The Best Apple TV+ Shows (That Aren’t Ted Lasso)
It’s not all about AFC Richmond. Here are our top Apple TV+ sci-fi, comedy and drama recommendations.
Ted Lasso may have as many Emmys as there are AFC Richmond players in a match, but almost four years into the life of Apple TV+, it’s far from the only reason to visit the streamer. Since its launch in 2019, Apple has paid out for starry collaborations with big names in Hollywood (Ben Stiller, Harrison Ford, Reece Witherspoon, Gary Oldman, M. Night Shyamalan…) both behind and in front of the camera, many of which have now – creatively at least – paid off.
It hasn’t been a straight ascent, but by sticking with the majority of their original shows over multiple season renewals rather than the slash ‘n’ burn approach elsewhere, Apple TV+ has established a healthy slate of acclaimed originals. There’s weird horror Servant, hard sci-fi Foundation, eerie drama Severance, spy thriller Slow Horses, plus real-life dramatisations, and a lot of very decent comedy. We pick our recommendations below.
Sci-fi thriller Severance addresses a conflict that many of us have confronted in the post-pandemic era of remote work. Isn’t it hard to separate one’s work life from one’s home life? Don’t you wish there were some way to scientifically separate the two? That’s exactly what the employees at Lumon Industries in Severance have achieved. By undergoing a mysterious offscreen medical procedure called “severance”, Lumon desk jockeys have effectively split their consciousness between their work selves and their home selves. Every time Mark S. (Adam Scott) and his three co-workers cross the threshold of Lumon’s office building, their work brains take over. Then, at the end of the day, their “outies” return back to the real world, none the wiser of what they did in their nine to five.
Severance uses this ingenious jumping off point to create a dark, oppressive, and intriguing atmosphere unlike anything else on television. Lumon Industries is quite simply horrifying in its ruthless pursuit of bureaucratic nonsense with unclear goals. Director Ben Stiller (yes, that Ben Stiller) makes sure Lumon’s empty walls, weird astroturf floors, and squared ceilings are always in frame, making things feel like a corporate prison. With no real knowledge of what goes on in the outside world, Mark S. and company are little more than children in suits and their innocent pursuit of answers for their strange predicament leads to some truly riveting storytelling. Be sure to catch up with Severance season one before season two arrives and blows the doors off of Apple TV+’s servers. – Alec Bojalad
For All Mankind
The premise of For All Mankind can be boiled down to one simple question: What if the Soviet Union landed on the moon before the US? Beginning with the day of the moon landing in 1969, For All Mankind shows how one change to our history could create an alternate timeline where the space race never ended and space exploration isn’t just the fever dream of billionaires. Each of the three seasons on Apple TV+ so far cover about a decade of time, showing how similar and different this alternate reality is to our own. Even though For All Mankind has a fairly simple premise, its compelling story is anything but simple, and effectively blends the line between science fiction and reality. Part space exploration drama, part historical fiction, and part political thriller, For All Mankind is truly one of the best shows on AppleTV+ right now. – Brynna Arens
One of the best series of 2022, Bad Sisters is proof that there’s no expiration date on a great premise. Belgian series Clan came out over a decade ago, and was the inspiration for this Irish black comedy about the Garvey sisters – five Irish women at the heart of a life insurance investigation when one of their husbands unexpectedly dies.
Over 10 episodes that move between two different timelines, we slowly piece together the mystery of John-Paul (Dracula’s Claes Bang), while uncovering the secrets of sisters Grace, Eva, Ursula, Bibi and Becka (the excellent Anne-Marie Duff, Sharon Horgan, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson). Adapted by Horgan and the Baer/Finkel comedy team behind New Girl, 30 Rock and more, it’s smart, funny, gripping and unafraid. Season two is on its way. – Louisa Mellor
One of Apple’s strangest and most rewarding series (if you love having a genuinely wild time) is Servant from creator Tony Basgallop and produced and directed by none other than M. Night Shyamalan at his twistiest best. What starts off as a grim tale of a Philadelphia couple who have lost their baby, and the unconventional way they’ve chosen to cope in the aftermath of that terrible loss, soon unravels into a horror story of biblical proportions when a mysterious nanny named Leanne (a truly creepy Nell Tiger Free) shows up to take care of the doll that has replaced their son Jericho.
