Now, after some behind-the-scenes drama, “Amazing Stories” has launched on Apple TV+, with the first two segments currently available. The first, “The Cellar,” is a time travel romance, while “The Heat” is a combination ghost story/murder mystery/sports drama.
As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, it’s hard to tell exactly who this show was made for. Both of the episodes aired so far get pretty goofy, as if the show was made for kids — but they also move into surprisingly dark territory. Both start with familiar setups, then take some surprising twists and turns, but the results aren’t very satisfying.
In the end, it was hard for any of us to muster any enthusiasm for watching the show’s remaining three episodes.
There’s plenty to like about “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a new series on Apple TV+ — its sympathetic-but-critical portrayal of the video game industry, its goofy-but-likable characters and a couple of big surprises that come at the end of the season.
But what really stood out to us — as we discuss on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast — was a single episode, “A Dark Quiet Death.”
Without getting into spoilers, it’s probably safe to reveal that the episode mostly stands apart from the rest of the season, telling a self-contained story about two characters (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) who, after they create a quirky horror video game that turns into a surprise hit, discover that success isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Where the rest of “Mythic Quest” is a broad comedy (with the aforementioned likable characters and surprising plot), “A Dark Quiet Death” is more of a drama that quietly — but agonizingly — portrays the tensions between commerce and art. And if we have a criticism, it’s that the episode’s achievement can make the rest of the show feel a little silly in comparison.
When Ubisoft first approached “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day about creating a new show set in the video game industry, McElhenney said they weren’t interested — at least, not initially.
“Anything that we had ever seen in the past, from a movie or television show perspective, the industry was always presented in such a negative light,” he told me. “It was the butt of the joke. The characters themselves were derided, and it was very specific to geek culture … We just had no interest in that.”
And yet McElhenney, Day and “It’s Always Sunny” writer Megan Ganz ended up creating “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” which premieres on Apple TV+ this weekend. McElhenney explained that a visit to the Montreal offices of Ubisoft — publisher of “Assassin’s Creed”, “Prince of Persia” and other major game franchises — changed his mind.
“Once we went to Montreal and met all of the devs that worked at Ubisoft, that all work in communion to make these games, [we realized] how many different, disparate personalities there really were and how much they were all all united by their love of games,” he said.
So McElhenney decided that “this just seemed like a really interesting and new place to set those kinds of stories.” And just as he assumes most “Sunny” viewers aren’t tuning in to learn the fate of Paddy’s Pub (the Philadelphia bar run by the show’s main characters), “The approach we took was, the general audience is not going to care about the success or failure of a video game, they’re going to care about the interpersonal dynamics of the characters themselves.”
Ganz also said she didn’t know much about video game development when McElhenney first approached her about collaborating on the show, but she started to see parallels between that world and a TV writers’ room.
“Except that instead of everyone being a writer, they all have very specialized jobs that they care about, like just the writing or just the design or just the money that’s being made,” she said. “And I thought, well, that’s really fun because that presents something that’s even more complex than your typical writers’ room — you have all these sort of Greek gods that all control their very specific part of the world.”
Of course, “Mythic Quest” had a writers’ room of its own, which Ganz said was divided evenly between people with deep knowledge of the industry (like Ashly Burch, who’s done extensive voiceover work on games like “Team Fortress 2” and “Fortnite,” and who also plays a game tester on the show), and those like Ganz herself, “who maybe played casually when they were younger” but ultimately didn’t know much about that world.
“We did that because ultimately, if you come up with a script or a joke that satisfies both of those people, then you’re going to satisfy as much of the audience as you possibly can,” she said.
The goal, she added, was not “pandering to the video game community,” but rather “to be authentic and not make fun of them, but also be authentic in terms of talking about some of the toxicity that happens in the video game space, the gender dynamics that are at play.”
It wasn’t just a learning process for the writers. F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for playing Salieri in “Amadeus”) plays an eccentric science fiction writer who works on the game, and he told me that when it came to video games, “I had no idea. I knew something, I was aware of it, but not the size of it, the success of it, the reach of it, my God.”
All the “Mythic Quest” writers and actors I spoke to said that their approach has evolved significantly from the original pilot script. For example, there’s McElhenney’s character Ian Grimm, the creative director of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game that gives the show its name.
