnBinged gets to the core of Apple TV and its slate of new shows. (Apple TV, by the way, is $4.99 per month, with a seven-day free trial. It’s free for one year with the purchase of Apple hardware).
See | Apple TV
With its post-apocalyptic setting and fantastical storylines, See fills Apple TV’s need for a big budget fantasy epic. In a post–Game of Thrones world, is this the saga that will fill the gap left by a dead khaleesi? No. Not by a longshot. When it comes to fictional world building,if you are going to introduce an audience to sweeping news concepts, foreign landscapes and unfamiliar cultures, you should try not to be dumb. Apparently the creators didn’t look at the memo.
In See, a virus has knocked out most of human civilization, leaving the Earth to a scant 2 million people, all of whom are blind. After thousands of years, the remaining population has reverted back to a hunter-gatherer society where everyone talks like they received schooling from a Zoltar Speaks fortune teller.
Jason Mamoa stars as a Baba Voss, leader of a clan of sightless warriors, covered in decorations no one will ever see. His wife is pregnant with twins that are prophesied to lead the new world with their fully-functional eyes.
A post-apocalyptic world is not a new setting. From Mad Max to The Stand to The Walking Dead, realms in which humanity is pushed to the brink of extinction make for a familiar storytelling device. There are many different ways man can bite the big one. The trick is to find a new way to establish this world, its rules and its people without coming off as outlandish.
See does have a decent concept as its core, but at the end of the day it relies on tired cliches for its world building, taking the story to absurd places. The characters are irrelevant and forgetful while the culture is a bit goofy. It is somehow more impressive that an unscathed vinyl of Lou Reed’s Transformer survived this rather than any part of society.
When done right, fantasy storytelling is a blissful escape, but when done wrong, it’s nonsense. See is beautifully shot, big budget nonsense filled with folks trying their earnest with inadequate material.
Servant | Apple TV
Best known for twists, turns and inconsistent output, exec producer M. Night Shyamalan brings the dramatic thriller Servant to Apple TV. Steeped in tragedy, the horror-drama is filled with unnerving shots, food porn and claustrophobic camera work, all set inside a luxurious brownstone filled with sinister secrets.
Reporter Dorothy Turner (Six Feet Under‘s Lauren Ambrose) and husband/chef Sean (Toby Kebbel) star as a distraught couple looking for a little help after the tragic loss of their child. As a way to deal with the devastation, Dorothy gets a Reborn Doll — a silicon newborn meant to help ease the pain of loss. Nell Tiger Free is Leanne, the nanny hired to help feed Dorothy’s fantasy of denial. Silicon-baby Jericho is the unholy child of a Nordstrom mannequin and Baby Alive (Gen-Xers know her) that was conceived in an uncanny valley. But just as the audience gets used to the demonic-looking doll, the creepy baby is suddenly very real, with only Sean and his brother-in-law Julian (Harry Potter‘s Rubert Grint) noticing the shift. Then another type of horror story begins.
Showrunner Tony Basgallop creates a confined atmosphere by using close-up shots of people and objects, thus creating a feeling of disjointed storytelling, which keeps the audience on edge. Shots featuring extreme focus on certain subjects and small distortions of reality convey the mania that both Dorothy and Leanne share regarding baby Jericho, but they also come off gimmicky at times, adding up to the underlying ruse of Servant: What is real, and what is a lie? Of course, we’ve come to expect these kinds of elaborate from Shyamalan and his best work pulls it off brilliantly.
With Servant, Apple M. Night mostly pull it off, providing the signature twists and turns, and toying with the audience’s perception of storytelling. But this is not for a passive viewer to watch while doing chores. Pay attention. Stay alert. And don’t trust what you are told because this tale will have more to tell before it’s over.
The Morning Show | Apple TV
Apple TV’s flagship show reunites Friends’ “sisters” Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in a modern All About Eve for the morning TV sect. It’s definitely fun to watch America’s sweethearts get down and dirty, throwing below-the-belt punches and tossing F-bombs like confetti. As Alex Levy and Bradley Jackson, the duo are given a lot to work with as two newscasters reeling from the fallout of a scandal on their top-rated morning talk show. They play deeply flawed characters. Far from Elle Woods and Rachel Green, these two are frustrated, angry, sad and, at times, downright callous people who are nevertheless, just trying to stay above water. Sometimes that requires drowning each other too.
The performances are top notch, but not without blemishes. While Aniston holds her own as a veteran news anchor with issues at work and at home, Witherspoon sometimes falters. She moves in and out of her Southern drawl while painting a less than believable portrait of a small-town reporter who makes it in the big city. In Big Little Lies, Witherspoon is every inch a queen bee of the PTA. But here, her character hasn’t found her footing. The actress recently received a Golden Globe nomination for her work here, but honestly, she doesn’t deserve it nearly as much as she does for her layered performance in Lies.
Luckily, Witherspoon is propped up by a great cast. Not just from key players Mark Duplass, Billy Crudup and a magnificent Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but also from the stream of talent in colorful, smaller roles, including Brett Butler, Marcia Gay Harden, Mindy Kaling and a terrifying Martin Short. Special shout-out for Steve Carrell, who plays an aging Lothario enabled by his peers to become a predator.
The Morning Show is more than an hour-long with a shoe-horned political agenda. While that is part of it, it is also a look at women in the workplace, a swipe at the new age of journalism and a blow to the entertainment industry as a whole. It might not be the wake-up call it wants to be, but it’s at least as entertaining as the programs it aims to represent.