Apple TV+’s programming slate seems like a crazily oscillating slate of highs and lows. But the highs thus far prove dizzying indeed.
Directors like M. Night Shyamalan, Rupert Wyatt and Kim Jee-Woon, writers like Min Jin Lee, Paul Theroux, Emily Dickinson and Isaac Asimov, high-concept premises and legendary ensembles all meet on Apple’s streaming service.
The result is a collection of art worth signing up for. On the fourth anniversary of the service’s launch, here’s a look at the best shows on Apple TV+.
The 15 best Apple TV+ shows
From mad science to misunderstood poets, basketball teams to programming companies, Apple TV+’s omnivorous taste has given us some of the greatest TV shows in the streaming landscape. Here are the 15 best shows to stream on Apple TV+.
Genre: Horror, drama
Watch if you like: Split, Brian De Palma movies, Rosemary’s Baby
M. Night Shyamalan and Tony Basgallop’s psychosexual odyssey Servant, about a wealthy and spiritually bankrupt Philadelphia family and the magical nanny who upends their lives, is the best show, pound for pound, on Apple TV+.
Dripping with menacing sensual energy and bizarro social dynamics, and directed by some of the sharpest visual stylists we have, Servant presents one uncanny sight and sequence after another. Spooky nanny Leanne (played by Nell Tiger Free) slowly learns about the forbidden world of men from her broken host family, as apocalyptic storm clouds gather over them.
Stream now: Servant on Apple TV+
Genre: Science-fiction, drama, horror
Watch if you like: Pulse, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, The Man From Nowhere
Genre director Kim Jee-Woon has given us horror, dystopia, Westerns, action films, wrestling movies and more, but he’s never done anything like his Apple TV+ series, Dr. Brain. It follows a smart but socially inept doctor still reeling from the loss of his wife, who lies in a coma after an accident that looked like suicide.
When he starts communicating with the dead, he uncovers a conspiracy involving his past, his dead child and the authorities that he’ll need all his wits to solve. Elegantly directed and hysterically written, this is some of a great artist’s most fun work.
Read our recap of the opener: Exciting sci-fi series Dr. Brain might be Apple TV+’s Squid Game
Genre: History, drama, romance
Watch if you like: The Handmaiden, Mrs. Miniver, Kazuo Ishiguro
Based on the book by Min Jin Lee and spearheaded by expert showrunner Soo Hugh, Pachinko is many things at once: a chronicle of modern Korean identity, a look at heartbreak and family, and a great showcase for its multigenerational cast.
Sunja (played at various times by the great Minha Kim, Youn Yuh-jung and Yu-na Jeon) serves as the show’s focal point. She’s a woman who survived tempestuous times, two men who had to abandon her for different reasons, and raised a family heading into an unknown future as she left behind pieces of herself to stay human. Pachinko’s aching history of cultural loss is as stirring as it is heartbreaking.
Read our recap of the opener: Pachinko will hook you from its opening credits
Stream now: Pachinko on Apple TV+
Genre: Science-fiction, drama
Watch if you like: Star Trek, Raised by Wolves, Firefly
Foundation got off to a bit of a rough start, but series creator/showrunner David S. Goyer may never have been better as a writer. After helping pen a bunch of Batman, Blade and Superman movies, he seemed less interested in what stories could be, but Foundation is a welcome course correction. In fact, it’s become one of the best sci-fi shows on Apple TV+.
This hugely ambitious, visually splendid Isaac Asimov adaptation tells the story of the dissolution of a galactic empire. Plus, it features some of Earth’s most interesting actors. Jared Harris and Lee Pace lead an ensemble of great performers who give their all to this story of faith in the impossible.
Read our recap of the opener: Foundation takes big, beautiful risks … and we’re hooked!
Stream now: Foundation on Apple TV+
Genre: Sports, drama
Watch if you like: The Wire, The Way Back, The Last Dance
Reggie Rock Bythewood‘s Swagger picks up where David Simon’s The Wire leaves off, but it’s not just interested in the seedy underbelly and systemic failures of Baltimore’s justice system — though that’s all in here, too.
