Five shows on Apple TV+

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Well I did warn you that I might blog about this at some point, so here we are. I’m not quite done with four out of five of these shows, but I think I’ve seen enough of them to form an opinion. The first one to mention is one of the main reasons I even bothered taking Apple up on their offer of a year’s free subscription to their exclusive content (that and The Beastie Boys Story) and that is Long Way Up.

Long Way Up is a travelogue show starring Ewan McGregor (well hello there) and his motorbiking buddy Charley Boorman in which they ride on electric Harley Davidsons (yes, don’t rub your eyes, the world is a-changing) from the top of South America to Los Angeles – about 13,000 miles all told.

Last time we saw Ewan and Charlie together was about 13 years ago on their Long Way Down to South Africa, and as I recall there was a bit of an atmosphere when Ewan invited his wife along for part of the trip. She’s not in attendance in this sequel and in fact I think they got divorced. Charlie on the other hand almost managed to get himself killed at least twice in bike crashes and was in a wheelchair weeks before filming started on Up.

It’s nice to see them together again tackling another challenge and back with the old crew so familiar from previous shows. The main hurdle on this journey, apart from potentially getting shot or kidnapped by Mexican gangs, is where to charge the bikes. It’s an entertaining learning process for them and it’s interesting to see the old dynamic of Ewan’s eternal optimism coming up against Charley’s sometimes pessimistic outlook. However, Charley I think has mellowed and is perhaps thankful to still be riding after he almost died, so there’s less bitching and a lot more simple appreciation of the natural beauty of the world.

The landscapes they ride through are often stunning and its interesting to see the different countries they ride through from a unique perspective. There’s some UNICEF related visits along the way and indeed a kind of revisit to a previous episode because Ewan meets up for a while with his adopted daughter who he first met in an orphanage in Mongolia during their first bike show.

From fact to fiction. The Morning Show is a drama based in the studios of an American morning television show whose presenting duo Alex (Jennifer Anniston) and Mitch (Steve Carell) is torn apart when Mitch is forced from the show in a #metoo scandal. Reese Witherspoon’s character, Bradley Jackson, a younger feistier local news woman, is thrust into the spotlight as Mitch’s replacement.

There’s a hugely impressive cast and some really excellent writing in this show. Jennifer Aniston is good as the relatively aged presenter trying to hang on to her career and gain control within the system, but my favourite character and performance comes in the form of Cory Ellison played by Billy Crudup (perhaps best known by the kind of people I hang around with as Dr. Manhattan in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie). Ellison is a studio executive who wants to mix things up and drag the show into the 21st century. He is a firm supporter of Bradley Jackson and his attitude toward the other staff and presenters twists and turns in a mischievous fashion. It’s great TV.

For All Mankind is another Apple Original drama, based on an alternate history of NASA’s Apollo lunar landing missions. This is obviously right up by street. Love NASA stuff. Love sci-fi. Love alternate history shows. There is a kind of Man In The High Castle vibe because of the pretext, but this time it’s the Russians (rather than the Germans or Japanese) who are the country who get the jump over America. The USSR land first and they put a woman on the moon to boot.

It’s a really interesting premise and lets the show writers explore a number of ‘what ifs’ along the way. Women’s Lib and gay rights come into focus and also the militarization of space (much like Space Force did for comedy shows). A Watergate style vibe hangs over NASA’s operations as they try and catch up, find water and establish a small base on the moon.

Compared to The Morning Show, some of the performances are a bit ropey in this (Altered Carbon‘s Joel Kinnaman played a better Robocop than he does all American hero astronaut Ed Baldwin, but he keeps getting the work so maybe it’s just me?) and there are a few too many stereotypes being broadly painted – the nasty FBI man, the neurotic nerdy female scientist, the alcoholic pilot, the secret lesbians, the dope smoking hippy artist, the uptight Astronaut’s wife (Shantel VanSanten who was coincidentally Butcher’s wife in The Boys) but on the whole it’s a great sci-fi show with some great surprises and a powerful portrayal of grief in later episodes (no spoilers).

Amazing Stories is another sci-fi show which you’d imagine would be right up my street given that it’s an anthology show. It’s a reboot of Steve Spielberg’s sci-fi show for kids and as such I found it pretty lacking in any great depth beyond the first episode. Tales from the Loop this is not, and the stories are not intertwined like the Amazon show.

The first episode ‘The Cellar’ which features a guy travelling back in time and falling in love with a woman who is betrothed to a man she doesn’t want to marry is actually pretty good, and indeed I recommend you watch it, but don’t expect the quality to persist in other episodes. The cliched trope of the first episode is surmounted by a wonderful performance by Victoria Pedretti.

‘The Heat’ is frankly dreadful. It features two young college girls, one of which is killed and then haunts the other to help her complete her athletics training. The script is awful. I’m surprised the actors didn’t cringe every time they had to say the faux street speak seemingly designed to be ‘down with the kids’ but which is so tone deaf as to be laughable. The story is actually really predictable too which doesn’t help. ‘Dynoman and the Volt’ is a young kid / grandpops buddy show where they get super powers after a special ring turns up in the post (imagine the Green Lantern movie, and then move on). It’s nice to see Robert Forster, in one of his last roles, as the grandpops, but that’s about it. ‘Signs of Life’ plays out like an episode of the X Files in a Father Thing kind of style, and ‘The Rift’ is another time travel story but flipped so the historic character appears in contemporary society. It plays out like a TV movie on the SyFy channel and the characters seemed to travel along narrow rails laid down by lazy screenwriting.

But you know, it’s a kid’s show and so perhaps I was expecting too much.

Another kid’s show is Tiny World a feel-good nature programme full of amazing hi-def and often slo-mo recordings of various small critters – bugs, rodents, lizards and birds who live in various habitats around the world. The scenes feel rather staged to tell fun stories with added sound effects but there is is some really interestingly educational stuff in the show. For instance I did not know there was a bee that picked up sticks to make a fortress over the one egg it lays, or that the leopard slug goes up a tree and dangles from a strand of goo to mate, or just how beautiful some of the bees and bugs are close up.

Ant-Man‘s Paul Rudd seems the obvious choice to narrate and he does a splendid job of it. See I can be nice about a kid’s show… 🙂

I think that we are in a golden era of TV shows and while it is annoying to have so much stuff spread over so many subscription streaming services (Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, AppleTV+ to name but four) it’s this year’s biggest #firstworldproblem and we just need to rob a bank to pay the fees and invent a time machine to get enough time to watch it all!

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