Worth Watching: A Bushel from Apple, 'Jack Ryan,' 'Atypical,' Broadway on PBS
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Apple TV+ Launch: The streaming wars heat up again with the arrival of Apple's new subscription service, dominated by the starry The Morning Show, a slick and starry confection starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as TV-news personalities jousting for power against shady, and notably, male bosses. Steve Carell co-stars as Aniston's disgraced on-air partner, fired (Matt Lauer-style) after allegations of sexual misconduct. (Read my full review.)
In descending order of how likely I am to keep watching, here are quick takes on other premieres from Apple's initial bushel. (With one exception, the shows premiere with three episodes, and new episodes will roll out weekly on Fridays.)
For All Mankind (streaming on Apple TV+): Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) delivers a peculiar alt-history space drama that could just as easily be titled The Wrong Stuff. Set in the late 1960s, Mankind imagines a world in which NASA's Apollo program was upstaged by the Russians when they got to the Moon first. Jingoism is replaced by "we're number two, we try harder" determinism as the once-cocky astronauts swallow their pride to welcome women into their ranks on an accelerated basis, which makes later episodes more intriguing. (Sonja Walger, introduced in the third episode, is especially good as tough-as-nails candidate Molly Cobb, based on real-life "Mercury 13" aviator Geraldyn M. Cobb.) Though beautifully produced, and generally well-acted, it's a very slow build, and as is often the case with streaming series, the episodes can feel endless. Still, much like waiting at the Cape for a liftoff (I've been there).
Dickinson (all 10 episodes streaming on Apple TV+): You may never see the so-called "Belle of Amherst" in quite the same way, after this frisky folly depicting a young, sexually restless Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld), who responds to a "What up, sis?" from her brother with "Nothin', bro, just chillin'." Never mind that this is happening in the mid-19th century, Dickinson uses a hip-hop soundtrack and modern vernacular to remind us just how ahead of her times this reclusive poet was. The casting, including Jane Krakowski as her uptight mom, suggests a parody more than a tribute to the spirit of a woman who wouldn't let the gender barriers of her time contain her imagination.
See (streaming on Apple TV+): Some things you just can't unsee. And this preposterous, gory fantasy is literally a sight for sore eyes. Set in a future world devastated by a virus that left all survivors blind — except for a heretic who fathers twins with the forbidden gift of sight — See is hilariously solemn and predictably grim in its primitive battles and violent superstitious hokum. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard lead a cast so wooden you begin to wish they’d been denied the ability to speak as well.
Also part of Apple's opening salvo: Oprah's Book Club, with Oprah Winfrey discussing her latest pick, The Water Dancer, with author Ta-Nehisi Coates; and The Elephant Queen, a nature documentary that intimately follows the journey of Athena, a pachyderm matriarch, leading her family on a search for life-sustaining waterholes.
Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan (streaming on Amazon Prime Video): Unbowed by Apple's arrival on the already overcrowded scene, Amazon has dropped a second season of its hit action series, based on Clancy's iconic hero. John Krasinski once again stars as the CIA analyst, embroiled in a global conspiracy that takes him from violent instability in Venezuela to the U.K. and Russia.
Atypical (streaming on Netflix): And of course the streaming behemoth isn't going dark. Its top offering is a third season of the delightful and moving family comedy, starring Keir Gilchrist as autistic Sam, who at 19 is starting his first year of college, which presents a whole new syllabus of coming-of-age challenges. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapoport (doing career-high work) are his concerned and rarely in-sync parents, and Bridgette Lundy-Paine is terrific as Sam's devoted yet independent sister, Casey. Joining the cast: The Conners' Sara Gilbert as Sam's ethics professor and Will & Grace's Eric McCormack as his art teacher.
Also new on Netflix: Queer Eye: We're in Japan!, a special four-episode season of the Emmy-winning reality show, taking the Fab Five to Tokyo for a high-spirited culture clash… The 40-minute documentary short Fire in Paradise relives the tragedy of a year ago when the deadly Camp Fire destroyed a California community, killing 85 people… Following a run in theaters, the costume drama The King stars Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) as young King Henry V… Sex and the City's Kristin Davis takes a Hallmark-like Holiday in the Wild in a rom-com about a Manhattanite who goes on African safari after being jilted by her husband, finding purpose nursing an orphaned baby elephant under the tutelage of a dashing pilot, played (naturally) by Rob Lowe… American Son reunites the Broadway cast of a play starring Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan. It depicts the vigil of a distraught mother of a missing mixed-race boy in a South Florida police station.
42nd Street (9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Come and meet those dancing feet. Great Performances kicks off a monthlong series of "Broadway's Best" specials with a revival from London's West End of the blockbuster tap-crazy musical comedy that whisks the audience into an extravagant fantasy of song and choreography from the moment the curtain rises on a clattering cacophony of chorus boys and girls. It's a merrily cornball world where a brash director (Tom Lister) can tell his perky ingenue (Clare Halse), "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" And she does.
Inside Friday TV: Nickelodeon is looking for America's Most Musical Family (7/6c) in a competition series presenting 30 family bands of all musical styles, competing for a recording contract and $250,000. Nick Lachey hosts, with judges including Ciara, Debbie Gibson and digital-media star David Dobrik… CMT's Nashville Squares (8/7c) brings down-home fun to the Hollywood Squares format, with host Bob Saget firing off country music-inspired questions to clowns and crooners. Sara Evans and Marie Osmond are the "center squares" in the first two episodes… Social-media comics Tom Allen and John Parr guest on CBS's Hawaii Five-0 (8/7c) as YouTubers on a ride-along with Tani (Meaghan Rath) and Quinn (Katrina Law)… An Instagram star tries on stand-up in Showtime's Celeste Barber: Challenge Accepted (9/8c), sharing the stories behind her most celebrated Instagram parodies of celebrity photos.