Swagger is a story of the survivors, the people who the rest of the world has already written off unless they can prove themselves. Their chosen avenue? Basketball. Star player Jace (played by Isaiah Hill), his mother (Shinelle Azoroh), his best friend (Quvenzhané Wallis), his teammates and his volunteer coach (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) are all trying to help their little neighborhood team make it to the big leagues.
The odds are against them, and the world is cruel in a hundred ways. Watching them hold each other up and support one another makes Swagger one of the great recurring sights on TV.
Stream now: Swagger on Apple TV+
Genre: Comedy, drama
Watch if you like: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Parks and Recreation, Office Space
From the bulk of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia writers comes Mythic Quest, the funniest show on Apple TV+. Head writer Rob McElhenney and Charlotte Nicdao star as the oil-and-water programmers and designers at a popular video game company. As they attempt to stay ahead of trends and critics, they also have to stay on top of interoffice politics, relationships and their own rivalry with each other.
Profane, smart and always hilarious, Mythic Quest is the rare show about the zeitgeist that won’t age as its reference points gather dust.
Read our recap of the season two opener: Mythic Quest fine-tunes its epic comedy for strong second season
Stream now: Mythic Quest on Apple TV+
Genre: Science fiction, comedy
Watch if you like: Alex Garland, Charlie Kaufman, Stanley Kubrick
Dan Erickson’s workplace-comedy-from-hell Severance is a wild ride into the depths of America’s hellish addiction to work. Adam Scott and Britt Lower play employees at Lumon Industries, a company with a shady and unethical hiring practice. Lumon splits the consciences of its workers so that most of their life is lived outside the office. When they’re at Lumon, they have no concept of their outside lives or the world they inhabit. While they’re inside, increasingly strange things happen as Lower’s character Helly gets fed up with work and takes matters into her own hands.
Read our full review: Severance’s corporate conspiracy gets even creepier
Stream now: Severance on Apple TV+
The Mosquito Coast
Genre: Drama, road movies, adventure
Watch if you like: The Leftovers, Breaking Bad, The Fugitive
Based on Paul Theroux’s epochal novel (already expertly adapted by Peter Weir in the ’80s), and with a pilot directed by the great Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), this new take on an age-old fantasy is never less than thrilling. Actor Justin Theroux (Paul’s nephew, as it happens) plays Allie Fox, a man on the run from the government for an ill-defined act of terrorism, undoubtedly rooted in his antiauthoritarian environmentalism.
The anarchist must leave the United States behind once and for all when the FBI finds him. And thus he and his family begin a quest to the heart of Central America looking for a way to disappear. Exciting and nail-biting, this show is entertaining as well as thoughtful.
Read our recap of the season one opener: The Mosquito Coast gives familiar tale an exciting twist
Stream now: The Mosquito Coast on Apple TV+
Genre: Musical, comedy
Watch if you like: Brigadoon, Scream, Wicked
When a squabbling couple played by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong enter the mystical village of Schmigadoon while on a vacation meant to heal their relationship, they get a lesson in togetherness more complicated than they ever wanted. In Schmigadoon, everybody sings through their troubles, dresses like post-Revolutionary dandies, and possesses the sexual hang-ups and old-school mores of a fundamentalist religious sect. As Key and Strong think through their life choices, they impact the townspeople of Schmigadoon and bring New Age ideas about acceptance and sexuality, like a much more coherent Pleasantville.
Read our recap of the season one opener: Take a gamble on Schmigadoon!, the inventive Scream of musicals
Stream now: Schmigadoon! on Apple TV+
Genre: Historical fiction, LGBTQ, drama
Watch if you like: The Virgin Suicides, A Quiet Passion, The CW
Though it only lasted three seasons and was riddled with questionable editorial decisions from the writer’s room, at its best Alena Smith’s revisionist history Dickinson was a powerful and engrossing early success for Apple TV+. Hailee Steinfeld lead the cast as the poet Emily Dickinson, embarking on a number of anachronistic and soul-searching adventures and tasks, all the while wondering what her purpose in life might be. The show takes Dickinson’s poetry seriously and makes a statement about modern womanhood through the lens of the 1800s, frequently resulting in poetic truths all its own.
