Three Shows On Apple TV+

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Depending on your relationship with Apple and its products, you may be offered a free trial for Apple TV+, its streaming content service. Buy a new device, get a free year. Otherwise, you can get a seven day free trial, which, given the relative paucity of product, should be plenty of time for you to decide whether you want to keep going at $7.99 a month.

I reviewed Morning Wars when the service dropped last year, but I caught up on a few more titles. The one I was most excited about, and which led to me dipping back into the service for review, was Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, which is not a Game of Thrones clone nor a similar fantasy adventure but rather a half-hour sitcom set at a Silicon Valley video game company whose massively successful feature product is called Mythic Quest, which, in the first episode, launches an update called Raven’s Banquet, giving the show its unwieldy title. My high hopes were lashed to the pedigree of the creators: Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney are two of the lads from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which, for fourteen years, has been one of the freshest American sitcoms of this millennium.

Alas, those hopes were dashed. Where It’s Always Sunny is gritty, bold, hand-sewn and relentlessly provocative, the new show is timid, sanitised, safe and clean. It feels like American network TV. The jokes are sub-par, the characters shallow echoes of types we’ve seen far too often, and the acting – except for McElhenney himself, who adequately plays the game’s conceited creator – too hammy, too sit-commy. It’s an astonishingly conservative play from a couple of the baddest boys of American comedy.

Elsewhere, Home is Apple’s very glossy take on architecture porn. From the very clean white font of the title card, surely designed by Sir Jony Ive, to the endlessly perfect drone shots and relentlessly comforting milquetoast new-agey muzak, this is Apple-tooled precision all the way, gleaming and seductive and desperate to please. I watched two episodes, one about a stunning eco-house in Austin, Texas, and the other a truly obsessional transformative apartment in Hong Kong, and while both featured all the smooth adoring camerawork this genre demands (look at those custom-made hinges!) along with deep dives into the minds and methods of the domiciles’ creators, both outstayed their welcome – at half an hour. Unlike, say, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, which features the delightful interplay of architect Piers Taylor and daffy actress Caroline Quentin, Apple’s entry has decided to defy the genre’s convention – to have a host or hosts – which proves to be a mistake. Like the Tin Woodman, the show desperately wants to have a heart, but doesn’t.

What does have a heart – a big one – is Snoopy In Space, which by its very existence shows you how strange the Apple TV+ line-up is. This is an eight-minute, twelve-episode animated adventure for kids that directly positions itself within the existing animated Peanuts universe: the animation style, voice-work and, vitally, the music all echo, admirably precisely, the tone and feel of the classic TV specials and the many cinematic and television outings since. You won’t get the melancholic, existential musings that the strips, and the best of the animated works, provide; instead, there is a healthy focus on the science of space travel (the show was developed in partnership with NASA). How very Apple. And how very delightful.

Morning Wars / The Morning Show

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I can’t care for any of the characters in the pilot episode of Morning Wars (aka The Morning Show in the US), the ‘flagship’, and very expensive, piece of content being used to promote Apple’s new ‘TV +’ streaming service / portal / all-inclusive lifestyle product. The protagonist, Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Aniston in a heavily promoted ‘return to television’ for what is rumoured to be a jaw-droppingly gargantuan sum of money, is a host for the most successful morning show on American free-to-air television who has been making jaw-droppingly gargantuan sums of money for fifteen years in the position, and is now deeply upset that her show’s ratings may wobble because her co-host, Mitch, played by Steve Carell (to similar promotion) has been canned because he’s been sleeping with production assistants, make-up girls and sundry other young women who’ve dropped by the Morning Show set.

The pilot’s set-piece is Alex having to deliver the news of Mitch’s firing; it is, essentially, a dramatic recreation of the morning Savannah Guthrie announced Matt Lauer’s firing from the Today show on NBC on November 29th, 2019. Reading Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill will provide a far more gripping take on that incident, and watching the actual video is frankly more – weirdly – gripping than Aniston’s portrayal. (Here it is: Matt Lauer Gets Canned)

So, in a show constructed around a man’s potential sexual assaults – including possible rapes – at his workplace, we’re examining the effect not on his victims but on his gazillionaire co-host and, most off-puttingly, himself, and, let’s face it, he’s not such a bad guy, at least in Carell’s hands. Meanwhile, a conservative Journalist With a Capital J is discovered screaming at a coal-mine protester in some hick part of the country, flown to the Morning Show set, and stands her ground against Alex, paving the way for her to become the new co-host (and All About Eve-style threat). She’s played by Reese Witherspoon, so there’s another angle, and another pile of millions effortlessly sluicing from Cupertino to Beverley Hills.

HBO’s Succession has ludicrously wealthy characters based on real people, but their crimes aren’t white-washed, and there is satire and true, incisive skewering. The writing and direction on Morning Wars have no such bite, and the characters are less compelling – and, it looks like, less actually bad – than their real-life counterparts. This is TV about the 1% made by the 1% and produced by the ultimate 1% company, and it’s simply less interesting than the true story that it’s ripping off.