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Apple TV+ Review Roundup: Apple’s Originals Met with Mixed Reception

Apple’s streaming video service, Apple TV+, launches this Friday, November 1st. Ahead of its launch, today the first reviews dropped for the service’s tentpole originals: The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind, and Dickinson. Overall the critical takes are extremely mixed: though I haven’t seen any reviews that are outright negative, and there are a few which are very positive, the majority of reviews seem to lie somewhere in-between those two extremes.

For All Mankind appears the best-received Apple series, with Dickinson perhaps the second most-praised; however, that may be due to the added pressure placed on The Morning Show and See as Apple’s top two draws. Though many reviewers found things to praise about each show, such as Jennifer Aniston’s strong performance in The Morning Show, and the incredible visuals of See, the majority of their critical emphasis was on the ways these series fail to live up to high expectations.

One common note struck by reviewers is that with most Apple TV+ shows, only three episodes per series were provided for review, which made it difficult to adequately evaluate each first season. Perhaps tellingly, For All Mankind had the most episodes screened for critics, and it’s the most-praised show.

Below is a roundup of excerpts from various reviews that help provide a good overview of what to expect from Apple’s first original series.

The Morning Show

Daniel Fienberg, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, found the first two episodes uneven, but things look up in the third:

The third episode points to a series in which Aniston, Witherspoon and Crudup could make this backdrop fun to watch. But for what is allegedly one of the most expensive shows in TV history, and for what is certainly a pivotal show in the burgeoning Streaming Wars, one out of three isn’t good enough for a recommendation yet.

Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone agrees that things pick up with episode three, so it will be interesting to see if that upward trend continues in future episodes. His ultimate takeaway though is not so hopeful:

[Apple] may think its stories are different than everyone else’s, but they aren’t. Nor are they told well enough to make up for that. The show, and the service, don’t need to exist, and thus far aren’t justifying that existence.

Amy Amatangelo of Paste Magazine strikes a similar note, concluding that “fine” isn’t good enough for the hype a name like Apple brings:

Apple has made itself almost indispensable in our daily lives. The company did this by coming up with new innovative products that we didn’t even know we needed, but quickly realized we couldn’t live without. 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.

Adam Chitwood of Collider, on the other hand, thinks Apple did what it needed to with its flagship series:

It’s impossible to talk about The Morning Show without also considering how “important” this series is to its streaming home. It’s the star-studded flagship for the launch of Apple TV+, a brand new streaming service from the tech giant responsible for changing how the world uses cell phones. It’s what House of Cards was to Netflix, and what The Mandalorian will be to Disney+…It’s a big deal, and Apple TV+ is treating it as such. So, then, was the hullabaloo all worth it? Is The Morning Show actually any good? Well yeah, actually. It’s not a bad addition to the onslaught of “prestige TV.”

See

Daniel D’Addario remarks for Variety that the show is all over the place in narrative and mythos:

Spiraling away from narrative control as its first three episodes unreel, this series, about a post-apocalyptic future in which nearly everyone is blind, wastes the time of Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard, among others, on a story that starts from a position of fun, giddy strangeness and drags itself forward at a lugubrious pace. Source material would have provided structure (which many original properties have, but this one certainly does not). It also might have provided a control of tone. Knight, director/EP Francis Lawrence, and showrunner Dan Shotz have made a show whose elaborate look and grave tone aim for “Game of Thrones” but whose content is lower of brow and, sadly, of quality.

Collider’s Haleigh Foutch, by contrast, was far more impressed:

Apple TV+ made just three episodes of See available to the press for review, which isn’t a lot to judge a new series by, but it was certainly enough to get this viewer hooked. It’s obvious the series is striving to fill the high-fantasy drama space left by Game of Thrones (and it’s got a Momoa-sized head start on that count,) but even if can’t quite match that calibre yet, it’s on its way to building a vast fantasy world all its own. Out of everything in their first-wave lineup, See is the series I could see myself throwing down the cost of another monthly subscription for. It’s compelling and immersive, promising a sci-fi/fantasy epic that will span a generational tale, filled with impressive battle scenes and a dystopian future world that’s rendered with a visually spectacular cinematic production value that gives the whole world a massive sense of scope.