Read our recap of the season two opener: Dickinson returns for more modern debauchery
Stream now: Dickinson on Apple TV+
Drops of God
Watch if you like: Sideways, Eurocrime, The Food Network
Based on the manga by Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, Drops of God centers on two potential heirs to an amazing wine fortune and an even more amazing story. Issei Tomine (played by Tomohisa Yamashita) and Camille Léger (Fleur Geffrier) are put in direct competition to become the person who inherits the massive wine collection and expert reputation of their absent father figure, Alexandre Léger (Stanley Weber). The show makes the discovery of tasting notes into gripping drama, the kind of thing that bucks expectations and cliche at every turn, helped by great performances and exacting direction.
Read our recap of the season one opener: Manga-inspired Drops of God turns wine into a high-stakes contest
Stream now: Drops of God on Apple TV+
Created by Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen, this brilliant alternate history program imagines a world of mid-century futurism arriving in the middle of the century. 1960s salesman Jack Billings (played by Billy Crudup) runs a successful con that’s going to maybe turn his life around, whether he wants it to or not.
Jack’s selling timeshares on the moon, and his pitch is right out of The Jetsons. As he gets closer to sending his latest crop of dreamers to their fake real estate, he tries to mend fences with his long-abandoned family while keeping his roster of equally unstable salesmen from falling to pieces. With an able assist from legendary writer/director Walon Green, this show’s staff created one of the most fun and sharp pieces of TV, while never forgetting that every character here is one kind of loser or another.
Read our recap of the season one opener: Hello Tomorrow! will send you over the moon with its retro-futuristic vibe
Stream now: Hello Tomorrow! on Apple TV+
Genre: Dark comedy, drama
Watch if you like: Shameless, Fleabag, Derry Girls
Adapted from Malin-Sarah Gozin’s series Clan and developed by Brett Baer, Dave Finkel and Sharon Horgan, Bad Sisters was the show Apple TV+ needed the most to round out its lineup of programs. It’s a deliriously wry dark comedy about the death of a right bastard (played by Claes Bang) and the absurd steps it took to put the man in his coffin.
The cast was spectacular and the performances of each of the Garvey sisters (Horgan, Eve Hewson, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle and Sarah Greene) all proved remarkable. Bad Sisters is a beautifully dark look at the things that drive women to murder — and every other microaggression that makes people feel crazy. Thankfully, Bad Sisters season two is on the way.
Stream now: Bad Sisters on Apple TV+
Genre: Neo-noir, comedy, western
Watch if you like: The Coen brothers, Breaking Bad, Escape at Dannemora
Sadly prematurely canceled, this batty comedy of recovery and irresponsibility was a deeply winning showcase for Severance’s Patricia Arquette, an actress with one of the most impressive resumes in American cinema. In High Desert, she plays Peggy Newman, a former drug addict and current cosplayer who stumbles into work as an amateur detective under the shaky auspices of Brad Garrett’s Bruce Harvey. (Like everyone else in High Desert, Bruce is falling apart at the seams.) As Peggy tries to relitigate her relationship with her mother and keep her family together, she gets deeper into criminal trouble. A whirlwind of chaos and laconic humor, High Desert deserved better.
Read our recap of the first episode: High Desert is the right kind of rolling disaster
Stream now: High Desert on Apple TV+
Genre: Thriller, comedy, espionage
Watch if you like: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Justified, Luther
Based on the popular Slough House book series by Mick Herron and shepherded by Justified’s Graham Yost, Slow Horses offers a magnificently acerbic look at spycraft. Playing rumpled spymaster Jackson Lamb, Academy Award winner Gary Oldman leads a team of misfits who would otherwise have been drummed out of the British intelligence service. By virtue of being viewed as screwups and hotheads, they can get real work done while the bulk of the government’s other spies and spooks work on more important cases.
The drunken antics and hungover mission creep make for stellar viewing in the first two seasons, which fly through six episodes each at a rapid clip. Good news for Slow Horses fans: Two additional seasons are on the way.
Read our recap of the season one opener: Spy series Slow Horses comes out of the gate fast and sarcastic
Stream now: Slow Horses on Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.