“In the first draft of the script, we made Ian a little bit more of just a straight buffoon,” McElhenney said. “We read through it and we realized it just felt false. It was missing something, that if we didn’t want this to feel like a live action cartoon — like ‘Sunny’ often does, which is by design — and we wanted these people to feel real and authentic, that we needed to believe that he really should have that position.”
The question, then was how to make him competent, but in a funny way. They went with a pilot episode where Ian and lead engineer Poppy (played by Charlotte Nicdao) end up in a passionate debate about the properties of the game’s brand new shovel. While that debate will probably seem silly to most viewers, McElhenney said it also conveys “that thing that so many people in the creative arts have, or don’t have — the ability to see the most minor detail, the reason why something is going to work, or why it might not work.”
Throughout that process, the writers also tapped Ubisoft for advice. Jason Altman, Ubisoft’s head of film and television, is an executive producer on the show, and he recalled bringing in different team members to help the writers understand everything that goes into the development process.
In addition, Ubisoft Red Storm (the studio behind the Tom Clancy game franchise) pitched in by building the game segments that we actually see on the show.
“What they created were actually small gameplay sandboxes that we could bring to set, and the actors could sit and play with them and it would actually inform their performances,” Altman said.
He acknowledged that there were challenges, like helping the “Mythic Quest” writers realize that the developers needed time to do their work — but ultimately, he said the Red Storm team had “a great time” creating something that gave the show “a real sense of authenticity.”
Ganz and McElhenney also had plenty of praise for the developers, particularly for their openness to adding silly comedic elements like ridiculous gouts of blood. McElhenney pointed to one episode that required them to create “a really believable Sieg Heil Nazi salute.”
“There’s no way they’re going to go for that, it’s going to take a follow-up phone call,” he recalled thinking. “And they were like, ‘Okay great.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what do you mean, okay great?’ They said, ‘No, we do Nazis all the time’ — and we put this in the show — ‘because Nazis make the best villains, everybody hates Nazis.”
I was also curious about why the show focuses on the development of an ongoing MMORPG, rather than launching a new game. Altman had an answer for me: “I think it represents what’s happening within the game industry. You don’t just launch a game and forget it, the development team lives with it, you’ve got live services and live events. It’s the way games are operated right now.”
Plus, he said it reflects another aspect of development, the fact that teams “don’t just spend six months together, they spend years together, and the success that they create together binds them together.”
David Hornsby — who, like McElhenney, is both a writer, executive producer and actor on the show — told me that the writers’ understanding of show’s distribution also evolved, since Apple TV+ hadn’t launched (or even been officially announced) when “Mythic Quest” first got picked up.
“We weren’t sure if it wasn’t going to be binge-able from the start, we heard incrementally,” Hornsby said. “Apple is good at keeping secrets.”
Ultimately, they did find out that all nine episodes would drop at once, which Hornsby said led them to structure the season “like a movie — we know where we are going to be in the middle of the season, the story arcs for each of our characters.”
I also brought up Apple TV+ with McElhenney, who said the team had offers from a number of studios.
“It was scary,” he said. “And I remember we were discussing it, we were like, do we go with a known quantity? Or do we jump into the waters of mystery, because even though it’s the biggest company in the world, you don’t know if it’s going to work.”
So why choose Apple? “We just felt like, if you’re gonna bet on somebody, why not bet on a trillion dollars? They seem to have the resources and something figured out.”
The Apple TV app, including access to the new streaming service Apple TV+, has now arrived on LG smart TVs. This week, LG announced the launch of the Apple TV app on compatible 2019 LG smart TVs in the U.S. and in over 80 other countries worldwide. The app will also arrive on 2018 smart TVs later this year, and it’s available on 2020 TVs at launch.
Users are able to access the new app from the LG Home Launcher, and can then stream Apple TV+ shows, subscribe to Apple TV channels, access their iTunes video library, and buy or rent over 100,000 movies and TV shows from iTunes.
In addition, LG touts that Apple’s wide range of titles available in Dolby Vision — like most Apple TV+ content — will be supported on LG’s latest TVs. Apple’s AirPlay 2, which allows users to mirror content from their iPhone, iPad or Mac on their TV, is also available. So is Apple’s HomeKit, allowing the TV to be controlled with Apple’s Home app or by using Siri.
