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The Best Apple TV+ Shows 2021
A decent amount of time has passed between the Big Apple TV+ launch and now. At this point, the streaming service is practically an oldie, with a whole slew of other apps and channels that have moved into the streaming game since Apple announced it would wade into the world of original content. That also means we have a wider selection of series to choose from. Back in the days of its launch, there were the big introductory five: The Morning Show and See and For All Mankind had people buzzing about what big names Apple could draw in for future projects.
Now we have star-making vehicles for Octavia Spencer! Chris Evans! Rupert Grint! But here’s the thing—the real gems are the ones that tell a good story and make us feel something special inside. Yes, we’re talking about everyone’s new favorite show Ted Lasso, but we’re also talking about Mythic Quest. And it’s worth noting that Dickinson accomplished the rare feat of getting better in its second season. A concept!
So we ranked ’em. Had to do it. Below are our favorite Apple TV+ shows and a little description, in case you get the itch to sign up for another streaming service.
11. Truth Be Told
Oh, Octavia. You tired. Octavia Spencer stars alongside Aaron Paul and Lizzie Caplan in a series that hits all the popular buzzwords of our time: podcaster who helped solve a true crime is haunted by her past when details emerge that might upend her research. But the execution never quite delivered what the premise promised, and thus, we’re here in the worst spot on the list. —Justin Kirkland
A beautifully shot, extremely expensive sci-fi saga, See takes place in a future where humans are no longer born with the gift of sight. It’s an intriguing concept and a good premise for some speculative fiction and fascinating visual storytelling. Unfortunately, the show gets knotted up in its own ambition, with paper thin world-building and underdeveloped characters. For anyone interested in filling that Game of Thrones-style void in their heart, this doesn’t have the same vision, but it’s still entertaining nonetheless.—Matt Miller
9. For All Mankind
In a time in the real America where tensions with Russia have once again reached a boiling point, you’d think an alt-history re-writing the space race with the Soviet Union would make for poignant storytelling. Kind of like the American rockets in this revisionist history, For All Mankind is slow to get off the ground—it’s a high-minded slog through the first few episodes until the show finally reaches its point.—Matt Miller
We wanted Physical to be a great series. We really did! But it ultimately falls in the middle of the pack. Set in the 80s, Rose Byrne plays a housewife caught in the flux of her own eating disorder and the unhappiness of her marriage. The series largely exists inside of Byrne’s character’s head, with a stream of consciousness approach that delves into the deepest judgments, insecurities, and hilarity of one woman’s very complex mind. It’s a bit overwhelming (though, it really does capture how difficult it must be to live inside her mind), but Byrne does the heavy lifting to make the series work. We just wish that it worked a bit better. Very reminiscent of 80s aerobic videos, actually.
7. Defending Jacob
Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery star in this acclaimed miniseries about parents who are struggling with what to do when their teenaged son becomes the main suspect in a murder trial. For anyone who was skeptical if Evans had the range following his Marvel stint, take a minute to watch this. Oh, and Knives Out. —Justin Kirkland
This isn’t your high school English teacher’s Emily Dickinson. In this punchy half-hour comedy from playwright Alena Smith, the iconic poet is reinterpreted through a decisively 2019 lens. Smith’s Dickinson is a teenage rebel with an axe to grind against the patriarchy, chafing against a nineteenth-century society that demands she put aside her literary ambitions to become a dutiful homemaker. Interspersed are Billie Eilish needle drops, opium parties featuring improbable twerking, and Wiz Khalifa as the embodiment of death himself. What results is a tonally chaotic romp that fails to capture the real Dickinson. English teachers will cry, literary purists will scoff, and even viewers who don’t much care about Emily Dickinson will be alienated by the dramatic tone shifts. But hey, it’s a fun ride.—Adrienne Westenfeld
M. Night Shyamalan, you creep. You did it again. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebbell, Rupert Grint, and the hauntingly perfect Nell Tiger Free, the series just finished up its second season. A bref rundown: a couple who has lost their baby in a tragic accident are dealing with the trauma by raising a fake baby. When they hire a nanny to take care of the doll though? Oh, everything goes to hell. Maybe literally. —Justin Kirkland
4. The Elephant Queen
Narrated by Chewitel Ejiofor, The Elephant Queen is a documentary that follows an elephant herd across Africa. Pair a stunning landscape with the incredibly soothing English accent that Ejiofor brings, and you’ll literally feel your blood pressure start to drop a bit. A bit less aggressive than the unforgiving worlds of Planet Earth and Dynasties, The Elephant Queen is Apple TV+’s most comforting and visually pleasing offering.—Justin Kirkland
3. The Morning Show
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s The Morning Show is perhaps the most high profile venture for Apple TV+, with a massive budget that rivals shows like Game of Thrones. That doesn’t remedy some of its clunkier moments, as well as eye-roll-worthy dialogue (Steve Carrell’s character says, “Me too,” and Jennifer Aniston’s characters responds that he can’t say that anymore). But beyond the script, the show’s impressive cast delivers strong performances, with Aniston and Witherspoon’s characters forming an icily charming morning show tag team. For what it lacks in narrative finesse, the promise of The Morning Show rests on the very capable shoulders of its female leads.—Justin Kirkland
2. Mythic Quest
Rob McElhenney’s Mythic Quest exists at the absolute perfect intersection of full-of-shit and sincere. Set at a company who produces the largest multiplayer video game in history, the story follows the team behind the game and all their hilarious hijinks. But what makes the show sparkle is when it shines a bit of humanity onto its absurd nature—the pandemic episode is one of the rare exceptions that captures the heartbreak and isolation of what 2020 felt like.—Justin Kirkland
1. Ted Lasso
It’s the feel good show on TV right now. Starring Jason Sudekis as the terminally optimistic Ted Lasso, the series follows the football coach over to England as he is tapped to become the manager of a different kind of futbol organization. Yes, it verges on cheesy at times, but it never feels cheap. Somehow, the series always manages to lean in the direction of fair and believable, even if the stakes are absolutely so farfetched than it would never happen in the real world.—Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.
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