Because we all need more TV, Apple TV+ is launching on Friday. The new streaming service, which costs $4.99 per month, arrives with a small stock of new series, including a few shows for kids, a documentary about a matriarch elephant and her herd called “The Elephant Queen,” and a new version of “Oprah’s Book Club.” Here are reviews of some of the service’s new scripted series.
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Adrian Enscoe, Jane Krakowski, Anna Baryshnikov, Samuel Farnsworth, Toby Huss, Ella Hunt
In a scene from “Dickinson,” set in the mid-19th century, poet Emily Dickinson begins making out hard with her brother’s fiancee. Peals of thunder strike as the women’s lips lock, and rain suddenly starts to fall on the apple tree under which they stand. That PDA arrives just before Emily smokes a joint in a carriage with a black man in granny glasses who just happens to be Death. “When will you come for me?” she asks him. “I come for you every night, my darling,” he says.
And so it goes on this freak of a show, which is either Apple TV+’s oddball move on the CW’s teen-swoon market or a way to troll every lover of literature, history, and sanity. It’s a wholly unsuccessful and tonally inscrutable piece of work, as our Emily — played as a rogue by Hailee Steinfeld — hosts a crazy house party out of “Euphoria” where everyone drops opium. It’s a strained way to try to turn Emily Dickinson and, throughout the show, lines from her poems into something cool for kids.
Here’s the thing, though. As thoroughly bonkers as this “Dickinson” is, I was in awe of the nerve of it all. I can’t tell you exactly what tone show creator Alena Smith is aiming for — satire, spoof, revisionist drama, cultural kaleidoscope, flagrant attention grab. But I can tell you that she is going for broke with it all, refusing to give in to narrative expectations. It is — from sheer fearlessness — a thing to see, if not to follow.
FOR ALL MANKIND
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Dorman, Wrenn Schmidt, Sarah Jones
The image of America as the most powerful and innovative nation has always been linked to our space program and the first moon landing. Just ask Tom Hanks.
The ambitious “For All Mankind” throws that fact into relief, as it delivers an alternative history in which the Soviet Union beats us to the moon in the late 1960s and we’re left with a national identity complex. It’s a Cold War loss that strikes at the heart of American exceptionalism. After watching the giant leaper for mankind speaking in Russian, saying, “I take this step for my people, my country, and the Marxist-Leninist way of life,” our collective ego is bruised and a grumbling President Nixon is seen and heard (through cleverly doctored video and audio) leaning hard on NASA to fix things. Senator Edward Kennedy opts out of a weekend on Chappaquiddick to attend hearings about the future of NASA.
Life changes fast for the folks at NASA, and the show focuses in on them as they contend with Nixon’s demands. A strong subplot has NASA honcho Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore) taking the fall for NASA’s failure during a congressional hearing that zeroes in on his Nazi past.
The cast is led by Joel Kinnaman from “The Killing” as Ed Baldwin, who was on Apollo 10 when it hovered 8 miles above the moon’s surface but was not allowed to land, thus losing the race to the Soviets. Ed, a strong but silent type, is frustrated by the perception that he’s a walking, talking Almost, and Kinnaman makes his simmering male angst clear. But the story becomes more exciting as it breaks open the sexism of the space program, once the Soviets land a woman on the moon and Nixon wants us to follow suit. “The Man in the High Castle,” which is also an alternative history, instantly presents a radically different world from ours; “For All Mankind” moves into the differences slower and more subtly, with a group of female candidates vying to become the first woman on the moon.
Created and written by Matt Wolpert, Ben Nedivi, and “Battlestar Galactica” executive producer Ronald D. Moore, “For All Mankind” is a thought-provoking reinterpretation of more worshipful space operas such as “First Man” and “The First.” It takes a while for it to come together, and for us to feel the distinctions and quirks of characters who initially appear to be cardboard 1960s straights. But what at first seems to wander a bit ultimately finds its target and lands.
Starring: Jason Momoa, Sylvia Hoeks, Alfre Woodard, Hera Hilmar
At moments, I felt a little like an immature kid laughing at the oddities of “See,” a post-apocalyptic drama set in a future when the small, primitive human race has lost the sense of sight and people feel and sound their way through the forest, hunting and gathering. Some of the strange body language and verbal language (“I will sing your body into the world”) gave me the giggles, as did a scene in which an evil queen (played by Sylvia Hoeks) says she needs to pray and proceeds to masturbate as part of her worship. It’s all so serious, and yet so silly.
Jason Momoa, Khal Drogo himself, stars as warrior hero Baba Voss, leading his men and women into battle, but this genre piece with medieval-like stylings sure isn’t going to be the next “Game of Thrones.” The plot has canyon-like holes, as Momoa mutters the script’s high camp nonsense with uncomfortable bravado (did Momoa and costar Alfre Woodard titter between takes?). And the rules of the sightless world are comically inconsistent, so that the warriors hear some things during their battle but not others. When a blind culture makes clothes, do they really look quite as stylish as these?
I admire creator Steven Knight’s efforts to imagine what we’d evolve into without being able to use our eyes to survive. Cool idea. But the story doesn’t gel well, and the video-game-like combat sequences can be exhausting. “See” is a camp-watch, and not much more.