The Apple TV app, AirPlay 2, and HomeKit will now work on all of LG’s 2019 OLED TVs, NanoCell TVs (series SM9X and SM8X). Later this month, the app will arrive on select UHD TVs (series UM7X and UM6X). And later this year, support will be extended to LG’s 2018 TVs via an over-the-air firmware upgrade. However, anyone buying a 2020 LG TV will have the Apple TV app available at launch, the company says.
With the launch of Apple TV+ in November, Apple had no choice but to support a wider ecosystem in order to accommodate the variety of ways people today watch TV. Today, the TV app works on all Apple devices and the web, plus streaming media players like Fire TV and Roku. However, only Samsung was the first to have the TV app available across a wide number of smart TVs. According to Apple’s website, other TV manufacturers including Sony and VIZIO, only offer AirPlay 2 support for now.
The series, which counts “The Big Sick” writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani among its executive producers, tells eight separate stories (all based on real-life profiles in Epic Magazine) about immigrants to the United States. For example, the first episode focuses on a young boy whose parents end up returning to India in the face of deportation, leaving him as the de facto manager of their motel in Utah.
At a time when immigration remains a hot-button issue on the national stage, this might sound like the setup for a righteously angry and political show. Instead, “Little America” largely eschews overt politics, aside from its insistence in depicting as immigrants from all over the world as individuals with their own idiosyncrasies and ambitions — in short, as real human beings.
This makes for a funny, engaging show that never gets particularly dark or depressing. Perhaps that’s our only real criticism — that the stories seem so carefully chosen to emphasize uplift over anger that they can start to feel a bit formulaic.
Apple has scored more big names for its newly launched streaming service, Apple TV+, including “Veep” and “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as well as Meryl Streep, the latter who’s attached to an animated short film about Earth Day, set to premiere on April 17. In addition, Apple has now announced several new series for Apple TV+, plus renewals and premiere dates for others.
The upcoming Earth Day film, titled “Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth,” will also star the voice talents of “Room” actor Jacob Tremblay as a seven-year-old child who learns about the planet, and Chris O’Dowd and Ruth Negga as his parents. Streep will provide the voice-over narration.
Meanwhile, Louis-Dreyfus hasn’t announced specific details of her projects. Apple says she has inked an overall deal with Apple TV+ as both an executive producer and star — her first overall deal with a streaming service. Under the multi-year agreement, Louis-Dreyfus will create multiple new projects exclusively for Apple TV+.
Joked the actress: “I am thrilled about this new partnership with my friends at Apple. Also, many thanks and kudos to my representatives for structuring the deal in such a way that I am paid in AirPods,” she said.
Apple has previously signed other overall deals with names like Alfonso Cuaron, Kerry Ehrin, Jon M. Chu, Justin Lin, Jason Katims, Lee Eisenberg, as well as studios A24 and Imagine Documentaries, and Oprah.
In addition to the big-name talent grabs, Apple also on Friday announced a new documentary series, “Dear…,” from Emmy and Peabody winner R.J. Cutler. Due out this spring, the series will profile internationally known leaders, including Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Spike Lee, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Yara Shahidi, Stevie Wonder, Aly Raisman, Misty Copeland, Big Bird (uh, what?) and others.
This is not Apple TV+’s first documentary. It’s currently airing the Peace Award winner “The Elephant Queen,” about a tribe of African elephants. And while not a documentary, per se, the service is also now featuring real life-inspired tales of immigrants in the U.S. in the Apple TV+ anthology series, “Little America” which have a documentary-like vibe. Other documentary series and films in the works include “Visible: Out on Television” “Home,” “Beastie Boys Story” and “Dads.”
Newly announced “Visible…,” exec-produced by Ryan White, Jessica Hargrave, Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz, focuses on the LGBTQ movement and its impact on television. Premiering on Valentine’s Day (February 14), the series will also feature narration from Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Waithe.
Another new show is “Central Park,” an animated musical comedy from Loren Bouchard (“Bob’s Burgers”), executive producer Josh Gad (“Frozen”) and executive producer Nora Smith (“Bob’s Burgers”), which will arrive this summer. The show features a family that lives in Central Park, the Tillermans, and includes a voice cast with the talents of Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs and Stanley Tucci. The animation style has the distinct look of “Bob’s Burgers,” as well.
