Ted Lasso is the breakout hit for Apple TV+. It’s unquestionably the most buzz-worthy show to come out of the streamer in its, OK, very brief life so far. But in just a couple years, Apple has already built a small, but solid, library of other original shows that are at least interesting, or pretty good, or occasionally both. Their offerings still can’t compare in volume to what you’ll find on Netflix but there’s enough money in Apple’s bank account that they’re able to experiment, and that’s not at all a bad thing.
One thing Apple TV+ has going for it is a lack of cancellations; granted, it’s early days for the streamer, but the network seems to be committing to giving its shows time to grow, and for the moment, it feels safe to dive in without the fear that a show will be given the chop just as it’s starting to get good.
Here are some of Apple’s best original shows that you might not have binged yet (so, Ted Lasso obviously isn’t on the list). Share your own faves in the comments.
For All Mankind (2019 — , renewed for third season)
Love a good high-concept, but execution is what counts… and For All Mankind has both, thanks in large part to the involvement of writer/co-creator Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica). The show poses a tantalising what if? and runs with it: what if Soviet space pioneer Sergei Korolev hadn’t died prematurely in 1966 and had, instead, helped bring his country’s space program to full flower and, in the process, extended the space race indefinitely. If we’d been forced to continue and expand upon the space program, our past (and present) would look quite different, and this show dramatically imagines how that might go.
Dickinson (2019 — 2021, renewed for third season)
Dickinson is so scrupulously weird that it gets points just for being unexpected. The most surprising thing about it, though, is that it’s good, not merely idiosyncratic. The show imagines the life of 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson, with the conceit that she didn’t fit especially well in her own time, a fact the show reflects through the casual use of anachronisms and more modern sensibilities. Think Netflix’s Bridgerton or Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette for similar vibes — but neither of those is about a person nearly as haunting or mysterious as Dickinson. Bonus: It’s also beautifully filmed and acted.
Note: It was recently announced Dickinson would end with its third season.
Visible: Out on Television (2020, miniseries)
An effective update to The Celluloid Closet that takes us up to date for the Peak TV age, Visible brings that sweet Apple money to bear in gathering an impressive assortment of talking heads. Going back to the earliest days of television, when queer characters and themes were either ignored, heavily coded, or mocked, the docuseries traces the ups and downs of queer representation on TV right up until the present moment. It entertainingly documents how far we’ve come, and makes clear there’s still work to do.
See (2019 — , renewed for third season)
The pitch meeting for this must’ve been a hoot. “We’ll do ‘The Country of the Blind’… but, you know, in the future!” Just as in that H.G. Wells story, we learn here that being one of the only sighted people among the blind doesn’t necessarily grant you any special privileges.
A few centuries from now, humans have lost their senses of sight, and the few born sighted are hunted and despised — as high concepts go, it’s a little goofy (and the reviews have been a little rough), but the beautifully produced and entertaining show blends Game of Thrones vibes with dystopian sci-fi, and boasts Jason Momoa and the always brilliant Alfre Woodard.
Central Park (2020 — , renewed for third season)
Central Park, from creators Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, and Nora Smith, retains much of the look and feel of Bouchard’s beloved (and long-running) Bob’s Burgers, which is probably be enough of a recommendation to get many adult-leaning cartoon fans onboard. It differs, though, in its ambition: Unlike Bob’s, this show invests more heavily in serialization to tell the story of a park manager fighting to save the titular Central Park from greedy developers. It’s also a true musical, incorporating big numbers into each and every episode. (The more sporadic musical numbers in Bob’s Burgers are always the best part, so upping that quotient here is all to the good.)
Schmigadoon! (2021 — )
There’s a big theatre-kid vibe to Schmigadoon, no question, with references and in-jokes not everyone is going to get. I’m not sure it matters. When Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) set out on a camping trip to strengthen their relationship, they instead stumble into the title town, where everyone sings their feelings, just like characters in a… you get it. The only way out? True love… which Melissa and Josh thought they already shared, but maybe not so much. It’s both a tribute to classic musicals and a satire of the common tropes and the more problematic aspects of those old productions. No official word yet on a second season, but the creators say that’s a goal.