Lauren Ambrose gives a career-best performance as Dorothy Turner, who glides through the creaking hallways of her old, slowly decaying house like a ghost, cradling the doll she believes to be her real son. Rupert Grint as her cynical addict brother Julian is another highlight with his love of sweater vests, sports jackets, fine wine, and hating pretty much everything else. Toby Kebbell as Dorothy’s husband is the more sober of the ensemble, at least at first, the celebrity chef who hides away in his kitchen making elaborate, sometimes grotesque meals (the camera loves to linger on the grossest of cooking techniques, let’s just say there are tons of flesh and bone and gristle) while his family falls apart. But the true star of the series is the Turner house itself, the multi-story labyrinthine purgatory in which the family is trapped (metaphorically, but sometimes literally!).
To say much more about the plot would be to give the game away — seriously, there are so many unexpected turns on this show (the fake pizzeria scheme!!!) that you’ll sometimes have trouble following what the hell is going on. But in the good way only Shyamalan can deliver. – John Saavedra
If Slow Horses was on the BBC, it would be all anyone’s talking about – it’s that good. This slick, gripping and often very funny spy drama centres on a team of haphazard MI5 agents who have variously disgraced themselves on the job, earning exile from MI5 HQ to the dreary Slough House, as well as the nickname ‘slow horses’.
Oscar-winner Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) is fantastic as their sharp-tongued, hygienically-challenged boss, Jackson Lamb, who tries unsuccessfully to keep the slow horses out of trouble when they find themselves unwittingly embroiled in a terrorist kidnapping. Oldman’s at his best when sparring with shrewd MI5 chief Diana Taverner (Kristen Scott Thomas) and his latest recruit, the brave but messy River Cartwright (Dunkirk and The Gold’s Jack Lowden).
There are two delightfully twisty series already, and the good news is that three and four are on the way. The even better news is there are several more books in Mick Herron’s Slough House novel series – on which Slow Horses is based – so there’s potential for a very long run. – Laura Vickers-Green
Based on the Wondery podcast of the same name, this is a glossy dramatisation of a true story that will appeal to fans of The Dropout, Inventing Anna, and any of the documentaries about the generation of ‘fake it till you make it’ entrepreneurs who built, and lost, their empires on cults of personality. WeCrashed is the story of WeWork, the communal work space business set up by Adam Neumann which at one point reached a valuation of $47 billion before he and his wife Rebekah basically cocked it up. Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway play the power couple at the heart of this fascinating, infuriating story of hubris and big business.
Both are perfect as the wealthy, arrogant a-holes who exploited their work force, lied to investors and thought they owned the world until they didn’t. The only down side is that unlike Elizabeth Holmes, whose medical tech business Theranos was built on lies, the Neumanns never quite got the comeuppance they deserved. – Rosie Fletcher
The Morning Show
It’s hard to go first. The Morning Show was one of Apple TV+’s launch series, and the lukewarm reviews of this glossy Jennifer Aniston/Reece Witherspoon/Steve Carrell drama killed a lot of its buzz. The thing was – those reviews didn’t get it. Critics had only been given access to early episodes before this gripping #MeToo story really took flight in all its glossy madness.
Set behind the scenes at a Good Morning America-style TV show hosted by superstars Mitch Kessler and Alex Levy (Carrell and Aniston), this one builds to a thrilling climax and has plenty to say about sex, power, money and how they’re abused in the world of celebrity. The cast is great, the intrigue is complex and the conclusions it draws are as stark as you’d expect from creator Jay Carson, former Hillary Clinton press secretary and producer on House of Cards. Season two moved on a dime to make the Covid pandemic central to the story, and seasons three and four are on their way. – LM
This show should have been massive. Based on a best seller, starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery and directed by Headhunters and The Imitation Game helmer Morten Tyldum, Defending Jacob is a tense thriller that gets everything right. It’s the trouble story of a parents (Evans and Dockery) whose 14-year-old son Jacob (Jaeden Martell from the It movies) is suspected of killing a classmate.