Apple’s first original series from the U.K., “Trying,” will premiere on May 1st globally. This series stars Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, hails from BBC Studios and was written by Andy Wolton. As the name hints, the story is about a couple — Jason and Nikki — who are trying to have a baby. But Apple describes the show’s larger theme as one about “growing up, settling down and finding someone to love.”
A new thriller, “Defending Jacob,” based on the 2012 NYT bestseller of the same name, will premiere April 24.
The limited series stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gabriel and Sakina Jaffrey, and tells of a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town. The story follows an assistant district attorney who is torn between duty to uphold justice and his love for his son. Academy Award-winner J.K. Simmons guest stars.
Apple also announced its live-action comedy that follows a team of video game developers, “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” has been renewed for a second season ahead of its global premiere date of February 7.
The show was co-created by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz, and also stars McElhenney as the fictional company’s creative director, Ian Grimm.
Other shows awarded a second season include “Little America,” “Dickinson,” “See,” “Servant,” “For All Mankind,” “The Morning Show” and the soon-to-premiere “Home Before Dark.”
Despite not sharing any sort of viewership data — even with the shows’ stars — the renewals speak to Apple’s confidence in its original programming.
“Home Before Dark” is a dramatic mystery series featuring young investigative journalist Hilde Lysiak, and is exec-produced by Jon M. Chu. Based on the real-life kid reporter of the same name, the series takes Hilde’s story into fictional territory by telling a tale of a young girl who moves from Brooklyn to a small lakeside town where she ends up unearthing a cold case that everyone in town, including her dad, has tried to bury. The real Lysiak, however, runs an online news operation, Orange Street News, which made headlines when the then 11-year-old girl scooped local news outlets by being the first to expose a murder in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pa.
Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” has also now been given a premiere date of March 6. The rebooted anthology series is run by Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (“Lost”), and features episode directors Chris Long (“The Americans,” “The Mentalist”), Mark Mylod (“Succession,” “Game of Thrones”), Michael Dinner (“Unbelievable,” “Sneaky Pete”), Susanna Fogel (“Utopia,” “Play By Play”) and Sylvain White (“Stomp the Yard,” “The Rookie”).
Also previously announced, Apple set a premiere date for the new documentary series “Home,” which will air on April 17. The series offers viewers a look inside some of the world’s most innovative homes around the world.
Though only two months old, Apple TV+ has already landed its first Hollywood industry award, as “The Morning Show” star Jennifer Aniston snagged a SAG Award for best female actor in a drama. Co-star Billy Crudup also won a Critics’ Choice Award for best-supporting actor.
Apple this morning released a year-end retrospective of its Services business, which includes the App Store, Apple Music, iCloud, and new in 2019, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Card. In particular, the company highlighted new holiday 2019 records set on the App Store which sees over a half a billion visits from people in 155 countries per week. To date, App Store developers have earned over $155 billion, Apple noted.
What’s remarkable is that a quarter of those earnings came in last year alone.
Apple also noted it saw a busy holiday season on the App Store with customers spending reaching $1.42 billion between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve — a 16% increase over 2018.
On New Year’s Day, customers spend $386 million alone — a 20% increase over 2019 and a new single-day record.
The company confirmed the year’s top 10 free and paid apps and games, with YouTube, Facetune, Mario Kart Tour and Minecraft snagging the No. 1 positions. (Full lists are below). Apple Arcade, meanwhile, grew to include over 100 games.
Beyond the App Store, Apple touted some of the major achievements for its other Services businesses, but not in terms of revenue generated.
For example, it said that more than 50% of Apple Music listeners tried the time-synced lyrics feature on iOS 13. It also noted that its Apple TV+ shows received Golden Globe and SAG nominations in year one. And it said Apple News now as over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Canada.
On the podcasting front, Apple noted its Podcasts app now includes over 800,000 shows in 155 countries. For comparison’s sake, its chief rival Spotify has over 500,000.
Apple Pay allowed entry to more than 150 stadiums, ballparks, arenas and entertainment venues around the world was available with contactless tickets in 2019, and users could ride public transit in Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, London, and New York. This year, more cities are being added, including Washington D.C., Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Foshan, plus several U.S. universities.
In terms of security, over 75% of iCloud users have enabled two-factor authentication, Apple noted.
