In not very much time at all, Apple TV Plus has managed to build up quite the array of great programming, making it rather to compile the best Apple TV shows.
It does seem slightly ridiculous to describe a platform backed by an all-conquering conglomerate worth three trillion dollars as an underdog. But unable to rely on existing properties like Disney Plus or vast back catalogues akin to Netflix and Prime Video, that’s very much the position that Apple TV Plus has found itself during the streaming wars.
Since launching in 2019, the service has relied solely on original content, meaning that it’s perhaps had to work harder than any of their rivals to lure subscribers in. You might not be able to spend hours aimlessly flicking through its library before settling on something you’ve already seen countless times before – it will take you a couple of minutes at the most to see what’s on offer. But having won numerous Emmy Awards, courted a whole host of major names in front of and behind the camera, and essentially provided a public service with the most feel-good show released during the pandemic, their approach of quantity not quality appears to be gradually paying off.
Sure, Apple TV Plus' viewership still pales in comparison to the giants of the peak TV era (approximately 20 million in North America compared to Netflix’s 75m). But those who have given the service a try have been rewarded with some of the finest shows on the box. From sporting sitcoms and sci-fi thrillers to music documentaries and mystery dramas, here’s a look at 20 of the best shows on Apple TV Plus.
The Essex Serpent
Claire Danes and Marvel Cinematic Universe key man Tom Hiddleston lead this lavish adaptation of Sarah Perry's bestselling novel.
The six-parter follows Danes' Cora Seaborne, a widowed woman whose fascination with natural history draws her to a rural Essex village after sightings of a mysterious serpent. There she meets Hiddleston's Will Ransome, a vicar who is struggling to keep his agitated congregation from descending into hysteria.
As the narrative progresses, the characters' lives, motives, wants, desires, and fears all become intertwined and a series of complex love stories, both romantic and otherwise, begin to play out.
An eight-parter adapted from Lauren Beukes’ novel, the always very-watchable Elisabeth Moss tops the bill here as Kirby Mazrachi, a Chicago newspaper archivist. She wanted to be a journalist, but that had to be shelved after surviving a brutal attack that has left her in a constantly shifting reality.
Then, one day, she learns that a recent murder is linked to her assault. On the hunt for answers, she teams up with veteran reporter Dan Velazquez (played by Narcos’ main man Wagner Moura) to understand her ever-changing present and confront her past.
Trippy and gripping with a great supporting cast, including Jamie Bell and Amy Brenneman, this is another top-notch drama.
For All Mankind
Similar to how Prime Video's The Man in the High Castle asks ‘What if the Germans won the war?,’ For All Mankind imagines an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union made it to the moon before America.
Co-created by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), the Saturn Award-winning series draws upon some impressively convincing deep fakery, reviving everyone from Neil Armstrong to Ronald Reagan to build its handsomely-recreated vision of the 1960s. But the personal drama, particularly the stories which put the women front and centre, is often just as gripping as its exploration of the global space race.
Sure, its impossibly optimistic view of the world takes as much suspension of disbelief as Apple TV Plus's sci-fi fantasies. But at a time when the entire universe appears to be going to pot, then such a resolutely feel-good show is what so many of us desperately needed. Ted Lasso has deservedly cleaned up at the Emmys and Golden Globes thanks to its heart-warming depiction of Premier League life and the fish-out-of-water American coach who unexpectedly finds himself immersed in it. Jason Sudeikis is brilliantly endearing as the thick-moustachioed, biscuit-baking lead, but each loveable character, most notably Brett Goldstein’s Roy Keane-esque hardman, is perfectly cast.
One of Apple TV Plus’s most curious originals, Severance centres on a mysterious biotech firm who offers its employees the ultimate work/life balance program: a medical procedure which completely separates your personal and professional memories.
Starring Adam Scott as a cog in the machine who begins to question the whole process, its intriguing blend of workplace satire, existential crisis and psychological conspiracies is undoubtedly something of a slow burn. But stick with its inherently unsettling Charlie Kaufman-esque vibes and you’re rewarded with a brilliantly tense finale which actually leaves you wanting more. It’s the best thing director Ben Stiller has put his name to since Zoolander.
The Shrink Next Door
Who knew that the impossibly likeable Paul Rudd had it in him? Playing against type, the ageless actor constantly sparks fury as the real-life therapist who essentially scams his most gullible client for the best part of 30 years.
Will Ferrell also shines by subverting his usual persona, imbuing said victim with a melancholy and vulnerability far removed from his signature man-child schtick. Also featuring a scene-stealing supporting turn from regular MVP Kathryn Hahn, The Shrink Next Door is that rare podcast adaptation which builds on rather than detracts from its source material.
