TV Review: Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’

TV Review: Apple's 'Planet of the

These days, there’s an almost endless array of reasons for TV executives to feel anxiety, and for some time, one of the most ulcer-inducing prospects on the horizon was the idea of Apple diverting a sliver of its vast resources into making TV shows.

That day has come, and so far, there’s no reason to lose sleep over it.

Apple’s first offering, “Planet of the Apps,” feels like something that was developed at a cocktail party, and not given much more rigorous thought or attention after the pitcher of mojitos was drained.

It’s not terrible, but essentially, it’s a bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of “Shark Tank.” Apple made its name on game-changing innovations, but this show is decidedly not one of them.

The program’s one slick innovation is the escalator pitch. You read that right; I didn’t mistype “elevator pitch.”  The show begins with an overly brief set-up segment, which doesn’t spend much time explaining the rules of the show, and which also assumes that a viewer will know who host Zane Lowe is, though a reasonably large chunk of the audience won’t. The judges are Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, who clearly wants to be the Simon Cowell of the show but comes off as merely abrasive.

Soon enough, app developers step into a pitch room with a very long escalator in the middle of it. As the four judges listen (often with looks of glacial boredom on their faces), the aspiring creators have one minute of escalator time to tout the product they want funding for. After the app makers get to the bottom of the conveyance, the judges (or “advisors”) vote yea or nay. As long as one judge has given the developers a green light, they can continue making their pitch.

As is the case on “Shark Tank,” “The Voice” and other shows in this sector of the reality realm, if a judge is very keen on a contestant’s offerings, he or she can come on board the project as a coach. In the first episode of “Planet of the Apps,” two of the four judges worked with contestants, prepping them for the next stage of the show: A meeting with representatives of a venture capitalist firm who might get them further funding.

The biggest problem with “Planet of the Apps” is that it doesn’t know what it’s selling — which should be the contestants. It should turn them into compelling TV characters and make their quests dramatic, but it does a mediocre-to-poor job on those fronts. The app developers go from one pressure-filled situation to the next, but the people and the situations don’t pop. A random five minutes of any installment of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has more drama than this entire 50-minute pilot.

The best reality shows do a good job of getting the viewer invested in the people who might win the singing contest, buy the house or take their business to the next level. There’s one young tech duo who are as nervous and as sweet as can be, and they are designing a useful product — an app designed to get people home safe. For a skilled reality producer, making these recent college graduates appealing — to the point that viewers would have to see how their saga turned out — would have been Job One. But the show just goes through the motions, most notably after one of the V.C. pitches goes badly. After things went south, Lowe could have gotten a comment from the celebrity advisor about what went wrong and why, but “Planet of the Apps” just plodded onward. 

It’s ironic that a program designed to show potential being realized doesn’t quite take advantage of its own. The first installment began to feel long before the halfway mark, and every so often, explanatory on-screen chyrons popped up to explain terms like “AR” or “SDK” or “B2B,” which was every few seconds. It was all so dry and lacking in self-awareness that it began to feel like a sub-par episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” especially when you heard words like “pivot” and “scale” and “disrupt the space” in rapid succession.

If Apple begins to throw serious cash at creative types who make scripted television, as Netflix did a few years ago, when that tech company began to, well, disrupt the TV space, there might be a reason for cable and broadcast executives to worry. For now, however, Apple’s foray into reality TV does not appear to present serious competition. “Planet of the Apps” is a bit too hollow and mechanical to pose much of a threat, or to hold the attention of anyone but the most tech-obsessed business majors.

TV Review: Apple's 'Planet of the Apps'

Reality; 10 episodes (1 reviewed); Apple, 9 p.m. P.T., Tues. June 6. 60 mins.


Executive producers, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gary Vaynerchuk,, Ben Silverman, Howard Owens.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 20

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Nate Mathan says:

    Variety should hire a reviewer whose native language is English. Or is Maureen Ryan an example of the dumbing down of America? She writes (oh, how it pains me to copy and paste this):

    “…they are designing a useful product — an app designed to get people home safe. ( S I C )”

    I won’t insult the readers of Variety by pointing out the error.
    How did this get past a proofreader?

  2. Bob Bittner says:

    While I’d probably agree with this reviewer’s description of the facts, my take-away was completely different. I am thoroughly enjoying this show and find the contestants and their apps often inspiring. I’m amazed to see so many people working on so many apps that could be truly useful and engaging. Sure, there are some duds. And I’ve never been a fan of (and this show hasn’t altered that). But although I think including all of the elements this reviewer wants would certainly make the show even more compelling to watch, I think it works just fine without them. I’m really pleased Apple decided to do this, and I hope it’ll continue, despite the negative reviews.

