In the crowded streaming platform space, Apple TV+ sets a high bar for original content in English
The most impressive aspect of Apple TV+ ’s original content library is the diversity of voices and faces featured in them.
These post-pandemic times may be depressing, but it’s certainly boom time for streaming platforms of all shapes and sizes. Then again, what better time to discover the stories of people from across the world – people like us and people unlike us; people who’ve oppressed us and people who we oppress – than this time of collective sequestration?
There is, of course, the problem of too much choice. When billion-dollar studios are pumping in money to create binge TV and tentpole blockbusters – in the theme-park aesthetic, one might add – even a single platform out of, say, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ Hotstar, has a generation’s worth of content for an individual to consume.
Personally, I go to Netflix for original content in non-English foreign languages (brains are still scrambled after Dark, Resurrection: Ertuğrul is my new bae, and these don’t even equate to the visible eighth of the iceberg, so to speak); to Amazon Prime for some of the best Indian originals out there (who would have thought); and to Disney+ for my amusement ride fix (recently finished my Xth re-watch of the Star Wars reboot).
Not to mention all those other options available for individual bits of great content. (Special mention to Mubi for its great selection of classic ‘world movies’, and for the interface that’s a sheer joy to even merely browse through.)
Surprisingly enough, though, as far as English language original content is concerned, one of the most interesting selections of original titles belongs to the behemoth that has put a billion and a half devices in people’s hands across the globe (or so they say).
One may have wondered why Apple would want to get into the original content space, but the fact is that with that kind of reach and access, why not? After all, more people seem to be making big bucks out of the art of visual storytelling than should be legally allowed, and Apple is known to make the biggest bucks of them all.
Yet, with the launch of Apple TV+ in November 2019, the Silicon Valley tech giant made a statement with some serious implications. With big ticket names attached to their various productions, Apple TV+ started with a modest three-show lineup on day one of launch, to around 20 today, eight months later. And there’s the promise of more to follow.
The Morning Show, with that impressive star cast (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and we don’t need anyone else) was a no-brainer when it came to sampling what Apple had to offer, but truth be told, after that first show I haven’t stopped picking up the others in their ever-expanding lineup, and I haven’t come across one that’s been a waste of my time yet. (The Morning Show itself is frivolous yet relevant and good fun!)
Then there’s Defending Jacob, starring Chris Evans as an assistant district attorney in a suburban city, who, along with his wife (played by Michelle Dockery), has to defend their teenaged son who is accused of murder. A gently-paced, dramatic take on trust within families, the show is a must-watch simply to see Evans chip away at that Captain America image that he must find so hard to shake off.
If science fiction and alt-history are your thing, then For All Mankind has to make it to your watch list. A story with a great revisionist setting – Russia puts a man on the moon before America, and the space race is thus, still on – it takes a great idea and makes it engaging. If dystopian dramas set in the distant future are your thing (or you’re feeling some Game of Thrones season one nostalgia), then the Jason Momoa-starrer See might do the trick for you – it’s set in a time when humankind has lost its sense of sight, and then, twins who can see are born.
Truth Be Told, starring Octavia Spencer, Lizzy Kaplan and Aaron Paul, is set in the world of true crime podcasts. Moody, slow-burning, and more about the erosion of personal and private spaces than about podcasts per se, the show is worth a watch mainly for Spencer’s turn as a podcaster with a grey conscience.
But more than anything else, the most impressive aspect of Apple’s original content library is the diversity of voices and faces featured in them.
It almost seems like inclusiveness is hardcoded into the DNA of the studio division at Cupertino. (Netflix may well stake its own claim to be the leader in the diversity area, and that’s the kind of competition there should be more of.)
Little America, easily one of the best Apple TV+ titles currently, is a triumphant look at immigrant stories in America, an anthology series that’s truly worth your time. The immigrants featured in the various segments come from all continents, to the all-too-familiar glittering land of aspiration, and the stories are truly heartfelt.
Apart from the shows, even the original movies keep up the effort at showcasing stories with non-white leads characters. The Banker is a dramatised take on a tiny cool slice of Black history, starring Samuel L Jackson and Anthony Mackie. Hala, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, has a Muslim teenaged girl as the central character. (I haven’t watched this one yet, but it certainly seems like something I’d love to pick up some time.)
And for some true diversity, The Elephant Queen is a documentary feature that follows an actual family of elephants in Africa. (In fact, the selection of non-fiction titles on Apple TV+ deserves a whole other piece.)
I’ve watched and liked enough on the platform to be excited by some of the other titles that I’m yet to explore – the horror series Servant, executive produced by M Night Shyamalan among others; Dickinson starring the talented Hailee Steinfeld in the title role of poet and rebel Emily Dickinson; Trying, a comedy about a family trying to adopt; and even Amazing Stories, an anthology series exec-produced by some top names, Steven Spielberg being one of them.
Fair warning, I watch it all. Still, Apple TV+ has a collection that intrigues even when I’m simply browsing through it. The limited number on display is actually a boon, because the choices are just easier to make. Add that to the high bar for production quality and choice of stories that the platform has set, and you get content that will, for the most, not let you down. (The relatively low subscription cost is a bonus.)
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