Apple TV+ and its shows

The Anguish of Streaming and Apple TV+

Some time last year, I decided to turn my back on streaming services — Netflix and Disney+ in my case. There were two main reasons.

Reason one: The quality of the offering was no longer the same. What had drawn me to Netflix back in 2012 (!) was that they allowed me to watch good english-language films and shows easily. Living in Italy at the time, I was very busy and simply couldn’t find the time to figure out how to access English originals in Milan. Then I started to enjoy some of the original and very ambitious productions that only Netflix had — like House of Cards. Season one of that show was wonderful.

Disney+ got me a lot later with Star Wars. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the original trilogy and was hoping the TV shows could potentially be more enjoyable than the horrible Star Wars films Disney had put out (with the exception of Rogue One).

While the quality of Netflix’ own production — or at least of what I saw — continually declined, they also showed less and less of the more interesting films and shows from other companies. That’s because those companies were also starting streaming services, of course, and did not want to license their films to Netflix anymore.

And Disney+ and Star Wars … well, that debacle fills the Internet, and I have hardly anything to add. Maybe just this: I somewhat enjoyed The Mandalorian Season 1 and I was quite fond of Andor Season 1. Let us stay silent about all the rest. There were a few other fun shows on Disney+ (The Old Man, or Stumptown, for example). And their back catalogue from their acquisition of 20th Century Fox is incredible. But I somehow did not want to pay for this anymore.

Which also had a lot to do with the other reason: the paradox of choice. More and more frequently, I found myself zapping into this film, and then zooming into that other show, from Netflix to Disney+ and back again, never settling for anything, and finally going to bed frustrated. I was not only tired of this — I also realised that I was wasting precious hours of my life that way, hours I could be spending watching really good films that exist elsewhere: New ones that are being made now, and the endless piles of good stuff that have been made over the years and that I’ve never seen.

So I bought a premium subscription with a local cinema chain and another subscription with what may be the last remaining “videotèque” in all of Berlin — the amazing Videodrom. And that went well for about three to four months. Until I had to buy a new (refurbished) iPhone. My old iPhone 7 simply wasn’t doing it anymore. And this new phone cheerfully told me:

“Hey, here’s three months with Apple TV+ for free, included with this phone.”

My new refurbished iPhone, innocently.

Well … one evening, I gave in, jumped in, and began to watch — of all things — Monarch, Legacy of Monsters. I just wanted to watch some silly monster entertainment on my iPad. That’s innocent, right? Well, not really. First of all, that show was an absolute disappointment. Pretty much every episode of the first season had situations and scenes in which characters do absolutely inexplicable things, make the weirdest choices, behave in the strangest of ways. At some point I had to stop watching because it was simply too absurd. Yes, silly entertainment is fine, but when it’s absolutely brainless, I cannot stomach it.

So I was just about to sign off again when I realised that Ted Lasso is also on Apple TV+. I had heard about it, knew that there was something special about it, but not much more. I was intrigued and started watching.

I absolutely, totally loved it!

The show is the most unlikeliest of things! The premise sounds like a really stupid comedy idea that couldn’t possibly be good — and then it is: Some middle-range US football coach gets hired in the UK to manage a football team (real football, what Americans call ‘soccer’) somewhere in London. Right, a fish out of water kind of deal, and predictably, hilarity of the silliest kind will ensue, right? No! The show manages to be incredibly entertaining and heart-warming while it explores issues of masculinity, camaraderie, friendship, relationships between men and women both platonic and romantic, loyalty, culture shock and lots more. And it probably did more to get Americans interested in football than the US world cup did, back in the day. The show is really fun, I cannot recommend it enough. Sure, it has some weaknesses — the storytelling seems a bit all over the place sometimes, and their stance on some of these issues is a bit wobbly. Well, nobody is perfect and this show is close enough to perfection to merit all the accolades it has won — just have a look at this insane list. (Check out the Pop Culture Detective Podcast for an in-depth discussion of seasons 1 and season 2.)

Ok. So, now I was on Apple TV+.

But after three seasons there was no more Ted Lasso left to watch. Now what? My next fix was Silo. I had never heard about it. But Rebecca Ferguson is the star of the show, I quite like her as an actress. So, I went for that one. Again, I was very positively surprised. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to so much underground darkness and dystopia. But the story and the characters and the mystery of that 140-story deep underground world became so intriguing and so much fun that I had to keep going. I did not regret it, it was exciting and I cannot wait for season 2 to come out.

At this point, we had two out of three. Not bad.

Next I moved to Foundation. That one is a mixed bag. The ambition and scope of the show are incredible. It’s world-building is vast — not only in terms of the galaxy that people inhabit, but also in terms of the time span: The story covers several hundred years. But it does it in a slightly cheeky way. A few of the central characters re-appear because they are either being cloned and re-created, or they spend decades in containers that keep them sleeping but alive, or they create holograms of themselves that can continue to exist. Parts of the story are really interesting — the central conflict is between a galactic empire and a counter movement that tries to win over more and more planets and take over from the empire. A religious cult around a visionary mathematician who foresees the downfall of the empire plays a major role. And there are lots of interesting characters some of whom have special abilities, and some of whom are just fun to watch. However, the show does lose me every now and again, when it stretches the imagination too far, or when events occur that seem to make little sense, or when the jumps between what was possible before and what becomes possible now seem too daring. In all of this ambition, some of the characters also appear more like puzzle pieces that need to be moved around, rather than fleshed out actual beings with a soul and dreams and things that they want. It’s all based on Isaac Asimov novels — his daughter is part of the team — and that may be one of the reasons why some of it is a bit too much to successfully put on the screen.

While I’m still in the middle of season two, I also started watching Severance. And it surprises me most because of who seems to be one of the driving forces behind this: Ben Stiller. If someone had told me that Ben Stiller would work on the other side of the camera, creating an innovative, dark, twisted sci-fi show around an absurd twist on capitalism, I would not have believed it. Yet here we are. Severance explores a sort of medical idea: Companies can sever off a section of the brain (hence the title of the show) where all the work-related memories live. As a result, the characters on the show live two completely separate lives — work-life and not-work life. In this show, work-life balance is made impossible because the two realms of our lives no longer connect, touch, interface. They have become two separate spheres that co-exist and only share a body. The company in the show is clearly using this separation in the minds of their employees to nefarious ends — but I haven’t found out what they are yet.

Now — what is my opinion of Apple TV+, then, at this stage? I think they are doing some things right. They seem to focus on quality over quantity. Which is great — it helps me not feel over-burdened by what to watch. And it allows them to aim for great results which I find commendable — even when it doesn’t quite work.

Of course — I have been going to the cinema less, and I have been renting from Videodrom less, because of it. If one could calculate a net result, I have probably been watching less quality than I could have watched had I hand-picked films from those two sources instead. Again, the curse of the convenience of streaming is very much alive in my life.

Let’s see for how long.


One response to “The Anguish of Streaming and Apple TV+”

  1. […] (This post seems to continue my reviews of films on Apple TV+, the start of which you can find here.) […]