  3. John says:

    Ah come on. This is a very harsh review. I don’t even watch much TV, especially any Reality, but found this quite engaging.

  4. Lawanda Gray says:

    I like the show and the concept. I for one ALWAYS investigate and decide based upon my own reviews

  5. Saraa says:

    I’d definitely say it’s a good one. It’s not meant for tv show enthusiasts, it’s for people to realize what a hard world there is out there no matter how smart or good you are. I think the show is on point to get further inspiration and mental preparation to get out there and fight. If you are looking for a tv show, just switch the channel, this one means the real thing…

  6. Alex Paradis says:

    Yeah I’m not watching this it’s a poorly excuted rip off of Shark Tank. I’m out

  7. Mark Thompson says:

    This review is misinformed and misguided. Many of Maureen’s points don’t really apply here (I.e. Comparing drama on Planet of the Apps to RuPaul’s Drag Race – really??) Do we really learn more about inventors on Shark Tank? Of course not! At least on this show, you see the whole process and not just an abbreviated pitch. I believe this critic is not a fan of reality shows in general as evidenced by the snarky comment that Apple should do scripted content if they really want to get into the game. It’s unfortunate that Variety was going to bury this show one way or another. It’s worth a watch. I found it smart and an interesting exploration of the app economy.

  8. Derek says:

    I wholeheartedly and respectfully disagree.

  9. JST says:

    I like Shark Tank, but this is really boring. I doubt that we will see more than a few episodes.

  10. newtemplar says:

    Yes, this one is pretty dull. Apple may not think much of Amazon, but at least those people hit some long balls with their shows.

  11. TJ says:

    Sounds like what I expected it would be. I like tech stuff, and worked in IT for a long time, but the cast of judges alone was enough to turn me off.

  12. I thought it was interesting. One of the selected companies looked to be crushed by the imminent threat of newly launched, directly competing service by Google. The other, a potentially HUGE market oppty with geomapping, and the existential questions of what’s the killer app and best way to capture as a business. They let the investor confusion as they tried to grok these opportunities play out more than they do in Shark Tank (which is always over-produced for much smaller elapsed time, where viewer led to believe those investors instantly “get it” and cut out a bunch of the minutia). Some nice insight into how early stage investors slice into the realities of whether a business will take flight or not. The tech focus–for me–made this more interesting. Maybe you have to have killed yourself for 10 years launching a startup to better appreciate the abyss that some of these things face. I sort of threw out previous assumptions about Alba and Vaynerchuk and thought they were both extremely helpful to the folks they advised. Looking forward to seeing the other two in action. For me it was interesting. Not hugely entertaining in a sit back and relax and be entertained way – but a lot of intervals with interesting outcomes and I actually appreciated that the it wasn’t overproduced to appeal to audiences that don’t want to bother with “understanding something.”

    • Bob Bittner says:

      Very well said. I’ll just add that I’ve watched all four episodes (so far) and thought it was always pretty clear why the mentors and, later, the VCs passed on certain apps. It’s clearly not meant for everyone; otherwise it wouldn’t be exclusive to Apple Music subscribers (apart from the free preview/pilot episode).

  13. Ron Obvious says:

    Weak sauce.

  14. Namon Eugene says:

    Rough review.
    As a tech entrepreneur myself, I found it to be super compelling, accurate, and inspiring! I think you have to be in the tech world to appreciate the show. I thought it was really great. Definitely competing against ‘Shark Tank,’ but ‘Planet of the Apps’ is cool because it goes into WAY more depth. Lots of tech people are going to like this.

    • Saraa says:

      agreed. I am not in the tech world, but i am an enthusiast. This show just depicts a lot of lessons that could be learned for both the techies, marketers, and the immature investors without dramatizing or vanilla flavoring life.

  15. Wellington says:

    Pretty hard to imagine an audience watching a dull show about people pitching apps. How many “Shark Tank” ripoffs will there be, with this and Steve Harvey’s show. With this borefest TV show, the incredible failure of the Apple watch, and now trying to sell a$350 speaker as “innovation,” Apple under Tim Cook has become quite the joke.

  16. Danson says:

    This sounds awful.

More TV News from Variety