“2019 was the biggest year for Services in Apple’s history. We introduced several exciting new experiences for our customers, all while setting the standard for user privacy and security,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, in a statement. “We begin the new decade with incredible momentum and gratitude to our customers who have shown such enthusiasm for all of our Services, and we continue to celebrate the work of the world’s best creators, storytellers, journalists and developers,” he added.
Nearly a year after stepping down as chief executive of HBO, Richard Plepler and his production company Eden Productions have signed a five-year deal with Apple TV+.
Plepler started at HBO back in 1993 and became CEO in 2013. During his time in that role, HBO had continued success with shows new (“True Detective” and “Big Little Lies”) and old (“Game of Thrones”). It also launched its direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, HBO Now, which in some ways was the precursor to HBO Max — an upcoming service from AT&T and WarnerMedia that will incorporate HBO as part of a larger offering.
In explaining his move, Plepler told The Times that he didn’t want to try to “duplicate” his time at HBO — instead, it made sense to “do my own thing.” He also said that his only serious talks were with Apple: “I thought that Apple was the right idea very quickly, just because it was embryonic enough that I thought maybe, you know, I could make a little contribution there.”
The man who oversaw the creation of some of HBO’s most highly-praised ‘prestige TV’ could soon be making shows for Apple TV+, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Plepler, who was HBO’s Chairman and CEO up until he parted ways with the company last February following its acquisition by AT&T, is nearing an exclusive production deal with Apple’s new original content streaming service, the report says.
Plepler, who spent almost 30 years at HBO, including six as its CEO during which the media company aired some of its biggest hits, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ would definitely bring some big-name industry influence to Apple’s efforts. Not that Apple TV+ lacks for that in its early offing, either: The premiere slate of original shows include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon-led ‘The Morning Show,’ and and a show centred around Oprah’s Book Club, just to name a couple of examples.
The deal, which isn’t yet final but might be signed officially “within the next few weeks,” per the report, would be between Apple and Plepler’s RLP & Co., a production company he established after leaving HBO. There’s nothing yet to indicate what kind of projects he’d be working on for Apple TV+, but it’s a logical target for Apple’s new original content enterprise to pursue, given that its focus thus far appears to be on fewer, big budget and high-profile projects, but critical reception hasn’t been up to par with the kind of TV that HBO has a track record of producing.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the launch of Apple’s new subscription streaming service. There were reports that the company was committed to staying family friendly, rather than exploring the adult content and creative liberties that both premium cable and streaming can offer. Plus, most of the trailers were pretty underwhelming.
For our 100th (!) episode, your regular Original Content podcast hosts are joined by TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez to discuss all the Apple TV+ shows we’ve sampled so far — “For All Mankind,” “See,” “Dickinson” and even “Snoopy in Space.” And we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
Just a few episodes in, “For All Mankind” (an alternate history in which the Soviet Union won the race to the moon) and “See” (set in a world where everyone has lost the sense of sight) have turned some of us into fans. And even “Dickinson” — which has the seemingly impossible task of telling Emily Dickinson’s story using modern slang— turns out to be a strange and watchable experiment.
We save our most extensive discussion for the most high-profile title of the bunch: “The Morning Show,” which stars Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, longtime host of an AM news show also called “The Morning Show,” and Reese Witherspoon as local news anchor Bradley Jackson, whose confrontation at a coal mine protest ends up going viral right as Alex’s show implodes, thanks to sexual misconduct allegations against her longtime co-host Matt Kessler (played Steve Carell).
Obviously, the show has star power, and the leads are supported by talented and familiar faces like Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
The performances are all strong, with Aniston and Witherspoon carrying the show: Aniston convincingly portrays a woman who’s both devastated by the revelations of her on-screen partner’s behavior and desperate to seize the opportunity that these revelations create. Witherspoon, meanwhile, adds complex shading to perhaps her trademark role as a spunky, ambitious upstart.
The writing, on the other hand, is a bit uneven. There’s an unfortunate tendency towards speechifying about big themes like The Role of Journalism in America — at times, it feels almost Sorkin-esque, but without the eloquence or snappiness of Aaron Sorkin’s best dialogue.
So far, though, the speeches have been balanced out by strong characterization and some satisfyingly dramatic twists.