Carpool Karaoke reviews highlight what’s wrong with Apple’s original shows

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Carpool Karaoke hasn't been the smash hit Apple may have hoped for.
Photo: Apple Music

Apple is 0-2 when it comes to critical acclaim for its original series, after early reviews for its Carpool Karaoke spinoff show have been largely negative. The show debuted this week for Apple Music subscribers.

While it’s still early days for Apple’s original content, between this and Planet of the Apps, things aren’t exactly looking good!

Missing some serious charm

Variety‘s review notes that Carpool Karaoke:

“Always had a bit of overenthusiasm for celebrity; the viewer is invited into a private hangout but can’t participate, as notable names and famous faces joke and sing with each other. This is unfortunate, because at its most successful, Carpool Karaoke makes its participants unassuming and even relatable. Adele busting out Nicki Minaj’s verse in Kanye West’s “Monster” makes even her — a multi-platinum pop diva — as familiar as the next person in line at the drive-thru. In the premiere of the Apple Music show, Will Smith decides to skip out on traffic by directing Corden to a private helicopter. Carpool Karaoke on Apple Music is just another unscripted series about famous people with varying degrees of talent, in scenarios that are partly choreographed and partly staged.”

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper doesn’t mince words, either.

“Judging by the first episode and what’s teased later in the series, this is less about getting a revealing interview out of someone who may otherwise seem distant, and more about bowing down to the power of celebrity. Will Smith, who stars in the first episode, isn’t there to have a conversation with Corden. He’s there to perform. There’s a full marching band to accompany Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It. Smith crashes a wedding, and takes Corden up in a helicopter to avoid traffic. The original usually has a funny moment when the guest pokes their head out of the car window and interacts with a surprised member of the public; there’s little danger of such spontaneity here.”

TechCrunch seemingly isn’t enamored either:

Carpool Karaoke: The Series answers the question no one but a few network executives dared ask: what if the premise were stretched to 20 minutes and served up for 20 straight episodes? They gave Triumph the Insult Comic Dog his own show, too, and not even Kenneth from 30 Rock could save it. Turns out the only thing it was good for was for American to poop on.”

The show follows on from Planet of the Apps, Apple’s attempt to turn iOS development into the equivalent of cooking a meal, baking a cake, or singing to score a record contract: all of which have formed the basis of lucrative — and lasting — reality TV shows.

The opposite of cool

Interestingly, Planet was slammed for similar reasons. While both ideas have the potential to take users closer to, respectively, the world of app development (something Apple is keen to push, particularly in parts of the world where it desperately wants to expand) and our favorite celebrities, they come up short.

Just like its carefully managed App Store, and the meticulously rehearsed Apple keynotes, Apple’s original TV shows are polished in a way that highlights the artifice of it all.

It’s a shame because, go far enough back, and Apple’s relatability was one of its main selling points. It may have had celebrities in its ads, but they were often genuine fans — and the whole thing never felt like a corporate attempt to capture coolness in a bottle as the fuddy-duddy likes of Microsoft would do.

It’s way too early to write Apple’s original programming off, of course. Apple recently hired a pair of former Sony execs who helped bring to the screen shows including AMC’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and Netflix’s The Crown. But just like Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats, which seemed like the first time Apple had tried to buy itself a cool factor instead of innovating, its original programming so far has made Apple look… well, tragically un-hip.

Yes, you are competing with Netflix

By comparison, within its first year of launching original programming (with 2013’s House of Cards), Netflix racked up 14 Emmy Award nominations.

Apple execs say the company’s not trying to compete with Amazon and Netflix, but the fact that all three are tech giants making original TV means that they will nonetheless be compared. Ultimately, the business model is the same: making shows people will want to watch in order to sell subscriptions to a service.

However, where House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood doesn’t occasionally stop scheming to talk about how great Netflix is, right now all of Apple’s shows are designed as thinly-veiled infomercials for its own products. And people have a tendency to want to fast-forward through ads.

Come on, Apple, you’re better than this!