One year on: The very best of Apple TV+

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Apple TV+ offers up some real gems.
Apple TV+ offers up some real gems.
Original photo: Paolo Chiabrando/Unsplash CC

When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019, Cupertino had its sights firmly set on creating a serious Netflix rival. One year on, it may not have conquered the world like fellow streaming newcomer Disney+ did. But in that time, Apple TV+ did deliver a stream of top-notch shows — and some must-see movies.

Where should you start? Here’s our guide to the best shows and movies Apple TV+.

Best Apple TV+ shows and movies

Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso did the impossible: It took a one-note character created for a 2013 NBC commercial, stretched it out to an entire series, and made it unmissable. There are plenty of great dramas on TV. We’re spoiled for them. But good comedies? Sure, there are a few, but they seem a whole lot rarer. Hence why everyone’s sticking to reruns of Friends, The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Ted Lasso, which stars Jason Sudeikis as a football coach given a job offer in England as the other kind of football coach, manages to be both hysterically funny and oddly touching. It’s less a show making fun of the finer points of soccer and more about a fundamentally good man trying to give hope to a team without any. The first season ends on a (spoiler) bittersweet note, but in doing so perfectly sets up season two. And a third season after that.

If 2020 hasn’t been your best year (and, unless you’re a Plexiglas and face mask manufacturer with a private island, it probably hasn’t been), Ted Lasso is a show you should add to your Watch Now list to turn that frown upside down. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Ted Lasso on Apple TV+

Servant

There was very little reason to think an M. Night Shyamalan series on Apple TV+ would be good. The Sixth Sense filmmaker has been gradually but diligently chipping away at his reputation for what seems like most of this century. A TV series for a fledgling video-on-demand service could have devolved into a mess of loose ends. Instead, Servant is genuinely creepy, unsettling and always compelling viewing.

It’s about a couple who, mourning the death of their baby son, replace with him a doll as part of a creepy grieving process. They then hire a nanny to look after him and, well, things get more unnerving from there. The lack of long-form horror genre TV series can partially be attributed to the challenge of stretching out a story while maintaining the right atmosphere. Servant’s pacing can occasionally falter, but it’s an impressive creation nonetheless. One to creep yourself out over as the winter nights draw in. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Servant on Apple TV+

Greyhound

Calling Tom Hanks’ World War II movie Greyhound an Apple TV+ production is kind of questionable. This was not a movie shepherded from start to finish by Apple TV+ execs, but rather one that Apple rescued from a watery grave when Sony Pictures decided not to screen it in theaters because of COVID-19. Nonetheless, most people don’t care about these kinds of minor production details. Greyhound is available exclusively on Apple TV+. Therefore, it’s an Apple TV+ production.

The movie tells the story of George Krause (Hanks), a U.S. naval officer in charge of a destroyer escort group defending a ship convoy under attack in the early days of America’s entry into WWII. At just 90 minutes, it’s surprisingly slight, but it’s a thrilling and tense experience while it lasts. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: PG-13

Watch: Greyhound on Apple TV+

Tiny World

If you enjoy nature documentaries, or just like staring at endlessly adorable animals, you’ll find Tiny World fascinating. This six-episode series gets in the fascinating faces of cute little creatures from around the world. Each episode focuses on a single place — the African savannah, the Australian Outback, a Caribbean island, etc. — and the diminutive denizens of that ecosystem.

The astonishing imagery in the shows, captured using extremely creative methods, is pure eye candy. Tiny World simply bursts with “how did they catch that on video?” moments. Judicious use of slow-mo and time-lapse footage, bolstered by a stirring soundtrack and some clever sound editing, keeps the show engaging. And upbeat narration by Paul “Ant-Man” Rudd keeps things upbeat even in the face of disaster.

The way the tiny birds, bugs, amphibians and mammals interact with their larger neighbors proves revelatory and exhilarating. Nature brims with brutality — especially when you’re the size of a sugar cube or a strand of spaghetti — but somehow Tiny World’s pint-size protagonists prevail amidst the perils around them. You’ll never look at dung beetles the same. — Lewis Wallace

Rated: TV-G

Watch: Tiny World on Apple TV+

The Morning Show

Apple hasn’t released viewership figures for Apple TV+. But, if it did, I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Morning Show leading the way. It was Apple TV+’s first big flagship, boasting performances from Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. The series follows the behind-the-scenes happenings of a morning news show.

