Two years on: The very best of Apple TV+ | Cult of Mac

Two years 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 on November 1, 2019, Cupertino had its sights set on creating a serious Netflix rival. Two year on, it may not have conquered the world like fellow streaming newcomer Disney+ did. But Apple TV+ continues to deliver a stream of top-notch shows — and some must-see movies.

With dozens of series and more than 20 feature films, where should you start? Here’s our guide to the best shows and movies on Apple TV+, in no particular order.

Best Apple TV+ shows and movies

Servant

Some of the joy that comes from covering Apple TV+’s original programming is the absolute slingshot effect of putting on a show or a movie I’ve heard nothing about and experiencing either the greatest or the worst thing I’m going to see that month. You’re just going about your day, and suddenly you’re watching a nude, pink Joseph Gordon-Levitt drumming on his body, a prelude to the worst season of television I’ve ever seen.

Other times you put on Servant, which you only know as the show produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and you’re in trash TV heaven. A series about a couple coming unhinged after the loss of their infant son, Servant is the only real argument I have for people considering getting an Apple TV+ subscription.

Everything about Servant is either perfect or perfectly off. The photography is diamond-cut, pure icy perfection. Each performance is stranger and more interesting than the last; no one seems exactly human on this show, which means that you’re constantly blindsided by performance choices.

It’s the best kind of crazy and I love it with my whole heart. There have been great things on Apple TV+ — Foundation, The Mosquito Coast, Dickinson on some days — but Servant is the one I most look forward to. Season 3 premieres on January 21, 2022. — Scout Tafoya

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Servant on Apple TV+

Foundation

Apple TV+’s adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books is ambitious and visually stunning. The acting is top-notch, too. It’s well worth your time to try this sci-fi series about the fall of a galactic empire and efforts to create a replacement.

Granted, the new show takes a few episodes to get rolling. But don’t give up because it’s a bit slow at first. It gets better. The biggest challenge Foundation faces is breaking a sprawling galactic epic into something watchable. (Dune suffers from the same problem.) But the new Apple TV+ series is succeeding. — Ed Hardy

Rated: TV-14

Watch: Foundation on Apple TV+

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 an American 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 ended on a (spoiler) bittersweet note, but in doing so perfectly set up season two. And now we’re looking at a third season of unbridled optimism after that. Ted Lasso is a show you definitely should add to your Watch Now list to turn that frown upside down. — Luke Dormehl

Rated: TV-MA

Watch: Ted Lasso on Apple TV+

The Snoopy Show

With nearly two dozen entries in its “Family Fun” section, Apple TV+ offers an ever-growing collection of children’s programs. The standout is The Snoopy Show. Rather than being a secondary character in the Peanuts gang, Charlie Brown’s beagle — along with his feathered friend Woodstock — are front and center in this series.

The show doesn’t have the same tone as the classic Peanuts specials. It’s not about dealing with failure. Snoopy and his friends are having lighthearted fun as they go sledding, mountain climbing, ballet dancing, cooking, scuba diving … and much more.

The Snoopy Show is for kids, but adults can also enjoy it as a welcome break from the stresses of life. — Ed Hardy

Rated: TV-G

Watch: The Snoopy Show 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. Both short seasons of this nature doc blitz you with 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+

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 ’60s/’70s stylings and complex workplace dynamics, the first season of For All Mankind felt a bit like Mad Men in space. Season 2 jumped to the ’80s, and season 3 promises to get more “sci-fi” as it edges closer to the present era.

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. — 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.

And season two is actually better than season one. The actors and show writers really found their footing with these characters, and the second season proves both funnier and more touching. We can look forward to much more, as Apple TV+ picked up the show for two more seasons. — 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+

Schmigadoon

Life has been tough for the past year or so. If you need something to cheer you up, let me recommend Schmigadoon. If you get the joke in the show’s title, you’ll probably love it. The series is both a parody of movie musicals of the past and a loving homage to them.

If you’re a bit young to get the references to Oklahoma, Carousel, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and many more, you can still enjoy people clearly having a wonderful time singing and dancing.

Take a break from the usual run of gritty TV and give Schmigadoon a try. — Ed Hardy

Rated: TV-14

Watch: Schmigadoon 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+

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+

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.

Editor’s note: We originally published this roundup on Nov. 6, 2020. We updated it to include new Apple TV+ shows.