The Morning Show (2012 — , second season coming soon)
Less high-concept than some of Apple’s other originals, The Morning Show still serves as a solid drama led by an out-of-character performance from Jennifer Aniston. She plays Alex Levy, co-host of a major network morning show. Or “co-host,” that is, until Mitch (Steve Carrell), with whom she’s worked for 15 years, is fired due to sexual misconduct shortly before the show goes on the air one morning (a la Matt Lauer), leaving Alex to explain the situation. The resulting shake-ups and power grabs (including by an up-and-comer played by Reese Witherspoon; the star power in this thing!) were inspired by Brian Stelter’s real-life book Top of the Morning, about the (perhaps) surprisingly dramatic and cutthroat world of morning television, so with the TV-ready drama comes an air of verisimilitude.
The Me That You Can’t See (2021, miniseries)
An Oprah Winfrey/Prince Harry co-production might inspire understandable cynicism, but the effort here is worthwhile: approaching both stars and non-celebrities, the miniseries explores issues related to mental health, particularly the stigma and difficulties in finding care. The celebs are all impressively frank, and the less famous individuals come from a wide array of backgrounds and face a diverse set of issues. Naturally, the presentation is highly polished, but the mere fact that the streamer is putting its money into expanding conversations about mental illness make it worth checking out.
Truth Be Told (2019 — , season two ongoing)
Honestly, they had me at Octavia Spencer. It’s not just her, though: the cast here is uniformly first-rate: Lizzy Caplan, Aaron Paul, Mekhi Phifer, and Kate Hudson also star. The premise is also solid, and timely: Spencer plays a true crime podcaster who condemned a now-convicted killer with her reporting, but who now learns that she might have gotten some crucial details wrong. The execution stumbles a bit in the first season, but picks up in the second.
Little America (2020 — , renewed for second season)
With a sense of humour, the anthology Little America dramatizes a series of Epic Magazine pieces telling the stories of immigrants in America. Each 30-minute episode plays like a movie in miniature, and each is packed with emotion — sometimes heartbreak, often joy; seriously, they cram a lot of heart into these little episodes. Each one ends with a tag about the real people on which it is based, which serves to ground the emotion in reality.
Home Before Dark (2020 — , two seasons)
I love, love, love that this one’s based on a true story. Home Before Dark dramatizes the story of Hilde Lysiak, award-winning crime reporter and the youngest member of the Society of Professional Journalists, who began her career at age 9 (she’s now a whopping 14). Here she’s fictionalized as Hilde Lisko (Brooklynn Prince), who moves with her mother to a Twin Peaks-esque coastal town where she slowly, doggedly, uncovers the truth behind a long-forgotten cold case.
Servant (2019 — , renewed for third season)
Creepy nanny meets creepy doll in this utterly strange psychological thriller, co-executive-produced by the occasionally brilliant but notoriously inconsistent M. Night Shyamalan (the show was created by Tony Basgallop). The horror here isn’t really overt, but the show plays some interesting and disturbing games centered on the relationship of the lead couple, played by Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell. Following the death of their 13-week-old son, the pair acquires a lifelike doll as a therapeutic tool. Naturally, something’s not quite right with the doll (or Dorothy’s attachment to it), and something’s definitely not right about the young live-in nanny that they hire (rich people, amirite?) to take care of fake baby Jericho.
Ghostwriter (2019 — , season two ongoing)
This new, updated Ghostwriter goes in a different direction than the ‘90s-era original, focusing a little bit less on the mystery elements of the stories and more on reading fundamentals: operating out of a bookstore belonging to the grandfather of two of the main characters, four kids are brought together by a ghost who brings characters from classic and modern literature to life, with CGI that’s sometimes great… and sometimes less so. Where the show really shines is in its depiction of kids who are believably smart and savvy, unlike an awful lot of shows that can’t seem to tell the difference between a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old. It’s definitely for kids, but that’s to its credit.
A spinoff, Ghostwriter: Beyond the Page, debuted earlier this year.
Defending Jacob (2020, miniseries)
Based on the book by William Landay, this one’s premise is clever, and harrowing: in an upper-class Massachusetts suburb, Andy (Chris Evans) and Laurie (Michelle Dockery) learn that a classmate of their 14-year-old son has been murdered in a local park. What happens next is even more shocking: their son is arrested for the murder. The show sometimes leans into melodrama unnecessarily, but the performances are solid and the central mystery is so compelling, it’s hard not to get drawn in.
Trying (2020 — , renewed for third season)
After having difficulty conceiving a child, Nikki and Jason begin the adoption process, and find themselves in a bind. Were they able to conceive, there’d be no other qualifications necessary to have a baby. Adoption, on the other hand, is long process full of screenings, classes, paperwork, home visits, and money. This is one of those rare comedies that’s both genuinely funny and gentle — the show even revisits all of its characters at the end of each episode so that we know how everyone has made out.