From the light comedy stars to the setting, everything about the above description makes The Morning Show sound an entirely different animal from what it actually is. Rewritten to explore the themes of the #MeToo movement, it winds up being a far more substantial show than you might expect. Aniston is excellent, as is Billy Crudup as network exec Cory Ellison. (Crudup won an Emmy for his performance.) It’s a smart, nuanced show that set the tone for Apple TV+’s high-quality output. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: The Morning Show on Apple TV+

For All Mankind

For All Mankind comes with a giant hook of a premise: What if the Soviet Union landed on the moon before the United States? From that starting point, For All Mankind functions as a Cold War-era alternative space race drama. But it manages to be a lot more than just that.

With its vintage stylings and complex workplace dynamics, For All Mankind feels a bit like Mad Men in space. It’s a compelling show, filled with interesting ideas, and it manages to extend far beyond the mere strength of that original “what if” premise. Season two’s 1980s setting seems like it bears plenty of promise, too. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: For All Mankind on Apple TV+

Mythic Quest

Every gamer owes it to themselves to watch Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. A workplace comedy set at a game-development studio, the show features a completely off-kilter cast of characters. And it’s written with advice from game-developer Ubisoft, bringing in details so crazy that they have to come from real life.

But what really makes Mythic Quest enjoyable is that the characters are genuinely likable people. They’re narcissistic, neurotic, obsessive or sociopathic. But likable.

Halfway through the first season, a don’t-miss episode arrives. Anyone who’s ever had their favorite game franchise slowly turn into something they can’t recognize needs to watch “A Dark Quiet Death” (season 1, episode 5). What’s happening to the game is mirrored in the developers’ relationship going down the tubes, and it’s heartbreaking. Beautifully, brilliantly heartbreaking. — Ed Hardy

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Mythic Quest on Apple TV+

Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob serves up a disturbing look at a family in crisis. The stabbing death of a teenager lights the fuse, but the arrest of Jacob Barber, the son of a local district attorney, starts the miniseries’ moody slow burn.

With Jacob accused of the murder, the Barbers’ lives start to disintegrate. Locked down in their small New England town, they try to escape the prying eyes of the media and suspicious neighbors while father Andy (played by Chris Evans) tries to solve the case. Meanwhile, members of the Barber family must face down their own delusions.

At eight episodes, there’s plenty of time to tell the tale. But throughout, the storytelling is economical and the acting is solid. Yes, Defending Jacob is a crime/legal drama, but really it’s about the unraveling of trust and the devastation of lies — the ones we tell our loved ones, and the ones we tell ourselves. — Lewis Wallace

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Defending Jacob on Apple TV+

Tehran

A young spy arrives in Tehran from Israel, and is promptly recognized in the airport by someone she worked with previously. Immediately, all Tamar Rabinyan’s previous well-plotted plans immediately crumble, hurtling the rookie spy — and the Apple TV+ series — into twisty, hostile territory.

Tehrans pace doesn’t let up from there. The spy drama, originally produced for Israeli television before being snapped up by Apple, races through its eight-episode story. It’s incredibly compelling stuff that will appeal to anyone who watched Homeland at its height. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Tehran on Apple TV+

Little America

Life isn’t easy in Little America. The anthology series recounts eight unique stories of immigrants in America, all of them struggling with the complexities and nuances of American culture.

The series, inspired by real-life stories originally published in Epic Magazine, shares these immigrants’ experiences as they learn to navigate a very different life. From an undocumented student finding her happiness through sport to a Nigerian college student assimilating to life in Oklahoma, each episode leads you on an emotional journey.

At 30 minutes long, each episode of Little America wastes no time throwing you into the story. The episodes move quickly through the highs and lows of a life experienced by millions. With a second season in the works, you can count on the series to move, inspire and entertain. — Ian Fuchs

Rated: TV-14

Watch: Little America on Apple TV+

Available on Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is available for $4.99 per month. Alternatively, you can get one free year (although only one) if you buy a new iPhone, Mac, iPad or Apple TV. It’s additionally available through the newly launched Apple One subscription bundles.