Two decades ago, Apple was in the midst of its “Think Different” campaign, an apt slogan for a company that has upended the tech world—and the entertainment industry—time and again with new offerings like the iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad.
But Apple’s latest product—the subscription streaming service Apple TV+, which launched today in more than 100 countries—marks a surprising stumble for a company that has been on the cutting edge of innovation for so long. At least in its initial iteration, Apple TV+ not only doesn’t improve on its streaming rivals, but it doesn’t yet come close to measuring up to any of them.
The service costs $5 a month, following a seven-day free trial. But unless you’ve purchased a new Apple product (including iPhones, iPads or Macs) since September, and therefore qualify for a free one-year subscription, Apple TV+ has yet to make a case for why it’s worth your money.
Apple TV+ bills itself as “the first all-original video subscription service,” but that’s a major drawback instead of being an advantage. Because the service doesn’t have any library content—no TV series or movies, which comprise the bulk of most SVOD services (CBS All Access, which is just $1 more a month than Apple TV+, features 12,000 episodes and movies)—that means its success is squarely on the shoulders of its original content.
What’s available on Apple TV+ for launch day
At launch, Apple TV+ includes four series for adults (The Morning Show, See, Dickinson and For All Mankind), a documentary (The Elephant Queen), three kids shows (Helpsters, Ghostwriter and Snoopy in Space) and the return of Oprah’s Book Club.
Despite some big names (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey), those original scripted entries are a decidedly mixed bag.
Apple TV+’s biggest disappointment is its flagship series, The Morning Show, a drama starring Aniston as a morning broadcast news show co-host who is picking up the pieces after her co-host of 15 years (Steve Carell) is fired for sexual misconduct. Witherspoon plays a conservative correspondent for a regional news network who gains national attention at the same time when her outburst while covering a coal mine project goes viral.
Landing Aniston for her first TV series since Friends was a coup, and she’s terrific here, but The Morning Show squanders her and Witherspoon as it fails to find anything new to say about morning news or #MeToo. The third of the three episodes available today at launch (the rest of the season will be released weekly), which brings Aniston and Witherspoon’s storylines closer together, is an improvement, but The Morning Show—which is brimming with potential—is still struggling to find its way, and isn’t yet the kind of top-shelf series that Apple desperately wants it to be.
Dickinson, a comedy that incorporates modern music and language in its look at rebellious teenage poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) coming of age in the 19th century, is similarly all over the map. The series has some interesting flourishes, including in the way her poetry is interwoven into the storyline, and there’s an intriguing pairing with Dickinson and her true love, Death (played by Wiz Khalifa), but it only occasionally gels.
The drama For All Mankind, set in an alternate timeline in which Russia, not the U.S., wins the race to the moon, is the best of the early bunch, though its lead characters don’t seem dynamic enough to carry the series. But its third episode, which sidelines most of the main characters to focus on a group of female pilots vying to become the first female U.S. astronaut, is the strongest single episode available today on the service.