Apple promised a few old favorites, like Peanuts and Oprah, but mostly all-new originals with huge names like Jennifer Aniston and Jason Mamoa attached, budgets the would take us into the future and, through alternate timelines, the moon again, and with some astronomical, aspirations attached, because there was absolutely no catalog content to fall back on.
Disney was all about the franchises, including new Star Wars and Marvel shows, and returns to High School musicals, but also less-expected originals like Imagineers and Jeff Goldblum, and with a back catalog that conservatively includes, when you add in Disney proper, Pixar, Muppets, Fox, and National Geographic, about 85% of all of our childhoods.
Now, both of them have launched and are just finishing up the first 8-episode seasons of their first originals and, no spoilers, but it's enough to figure out where they are and where they're likely going.
Apple TV+ one season later
I was there when Apple announced TV+ back in March of this rapidly depleting year. I know some people thought it looked hella goofy on stream but being in the Steve Jobs Theater, experiencing the lights going out, and seeing Spielberg, Aniston, Mamoa, Oprah, all appearing on stage one after the other was like Wing Chun chain-link punch in the celebrity star power gut.
It came amidst the announcements for Apple Card, which hasn't grown beyond the U.S. but keeps adding cashback partners and bonuses at a rate that makes it super interesting. News+, which suffers not only from the same lack of internationalization that plagued Apple News in general, but from an interface that makes it almost impossible to find articles you already know about and want to read. And Apple Arcade, which has been legit terrific and rejuvenated the fortunes of indy games in a way and at a scale I've just never seen before.
There was some concern at first, especially around TV+ being Apple. That Tim Cook and Eddy Cue… hell, Craig Federighi and Johny Srouji would be pushing down notes, trying to oversell and over-protect Apple's image all at the same time. That we'd end up with safe, sterile, frankly saccharine programming too lame for either children or adults to want to watch.
Well, Jennifer Aniston blew the *#%^# lid off that %%^# roughly 5 #%# minutes into The Morning Show's debut. And, Jason Mamoa literally cut the heads, and arms, and legs off any violence and gore fears almost as fast.
Apple did face some expectational debt going in. They launched in over 100 countries, which is amazing, and something you can only do if you only have new originals and keep all the rights to them in every region.
But, the Morning Show, despite seeming very Sorkinesque, just wasn't and isn't a Sorkin show. It doesn't have either that caliber or style of writing. And See, despite the violence and some kinda bizarre sex leans, and the incredible visuals, was just never going to be Game of Thrones. Or, rather, any Game of Thrones season without an 8 in it.
Apple also made the mistake of giving critics the first 3 episodes, and only the first 3 episodes, of shows for review. Shows that were really only starting to find their legs and climb their way out of their worst in those three episodes.
They were almost all up and down to be sure, but The Morning Show finished the season with a truly standout performance from Billy Crudup, and what seem to be widely acclaimed as a couple of the best hours in recent television history, and For All Mankind's finale isn't far behind.
Dickinson has also been a delight that I don't think many major streaming services would have gambled this big on. Even M. Night Shamalan's, The Servant, which started much later and hasn't wrapped its first season yet, vibes so creepy AF it brings something totally different to the table.
We're still waiting on other big shows, like Spielberg's Amazing Stories reboot and Asimov's Foundation, but I think it's safe to say TV+ has ended up being better than many people expected, surprisingly so, and welcome new voice and palette in streaming.
Disney+ one season later
I watched the Disney+ announcement from home, and mostly with my jaw on the floor. Not only would we be getting Star Wars from Jon Favreau, but we'd be getting actual Marvel Cinematic Universe shows from Kevin Feige and team. And a ton of them.
That was on top of all the other big franchises Disney was bring back in what can only be described as the real world equivalent to every ship or every hero or ever loved one whoever showed up at the end of a movie or TV series, just to knock you utterly and completely on your fan ass. And they just. Kept. Coming.