Following in the footsteps of Motherland, Breeders and Better Things, Apple TV Plus jumped aboard the ‘parenting is hard’ sitcom bandwagon with the effortlessly charming Trying. The difference here is that Rafe Spall and Esther Smith’s central characters aren’t actually parents yet.
Yes, the platform’s other London-based comedy focuses on the trials and tribulations of the adoption process, something which the pair are guided through by Academy Award nominee Imelda Staunton’s brilliantly eccentric social worker. Spall and Smith have a naturally endearing chemistry which leaves you fully emotionally invested in their journey, but the show’s playful sense of humour ensures you’re never too far away from a pithy one-liner either.
Between racking up the umpteenth season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and randomly buying a lower-league Welsh football team with Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney has also found the time to co-create and star in another smartly-written comedy. Set at a video game studio responsible for a World of Warcraft-esque MMORPG, Mythic Quest is more sincere and less nihilistic than The Gang’s exploits. But it’s equally hilarious and, as proven by the episode filmed using 40 iPhones and standalone tale charting the life-cycle of an indie game, just as willing to think outside the box.
The Morning Show
Boasting a star-studded cast and an ever-twisting storyline which leans fully into the #MeToo movement, The Morning Show makes the seemingly cosy world of breakfast TV appear as cutthroat as the Mafia. Jennifer Aniston delivers a career-best performance as the long-time anchor whose world is turned upside down by Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick-esque upstart and a sexual misconduct scandal which does the impossible: make you loathe Steve Carell. Although its second season fell into the Aaron Sorkin trap of tackling too many hot button issues, its first, and especially its gripping finale, more than justified its position as Apple TV+’s flagship show.
You never quite know what you’re going to get with M. Night Shyamalan. A masterclass in Hitchcockian suspense or an exercise in self-indulgent nonsense. Luckily, his showrunner stint on Servant has steered more towards the former. The deliciously creepy horror sees a wealthy couple attempt to overcome the loss of their child via a reborn doll, only for this crutch to take on a life of its own when a mysterious young nanny enters the picture.
Lauren Ambrose is nothing short of phenomenal as the reporter mother in the midst of a psychological breakdown. But the sumptuous food porn shots ensure you’ll be just as famished as you are frightened.
After finally hanging up his spandex, Chris Evans chose something a little more grounded for his first recurring TV role in 20 years. Defending Jacob sees the Marvel favourite play an assistant district attorney investigating the homicide of a high school student, only for his 14-year-old son to become the prime suspect. Part-courtroom mystery, part-family drama, this eight-part series occasionally succumbs to clichés – at several points you expect Evans to scream “you can’t handle the truth.” But thanks to It star Jaeden Martell’s cleverly ambiguous performance as a troubled teen, it keeps audiences guessing right up until its twisty denouement.
Fresh from his so-bad-it’s-good impersonation of Italian fashion designer Paolo Gucci, Jared Leto proved once again that accents aren’t his forte in this compelling miniseries, WeCrashed. Luckily, the actor’s dodgy Israeli-American twang doesn’t detract too much from the deliciously schadenfreude tale of WeWork founder Adam Neumann and his wellness-obsessed partner-in-crime Rebecca, played by a captivating Anne Hathaway. Even if you’ve already seen the superb Hulu doc, your jaws will still drop at how the pair built a single co-working space into a $47 billion unicorn, only to let narcissism, delusion and mind-boggling greed get in the way.
Apple TV Plus's most obvious attempt to create its own Game of Thrones, See takes place in a dystopian future where mankind has been forced to adapt to a complete loss of vision. But when two twin girls are born fully-sighted, this dark world starts reassessing everything it thought it knew. Jason Momoa brings the necessary brawn as the heroic tribe warrior who must protect his all-seeing adopted daughters – the sheer brutality on display means See definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted – while Alfre Woodard provides the brains as his wisely foster mother. The inspired casting of Dave Bautista only makes its second season even more of a gorehound’s dream come true.
Perhaps the most suspicious thing about this remake of Israeli hit False Flag is how the actress most prominently displayed in all the show’s promos has about ten minutes’ screentime. Nevertheless, what it lacks in Uma Thurman it makes up for in enjoyably ridiculous twists and turns. Giving its largely British cast much more to do, Suspicion focuses on five different suspects in the abduction of a media mogul’s son, stoking the kind of palpable paranoia that was a mainstay of ‘90s espionage thrillers. Like most shows in the peak TV era, it’s several episodes too long but ignore all the holes in logic and there’s still plenty to enjoy.
Loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s same-named short stories, this ambitious sci-fi centres on a group of exiles who must overthrow the ruling Galactic Empire to ensure the survival of humanity. Foundation may well be Apple TV+’s most spectacular looking original – the majority of filming took place amid the volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands rather than the usual green screens. And its cinematic scope is matched by magnetic performances from Jared Harris as the Nostradamus-like rebel leader and Lee Pace as his villainous Emperor brother and an immersive, intelligent script full of challenging moral dilemmas and even the odd mathematics montage!
Although set in the world of M15, Slow Horses often has more in common with the workplace drudgery of The Office than the glitz and glamour of the Bond films. Its admin department setting is even called Slough House. Adapted from Mick Herron’s 2010 novel, this darkly comic espionage tale stars the scenery-chewing Gary Oldman as a misanthropic boss forced to take Jack Lowden’s disgraced agent under his grimy, pencil-pushing wing. But his team of misfits, aka the slow horses, do eventually find themselves in more high-octane situations when the new recruit uncovers a right-wing nationalist conspiracy that may well incriminate his former colleagues.
If you’re more of a Brigadoon man than a Hamilton one, then this affectionate homage to the Golden Age of musicals should be right up your street. Schmigadoon! stars Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong as a quarrelsome couple who become trapped in an all-singing, all-dancing town and can’t leave until they’ve rediscovered what it means to be in love – whether that’s with each other or with one of its numerous quirky inhabitants. Oscar winner Ariana DeBose and Broadway regulars Kristen Chenoweth and Aaron Tveit all help elevate the ambitiously-staged numbers, while Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen and Martin Short in a brief cameo as a leprechaun add to the self-knowing fun.
An alien invasion drama which makes you wait halfway through its first season for even a glimpse of extra-terrestrial life, this Sam Neill-starring sci-fi certainly isn’t averse to the tease. Thankfully, the very human stories that precede it are strong enough to sustain interest until the big reveal. Crossing the globe to explore five very different human reactions to the looming threat, Invasion cleverly builds both a sense of dread and emotional investment, ensuring that unlike the cardboard cut-out characters of most apocalyptic tales, you actually care when all hell does eventually break loose.
The Mosquito Coast
One of the most commercially and critically underwhelming entries in Harrison Ford’s career, The Mosquito Coast didn’t initially seem like the most obvious candidate for a reboot. Yet Apple TV+’s version has surprisingly managed to draw plenty of engaging mileage out of its family-on-the-run premise. Justin Theroux, whose real life uncle Paul wrote the original 1981 source material, is as magnetic as ever as the radical inventor who suddenly finds himself as the U.S. government’s Most Wanted. Meanwhile, the stunning shots of the Mexican landscape, adrenaline-charged action scenes and sharp commentary on immigration, capitalism and the American Dream also ensure this is a thriller with equal substance and style.
Fully leaning into the era when Jane Fonda’s aerobics videos were all the rage, ‘80s-set pitch-black dramedy Physical again proves Rose Byrne is one of her generation’s most unsung comic talents. The Australian fully commands attention in and out of spandex as a deeply insecure mother who reinvents herself as an exercise guru, albeit one who loathes her clients almost as much as she does herself. Indeed, Byrne’s Sheila isn’t exactly the most likeable of protagonists – her internal monologues are even more caustic than the Sidebar of Shame. But it’s refreshing to see a woman allowed to play the antihero in a novel spin on the bored suburban housewife narrative.
1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything
Having documented the lives of Ayrton Senna, Amy Winehouse and Diego Maradona in compelling fashion, Asif Kapadia tackled an entire year of music for this exhaustive eight-part series. The Oscar winner makes a strong case for 1971 as the most important period in pop history, using a fascinating mix of voiceovers and archive footage to cover everything from the rise of the Laurel Canyon movement to the release of The Rolling Stones’ seminal Sticky Fingers. But Kapadia also draws upon The Stanford Prison Experiment, ground-breaking reality show An American Family and the Manson murders to paint a wider picture of a game-changing era.
Jointly responsible for some of the most entertaining animated films of recent years with The Lego Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Christopher Miller left his regular collaborator Phil Lord behind for this live-action (well, largely) murder mystery set around a high school reunion. Dave Franco’s intensely smug Bieber-esque pop star is the victim, Tiffany Haddish plays the ballsy detective investigating his death, while suspects include Sam Richardson’s escape room designer and Jamie Demetriou’s entirely forgotten loner. As you’d expect, The Afterparty is chock-full of inspired pop culture references (particularly the spoof Hall and Oates biopic) and zips along with far more wit and verve than Kenneth Branagh’s whodunnits.