Apple TV is largely used as a portal to other streaming services, but Apple does also make original material for its Apple TV+ service, which you can trial for free for 7 days, or for an impressive 3 months, if you buy any Apple device or own an LG TV. The great thing about the service, from a reviewer's point of view, is that there's not very much on it, but what Apple serves up is generally very good. It's quality over quantity. That makes it all but impossible for it to directly compete with Netflix, which has something for almost literally everyone, but it sure does make deciding what to watch easier.
In fact, thanks to the likes of Severance, Apple TV+ is probably the best streaming service available for more discerning viewers in the UK, aside from the more sprawling iPlayer and Sky TV's NOW. HBO Max has more shows of comparable quality but that is more expensive, not available in Britain, and I have some doubt as to how long it'll be around given the apparent hostility to streaming of owner Warner Bros Discovery.
Let's start with one for the mums and (mainly) dads. In my opinion, there is no better fiction show on streaming TV right now than Slow Horses. Starring the great Gary Oldman as the grotesque but brilliant Jackson Lamb, the series is based on the premise that MI5 spies who become alcoholics or gambling addicts, or badly botch operations, are not fired. Instead, they're sent to a sub-division of the intelligence services located in a seedy office known as Slough House – 'Slow Horses' is a jokey expression for these failed spooks, based on the office name. I can identify with this premise, as it reminds me of several magazines I've worked for in the past.
The plot is a classic tale of Russian sleeper agents in Britain whose nefarious work ranges from high-profile hits in London to being prickly at dinner parties in sleepy suburban commuter towns. Lamb and his team of misfits are all that stand against the Russkies.
It's hard to pigeon hole Slow Horses but I'd say it sits somewhere on a Venn diagram that includes The Ipcress File, John Le Carre and Killing Eve. Jackson Lamb is something like a fat, middle-aged and horribly cynical Harry Palmer, or George Smiley if he had no social graces whatsoever. For me, it's easily the best spy show of recent vintage, beating the likes of The Night Manager and the aforementioned Killing Eve. that's largely down to Gary Oldman, who delivers a perfect performance as Lamb that combines his gifts for both broad caricature and genuine pathos.
Kristin Scott Thomas turns up as the head of the 'proper' MI5, constantly covering her back while looking down her exquisitely classy nose at the denizens of Slough House. Like practically all of the cast, she is excellent. The second series of Slow Horses ended recently and is now available to binge in full at Apple TV+.
Apple TV+ is seldom scared to take on the big issues, and that's reflected in this slavery drama starring Will Smith. It's directed by Antoine Fuqua, who made the brilliant Training Day, way back in the day. Emancipation, as the name suggests, follows the fortunes of enslaved man Peter – Smith, doing a very different turn from his stock slick and charming characters of old – as he attempts to escape from the racist swamps of Louisiana to freedom.
Emancipation is not a great film by any means, nor is it a particularly insightful look at the horrors of slavery, What it is, is a kick-ass, analogue action/chase movie, slightly reminiscent of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. Peter must elude alligators and evil racists led by Fassel, played by a scenery-chewing Ben Foster.
It's a bit like trying to remake Django Unchained without any of the humour or flair, but Smith is very good. It is a shame the film makers didn't have him deploy his awards ceremony slapping technique on the despicable Fassel, however.
The 4th and final series of M Knight Shyamalan's creepy AF Apple TV+ original airs today (January 13). If you haven't seen it before, it would probably be foolhardy to dive in at this point, so acquaint yourself with the earlier seasons first. One of the great things about Apple TV+ is that they will stand by shows no matter how weird or niche they may appear – Severance being another great example. Netflix would have cancelled this after one season, for sure.
Now, many people will be understandably wary of a show directed by Shyamalan, which features Ron Weasley in a key role, and is based on the idea of a couple 'adopting' a living doll after the death of their child, and then hiring a sinister nanny for it, who turns out to have supernatural powers.
However, despite sounding like it would only make for a half-decent episode of The Twilight Zone, the creative team behind Servant have made it last four seasons by consistently piling on fresh layers of crazy. Servant uses dark humour to explore religion, grief and madness, but as with all Shyamalan's work it is, at heart, pure, glorious, B-movie schlock, given a faint sheen of class and respectability. Steven King and Guillermo Del Toro are fans; maybe you will be too.
Bonus feature: includes a pizza company that is called 'Cheezus Crust'.