It’s also downright weird and goofy at times, deliciously so, sometimes bordering on campy and giddily dipping a toe right over the line in the midst of the high-concept drama, giving See that singular quality a show needs to stand out in the era of Peak TV and the streaming wars. That flourish of high camp in the peak of prestige fantasy won’t be for everyone, but it definitely worked for me.

Paste Magazine’s Allison Shoemaker was clearly one of those viewers turned off by the show’s “high camp”:

It is deeply, inescapably, and not even all that enjoyably ridiculous…It shares a certain level of excess and imbalance with Amazon’s silly, shallow fantasy epic Carnival Row in that there’s endless detail about the world and Scrooge McDuck-like vats of money through which the show can swim, but start to pick it apart with any level of scrutiny and it crumbles into dust.

For All Mankind

Jacob Oller’s review for Paste Magazine offers one of the strongest critical endorsements I’ve seen for an Apple show:

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+.

Caroline Framke writes for Variety with a similarly positive take:

Of the original series launching Apple’s streaming TV service Monday, “For All Mankind” is by far the strongest, especially because it makes the most of its budget and subsequent capacity to dream a bit bigger than most. Its production and costume design evolve to fit the changing times, and its handsome direction shines brightest in space. The writing has some shaggy tendencies, as could probably be expected of a show this ambitious. It occasionally entertains a few wry winks to the strange new historical possibilities on this hypothetical timeline, and even indulges in some distracting fictional Nixon tapes revealing the depths to which he might have gone to save face. For the most part, though, it makes the smarter choice to keep the drama as grounded in character choices as possible, with some key overarching “what if?” scenarios that keep the season moving toward a bold new future.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman was not as enthused, but his review’s summary line still sets a positive tone while not ignoring what’s off about the series:

The Apple TV+ series is a solid effort at epic, alternate-history storytelling, but feels a bit derivative and moves too slowly.

Dickinson

Libby Hill of IndieWire found a lot to like about the series, but warns that you shouldn’t expect a biopic-style portrayal of the title character:

To best enjoy the new Apple TV+ series “Dickinson,” you need to disabuse yourself of the notion that it has anything to do with posthumous poetry goddess and all-around depressive Emily Dickinson. That’s the only way you’ll be able to wrap your head around the anachronistic half-hour comedy from Alena Smith, dedicated to rebranding the poet as a rebellious #teen who never met a rule she couldn’t break.

Caroline Framke of Variety also enjoyed the series, but wasn’t shy about pointing out its genre-confusion issue:

For all the big creative swings the new Apple TV Plus series takes, it feels suspended between several different approaches without committing to a single one. It’s not a comedy, nor a drama, nor even quite a “dramedy.” It’s at least adjacent to a teen show in the vein of a high school series you might find on the CW, until it’s not. It’s not parody, nor entirely sincere.
[…]
Given the show’s scattered narrative and stylistic approach to Emily’s life and work, its biggest strength by a long shot is its star. Steinfeld’s Emily is a close cousin of her “Edge of Seventeen” character, who was also furious and intelligent beyond her years (and, coincidentally, also almost definitely in love with her best friend who goes on to date her older brother). “Furious and intelligent” is a space in which Steinfeld, somehow still an underrated actor despite her early Oscar nomination for “True Grit,” excels. Even when the show around her starts to crumble under its own ambitious weight, Steinfeld usually finds a way to carry it.

Allie Gemmill of Collider was impressed by how downright fun and entertaining the show is:

Having seen the first three episodes of Dickinson for this review, I can confidently tell you this show is a ray of light. The half-hour series is very much cut from the same cloth as the teen dramas populating Freeform and The CW with tinges of HBO’s Euphoria, all filtered through the same anachronistic lens that gave us 2006’s Marie Antoinette. And yet, despite these similarities, it’s clear that series creator and writer Alena Smith is confident in the take she has for telling a fictionalized version of Dickinson’s teenage years.

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