There’s a moment during an early episode of Apple’s Idris Elba-fronted episodic thriller Hijack in which our hero is faced with an inextricable dilemma. Up against a crew of (potentially) armed hijackers hell-bent on flying a now-commandeered aircraft straight into the Central London skyline, Elba (as protagonist Sam Nelson) is pressed to come to a make-or-break decision: he can do nothing, sticking with the status quo as he waits for a better chance to strike, or he can go on the offensive and risk his safety, and that of his fellow passengers, by acting decisively in a bid to take control of the craft once more.
Admittedly, the dilemma in front of me as I ponder my streaming allegiances isn’t quite so intense or morally fraught as Elba's, but it's a dilemma nonetheless. As part of Apple’s relentless campaign of incentives to tease new viewers over to its video streaming service with all manner of deals, packages and offers, the super-corp recently offered PS5 users three months of free Apple TV Plus in a bid to get gamers to momentarily put down Baldur’s Gate 3 and dip into an episode of, say, The Morning Show instead. As a current Disney Plus subscriber and frequent tourist across the plains of Netflix and Amazon Prime, this was a chance to see what one of the newest kids on this increasingly crowded block had to offer.
As it turns out, it's quite a lot. Our collective impression of Apple’s fledgling streaming service when we reviewed it a year or so back was that, while it excelled in terms of usability, viewing options and video quality, we were perturbed by what was then a rather slim catalogue of shows and movies. Nowadays, things are different, with big hitters such as Invasion, Silo, Shrinking and The After Party rounding out that catalogue rather nicely. There’s a lot to enjoy, with the roster now a far cry from the rather bare-bones selection we bemoaned when the service first launched.
In fact, it’s the quality of the episodic shows on display, particularly the dramas, that really had me questioning my loyalties. Much of the aforementioned content, in addition to offerings such as the superbly gripping (and often very funny) Slow Horses or the equally white-knuckle Hijack (great show, silly ending) had me keen to keep surfing for further digital box sets before my subscription ran out. Add on the considerable boon of only having to pay £6.99 / $6.99 a month (were I paying at all) in contrast to Disney Plus' Standard tier price of £7.99 / $7.99, and Apple's forbidden fruits begin to taste even sweeter.
There’s certainly no shortage of star power here, either. Tom Holland, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston, Charlie Hunnam, not to mention the imminent arrival of Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up with Martin Scorsese; they’ve all been drawn to Apple’s ever-growing shores. If anything, Apple TV Plus is increasingly feeling like the place to be, especially now that Mr. Scorsese has blessed the platform with his colossal presence. That’s a coup that could have serious consequences heading into the future.
Where the service falls down, however, is with regard to its movies and, perhaps to a greater extent, its repeatable content. There’s little to choose from if you’re an avid film buff, with Tom Hanks’ WW2 naval drama Greyhound, or else Chris Evans’ and Ana de Armas’ middle-of-the-road spy actioner Ghosted, routinely filling out the top spot of the platform’s best and most popular movies. That, in essence, should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of films on display here. Room for improvement, shall we say.
Quality on the film front isn’t the only issue. In order to have significant longevity for any given user, a good streaming service needs to invest significantly in quantity, be it by gaining the rights to existing properties (see The Simpsons on Disney or The Cuphead Show on Netflix) rather than simply churning out its own produce from the production line. Apple, thus far, isn't doing quite enough in this department to satisfy a wider audience and, more importantly, keep them hooked once the main treats have been greedily consumed. Even Amazon offers sports fans a tempting carrot by providing access to events such as US Open tennis or Six Nations rugby for no extra cost. Access to Major League Soccer for an additional fee in that context feels like a bum deal to me, Messi or no Messi.
My ultimate decision on Apple TV Plus, then, feels paradoxical. What it offers is a host of new, well-made and increasingly well-realised TV series, as well as a smattering of above-average movies and documentaries, that provide a welcome and enticing change from the larger roster of big-name doses of “repeatable” content over at Disney, Netflix and, to a slightly lesser extent, Amazon. As a place for a welcome diversion from what almost seems like the mainstream at this point, it’s an exciting place to be.
The question, though, is whether, like the parent of an unruly child, it can hold that attention for an extended, even permanent, period. Those shows especially feel, to be cliched about it, like a breath of fresh air, and while one may temporarily become disenchanted by Disney or Netflix, it’s the depth and re-watchability of their respective catalogues that make them so appealing in the long term. This, sadly, is what Apple TV Plus still lacks, and while I’ve loved getting to grips with Severance, Hijack, Silo and a lot more besides, the lure of having every episode of The Simpsons, Futurama, The Mandalorian, Modern Family and Sons of Anarchy, to name but a few, gives Disney Plus that elusive long term appeal that Apple, right now, can’t match.
So if you’re asking for a recommendation, the answer is similar to that I gave when someone asked about a recent trip taken to the picturesque city of Siena, in Italy: “Fantastic for a holiday, but I’m not quite sure I could live there”. Apple TV Plus, then, makes for a wonderful getaway and is particularly worth exploring for adventurous folk faced with a money-off incentive, but I’m not willing to pack my bags and make a full-time switch just yet…
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