Never mind the catalog content, which included pretty much every Disney show and movie Gen X grew up with, from Escape from Witch Mountain to Darkwing Duck, almost every Star Wars movie and cartoon, the entire Thanos Saga from Marvel, the Simpsons franchise, and basically everything you ever wanted to rewatch to relive your childhood or show your kids so it would become a part of theirs.
But, Disney faced some initial skepticism as well. It was only coming to a tiny number of countries this year, which didn't mean much to Americans who were, of course, getting it, but was super frustrating to the other 99% of the world. It was also, of course, Disney. Which meant it was great for Star Wars and Marvel and Simpsons and Magic Kingdom lovers, but not so great for people who genuinely preferred Star Trek or DC or South Park or Looney Toons. For all it's scope and scale, Disney wouldn't take the same type of risks an upstart or broader content licensor would — they would only do Disney. And a lot. Also, the vast majority of shows that had been announced for Disney+ wouldn't be coming until a much later date. So, all that expectational debt for WandaVision and Hawkeye and Loki, added to by continued announcements for Obi Wan and She-Hulk and Moon Knight and more, would all fall solidly on the shoulders of the Mandalorian at launch.
And most people seem to have really all caps loved the western gone eastern gone spaghetti gone Star Wars that Favreau and company produced. Alongside HBO's Chernoble and Watchmen, it's probably at the top of most nerds show of the year list.
It was just one show, and as delightful as Imagineers and Goldblum are, and as shock and awe as that back catalog is, a lot of us are still waiting for more. And while the Mandalorian was also a little up and down, there's no denying it's ending hard as well.
Netflix and HBO Max
Both TV+ and Disney+ look terrific. If you have a 4K HDR television set, the bitrate alone makes for an experience no other streaming service has delivered before. It's so good, it actually makes older services look kinda bad by comparison, and they're going to have to up their streaming games if they aren't already.
The prices are also good. Apple has even mitigated my biggest concern — that no one would want to gamble on their nascent programming this early — by giving away a year of free service with the purchase of any Mac or iOS device. That builds in a lot of runway and covers at least a little bit of catalog.
Both services have been so good, in fact, I didn't even launch Netflix until The Witcher came out. Part of that was just Netflix's refusal to be included in the TV app, so their stuff just never got flagged the way TV+ or Disney+'s did, and part was ongoing grumpiness of what feels like several successive price hikes.
The Witcher was good, Hercules and Xena with production value, as others have said, but also dropped for binging the way most Netflix shows are. Apple did 3 episodes down, 5 weekly to follow for their shows, and Disney did all-weekly for the Mandalorian. And I think The Morning Show and the Mandalorian especially benefitted from that pace. It kept them in the social water-cooler spotlight for much longer than a single drop and binge would have.
I'm still catching up on the Watchman as well, and HBO remains a wildcard in all this with its MAX service. Which, for now, just frustrates the hell out of me. The idea that there'll be multiple services, not just HBO Now vs. HBO Max, but that DC Universe will remain a separate service, with DC-based shows split between them and CW, and that shows will be auctioned off internationally rather than unified in any way like both TV+ is and Disney+ is working towards just seems all shades of consumer hostile to me. Shame Warner Brothers. Shame.
Yes, I'm still angry Titans Season 2 and Young Justice Season Whatever hasn't even hit Canada yet.
It's the type of Lex Luthor corporate-driven anti-convenience I think people aren't going to put up with any more.
So, one season later, I think both TV+ and Disney+ are off to good starts. TV+ is probably doing better than I thought it would, given its lack of catalog content, but is offering up enough solid shows, internationally, and especially a wide enough and diverse enough range of top talent shows, that it's actually starting to distinguish itself. Disney+ is probably a little behind what I hoped, just because the announcement of all the Marvel and Star Wars shows, nothing could have really lived up to it. They just gotta get into more countries faster. But, legit, both are so different, and especially with the pricing — and Apple's free year — I'm going to be watching a ton of them going forward. Enough that Netflix and especially Warners might want to reconsider some of their less consumer-friendly choices. And fast.