Performances are pitch perfect, with J.K. Simmons in a supporting role, but it’s the ambiguity around Jacob’s guilt, and the increasing paranoia of his parents who desperately want to believe their son but some how can’t quite wholeheartedly commit, which makes this essential viewing. A must watch for fans of big hitters like Mare of EastTown and Happy Valley. – RF
As anyone who has mainlined thousands of hours of The Office and 30 Rock could tell you, workplace comedies are the backbone of any healthy TV ecosystem. It’s only natural then that nascent streaming service Apple TV+ would want to get in on the ground floor of the popular genre. Thankfully, Apple was able to turn to some folks who really know what they’re doing when it comes to TV comedy. Created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia writers Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Megan Ganz, Mythic Quest takes place in a unique kind of workplace: the offices of a video game studio behind the popular MMORPG Mythic Quest.
The show follows the creative and professional struggles of everyone behind the game, including clashes between game creator and creative director Ian (pronounced “Eye-Ann”) Grimm (McElhenney) and lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao). Throughout three successful seasons and two special pandemic episodes, Mythic Quest has made the best of its workplace comedy format by creating a lived-in studio where you’d want to hang out but still remains a proving ground for all manner of high stakes corporate drama. Mythic Quest is worth watching on its own merits but if for whatever reason three seasons of 10-episodes apiece is too much, be sure to at least check out each season’s superb and elegiac flashback episode (“A Dark Quiet Death,” “Backstory!,” and “Sarian.”) – AB
If every streamer has its niche (Netflix does big-swing reality and pricy crowd pleasers like Stranger Things and Bridgerton; Prime Video does brainy sci-fi with THEMES like Dead Ringers and The Power…) then Apple TV+ has cornered the market on shows about traumatised men with emotions. Ted Lasso, Severance, and now Shrinking are all stories of men (surrounded by show-stealing supporting characters) coming to terms with loss – but, you know, fun.
From the co-creators of Ted Lasso, plus Jason Segel, Shrinking is about Jimmy (Segel), a single father who’s failing his teenage daughter, and whose grief inspires a radical do-or-die approach to his work as a therapist. Jimmy’s boss is Paul, played by Harrison Ford, who is clearly having a ball and in his comedic element. Love Life’s Jessica Williams and Scrubs’ Christa Miller are great as colleague Gaby and neighbour Liz, and the whole thing is colourful, sweet and an all-round good time. Next to the masterpiece that is Aftersun, Shrinking also features the second best final-scene-set-to-a-David-Bowie-song of recent years. – LM
Physical is a bit of a hard sell but hear me out – it’s set in 1980s San Diego and focuses on Sheila (Rose Byrne), a housewife who pretty much hates her life and herself. Sheila lives with her egomaniac professor husband (played to perfection by Rory Scovel), and struggles with an overwhelming eating disorder until she is saved(ish) by aerobics. It may sound slightly ridiculous but is so weird, so funny and so dark; it’s well worth a watch. And it’s short! Ten half hour episodes each season (there are two so far with a third on the way).
Byrne is reliably excellent and the fantastic supporting cast includes Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus and The Last of Us), Paul Sparks (House of Cards) and (my personal favourite) Lou Taylor Pucci as surfer dude Tyler, who brings a lot of levity to the show. The soundtrack is brilliant, the aerobic outfits are wonderful and there is a lot to relate to in Sheila’s world. – Elizabeth Donoghue
Set in the 19th century, Dickinson follows a young Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) as she struggles with what society expects of her as a woman. Her family wants her to marry a man, have kids, and be a good housewife, but what Emily really wants is to live out her days with the love of her life Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt) and become a famous writer. Each episode of the series is named after the title of a piece of Dickinson’s work, and matches the themes and topics found within the corresponding piece. If you’re looking for a historically accurate depiction of Emily Dickinson’s life, this may not be the show for you, but if you’re looking for a fun, queer, feminist show that feels modern despite its pre-Civil War setting and maintains the soul of the beloved writer’s work, then I highly recommend adding Dickinson to your watchlist. – Brynna Arens
The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. That’s what makes us so rad…in addition to free refills and college football, of course. That’s also what makes Apple TV+’s anthology series Little America so rad. This two-season show tells the dramatized stories of 16 real life individuals pursuing the American Dream.
