The reviews for Apple TV Plus’ first four original series — “The Morning Show,” “See,” “Dickinson” and “For All Mankind” — dropped on Monday morning, providing the first takes on Apple’s original TV content strategy.
“The Morning Show,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, follows a popular news program grappling with the aftermath of a sexual misconduct scandal; “See” stars Jason Momoa in a world where the human race has lost its sense of sight; “Dickinson” follows Hailee Steinfeld as a young Emily Dickinson in a coming-of-age comedy; and “For All Mankind” imagines an alternate history in which the space race never ended.
See snippets of each review below.
“The Morning Show”
Taking on a number of provocative topics, including and especially gender issues emanating from the toxic swamp of the breakfast-hour television industry, “The Morning Show” is perpetually on the human side, punting on the questions it itself puts forward in favor of airily treating them as too complicated. It’s early days for the show, whose first three episodes were provided to critics. But it’s hard to imagine that viewers excited by a series that promises to take on so much being satisfied by the exhaustion that bleeds out of the writers’ room onto the screen. The show gives up on its potential before it’s really underway, substituting career machinations for something more nourishing.
“See,” a pure genre exercise originating from the mind of writer Steven Knight, sorely craves the sort of pure structural integrity that source material can provide. Spiraling away from narrative control as its first three episodes unreel, this series, about a post-apocalyptic future in which nearly everyone is blind, wastes the time of Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard, among others, on a story that starts from a position of fun, giddy strangeness and drags itself forward at a lugubrious pace. Source material would have provided structure (which many original properties have, but this one certainly does not). It also might have provided a control of tone. Knight, director/EP Francis Lawrence, and showrunner Dan Shotz have made a show whose elaborate look and grave tone aim for “Game of Thrones” but whose content is lower of brow and, sadly, of quality.
Watching “Dickinson” is a strange experience, and not just because it’s a deliberately strange retelling of poet Emily Dickinson’s life complete with bass-heavy needle drops and hallucinations of Death as a man with a Cheshire Cat smirk (played by, this is true, Wiz Khalifa). For all the big creative swings the new Apple TV Plus series takes, it feels suspended between several different approaches without committing to a single one. It’s not a comedy, nor a drama, nor even quite a “dramedy.” It’s at least adjacent to a teen show in the vein of a high school series you might find on the CW, until it’s not. It’s not parody, nor entirely sincere. It’s possible to find a unique space amidst all the set categories within television, but at least in its first three episodes, “Dickinson” has trouble doing so outside its basic premise, which boils down to, “what if Emily Dickinson could literally call ‘bullshit’ on the patriarchy?” If at one point Emily (played by executive producer Hailee Steinfeld) emerged from her stately Amherst home in a Forever 21 shirt emblazoned with “#FEMINIST,” it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising.
“For All Mankind”
Of the original series launching Apple’s streaming TV service Monday, “For All Mankind” is by far the strongest, especially because it makes the most of its budget and subsequent capacity to dream a bit bigger than most. Its production and costume design evolve to fit the changing times, and its handsome direction shines brightest in space. The writing has some shaggy tendencies, as could probably be expected of a show this ambitious. It occasionally entertains a few wry winks to the strange new historical possibilities on this hypothetical timeline, and even indulges in some distracting fictional Nixon tapes revealing the depths to which he might have gone to save face. For the most part, though, it makes the smarter choice to keep the drama as grounded in character choices as possible, with some key overarching “what if?” scenarios that keep the season moving toward a bold new future.