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.

Unorthodox (Netflix) and Come to Daddy (Umbrella On Demand)

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Based on a memoir by Deborah Feldman, Netflix’s four part series Unorthodox is mostly compelling and occasionally frustrating. Newcomer and breakout star Shira Haas plays Esty (short for Esther), a young married woman who flees her orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn for Berlin, where her mother, who similarly escaped the ultra-conservative sect years before, lives. As she discovers a world outside the rigid confines of her own, her husband and his ne’er-do-well cousin are dispatched to bring her home.

There are a couple of time frames going on; besides Esty’s escape, we get flashbacks of her betrothal to her husband and her gradual disillusionment with her community. Those scenes are excellent, as are all the Brooklyn sequences, and very well acted – in Yiddish – by actors who certainly feel authentic to this highly specific milieu (they’re mostly from Israel). However, the Berlin scenes are far less convincing, with a lot of on-the-nose dialogue and performances.

This is intriguing stuff that rests tremendously on Haas’s tiny shoulders; she bears the burden with electric intensity. It’s refreshing to watch a show like this with an entire cast of ‘unknowns’ (outside of Israel, anyway) led by such a good one. She won’t be unknown for long.

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Like Harry Pott— oops, sorry — like Daniel Radcliffe, Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings) has spent his post-blockbuster-franchise life looking for weird. He finds it in spades with Ant Timpson’s Come To Daddy, a black comedy that’s blacker than most. Timpson is a New Zealander and this is his feature directorial debut, but he’s got a strong and truly eccentric list of other credits, particularly as a producer (Turbo Kid, The ABCs of Death) and as the founder of The Incredibly Strange Film Festival, which has been going since 1994. He’s clearly into weird cinema, and with Come to Daddy, he’s effectively made exactly the kind of film he likes to program at his own festival.

Indeed, it’s plainly apparent that his deep experience with freaky-film audiences highly informs his film. Come To Daddy seems literally made to be enjoyed as a late-night festival screening for a packed house; it has a number of moments designed (rather expertly) to elicit that contagious panicky giggling, partner’s arm-grabbing, oh-my-god-what-are-we-seeing? discomforted laughter wave. It’ll play differently in isolation on your device, but if you’re a fan of this type of film, you’ll appreciate those moments even as you wish you were sharing them with a half-drunk raucous audience of young festival hounds, the type who seek out Incredibly Strange every year at the New Zealand International Film Festival. (At the Sydney Film Festival, the similar sidebar is called Freak Me Out.)

Wood plays a thirty-five year old Beverly Hills music-industry wannabe who is summonsed to see his father – who deserted him and his mother when he was five – at his gorgeous remote coastal home. When he arrives he finds an abusive, alcoholic wreck of a man, but that’s just the set-up. As befits this quite specific sub-genre, a lot of crazy shit goes down. Timpson has a lot of surprises up his sleeve; one of them is very, very clever.

This is an unashamedly violent film, but never against women, and always in the spirit of the genre, which isn’t horror, nor comedy; black comedy is technically correct, but in spirit and intention, the best descriptor of all would be midnight movie. Intriguingly, it was shot on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada, with money from New Zealand, Canada and Ireland. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster, and not without wit and ghoulish charm. * * *

Come To Daddy is available to stream at https://www.umbrellaentfilms.com.au/movie/come-to-daddy/

Unorthodox is currently streaming on Netflix.