Season 1’s first episode ‘The Manager’ follows the story of Kabir, who is forced to run his family’s motel in Utah after his parents are deported to India. ‘The Cowboy’ follows Iwegbuna, a Nigerian-born man who discovers his Oklahoma cowboy bona fides thanks to a pristine pair of boots. And most notably, ‘The Son’ details the story of Rafiq, a gay Syrian refugee who is finally able to embrace himself in the American midwest. Developed by Lee Eisenberg, Emily V. Gordon, and Kumail Nanjiani, Little America does a superb job of finding the funny, affecting, and inspiring stories of immigrants across this big melting pot. – AB
The Big Door Prize
If you’ve been missing a good-natured, warm-hearted place to go since the end of Schitt’s Creek, try Deerfield. It’s the small town that’s home to history teacher Dusty (The IT Crowd and Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd), his family, their friends, and now a magical machine that purports to reveal everybody’s true potential. Nobody knows where the machine came from, how it works, or if its revelations – Superstar! Hero! Dancer! Royalty! Liar – are trustworthy, but that doesn’t stop them from letting it blow up their lives.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by M.O. Walsh by Schitt’s Creek’s David West Read, this is a fun, sweet show filled with quirky characters and gentle musings on the meaning of it all. – LM
From Parks and Recreation writers Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard comes this very good natured redemption-of-a-billionaire comedy. Maya Rudolph plays Mollie, wife of a tech magnate, who after 20 years of marriage discovers her husband (played by Parks and Rec star Adam Scott) is having an affair. The couple divorce and she gets an enormous payout, but also an understanding that she has little sense of self.
Discovering there’s a charity set up in her name, Mollie decides she’d actually like to do some work, much to the irritation of Sofia (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) who runs the charity from day to day. Mollie is clueless but it’s a journey of self improvement and Rudolph is eminently watchable as ever. – RF
The Shrink Next Door
Inspired by the podcast of the same name, The Shrink Next Door tells the true story of how one man’s life is taken over and shattered by his therapist. In a departure from his usual charming nice guy roles, Paul Rudd stars as Dr. Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf, the ‘shrink’ who manipulates his longtime patient Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell) and completely disrupts his life, business and relationships.
When Will Ferrell isn’t aiming for ‘ridiculous and unfounded overconfidence’ as his character’s main trait, he does endearing very well and his performance is sweet and believable and Kathryn Hahn (WandaVision) is wonderful as Marty’s sister. It’s a compelling watch and although the premise is troubling it also has really funny moments. – ED
Central Park has a lot going for it. It’s another animated comedy from Bob’s Burgers’ creator Loren Bouchard. It’s about the complex history of Manhattan’s biggest public space. And oh yeah, it’s a musical! If any of those three elements don’t work, then Central Park wouldn’t work. Thankfully, something about cartoon characters breaking into joyous song about the magic of public parks really hits the spot.
The series follows the daily lives of the Tillerman family, whose father Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.) operates as the park manager for all 843 acres of the beloved titular park. Through three seasons and 39 episodes, the Tillermans sing their way through their problems, which mostly involve the villainous entrepreneur Bitsy (Stanley Tucci) wanting to replace Central Park with luxury condos. With a cast heavy on Broadway vets (Odom Jr., Emmy Raver-Lampman, Tituss Burgess, Josh Gad, Daveed Diggs), Central Park really knows its way around a tune. – AB
I struggle to think of another show that looks anywhere near as good on the small screen as this ambitious sci-fi series based on the books by Isaac Asimov. Foundation is a visual feast, with its lingering shots of ships floating through space and days spent on exotic planets, and it’s all anchored by a story of actual epic proportions. When professor Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) uses a new branch of mathematics to predict the fall of the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire, he is exiled, and sent to live out his days on a remote planet. But this is actually part of his plan to save humanity from the inevitable dark age that will follow the collapse in just 500 years time.
The show, much like the doomsaying equation at the center of the plot, is a bit of a puzzle box comprising of multiple settings, time periods, and characters — Lou Llobel as Hari’s most gifted student and Lee Pace as a trio of clone emperors who are out of their depth absolutely shine here — but they all interconnect in surprising ways in a story that spans centuries in both directions. If you love big sprawling science fiction, it doesn’t get any bigger than this Apple series. – JS