Apple’s streaming service Apple TV+, for better or worse, is a fraction of the size of pretty much all of its rivals and has remained a much more boutique offering for the entirety of its existence since 2019. That said, size doesn’t really have anything to do with the amount of quality content on the platform available to choose from — quality, fortunately, being where Apple especially shines.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at a dozen Apple shows available to stream that are as good as anything you’ll find on Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, and the like. They range from high-profile standouts to underrated gems.
14 must-watch Apple TV shows
For the purposes of this guide, we’ve also grouped these 12 Apple shows — all of which are available to stream in full right now — into four content buckets: Crime/thrillers, dramas, documentaries, and feel-good series.
For our first category of the must-watch Apple shows, the following three titles include a pulse-pounding military action drama, an Israeli spy thriller, and a crime series developed by Dennis Lehane that was adapted from an autobiographical novel.
Echo 3: Let’s just say when I saw that Mark Boal — who’s known for writing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker — was attached to this first Apple show, I was in.
The trailer below quickly sealed the deal. Echo 3 is a 10-episode series with a straightforward plot (An American woman is kidnapped in South America, and her brother and husband — both elite US soldiers — grab their guns and saddle up to go get her out), plus great cinematography and action sequences.
Stars include Luke Evans, Michiel Huisman, and Jessica Ann Collins. It’s based on the award-winning series When Heroes Fly, created by Omri Givon and inspired by the eponymous novel by Amir Gutfreund. I was a little disappointed by the anticlimactic ending — I don’t want to say any more about it than that — but I still would recommend putting this one on your watch list all the same.
Black Bird: Fans of this Apple drama include Stephen King, who’s raved about the 6-episode Black Bird that it’s nothing short of “brilliant and riveting.” From the streamer’s official synopsis:
“Inspired by actual events, when high school football hero and decorated policeman’s son Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton) is sentenced to 10 years in a minimum-security prison, he is given the choice of a lifetime — enter a maximum-security prison for the criminally insane and befriend suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), or stay where he is and serve his full sentence with no possibility of parole.”
Stars include, in addition to Egerton and Hauser, Ray Liotta, and Greg Kinnear. Speaking of Liotta, the Apple series marks the final TV role for the veteran actor, who died in his sleep in May of 2022. As for the show itself, it has near-perfect critics’ and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing (97% and 95%, respectively).
Tehran: In this Apple spy thriller (which is coming back soon for a third season), Niv Sultan portrays Tamar Rabinyan — an Iranian-born Mossad agent who, in Season 1, sneaks into Iran to try and leave an Iranian nuclear facility vulnerable to an Israeli Air Force bombing run. In Season 2, Glenn Close joined the cast as a new handler of sorts for Tamar inside Iran.
Quality spy dramas aren’t always easy to come by. Too often, it feels like filmmakers or TV showrunners fall back on tired tropes and lazy assumptions about the secret world. In Tehran, the protagonists are messy, flawed, and prone to mistakes — but also so compelling as to keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. A 10/10 series from Apple.
Feel-good Apple TV+ shows
Looking for something less action-heavy and more along the lines of comfort TV? This category has you covered.
Acapulco: TV doesn’t get much more feel-good than Apple’s Spanish- and English-language comedy Acapulco, which is awash in bright splashes of color, is set largely in and around a beautiful resort, and is built around the earnest, lovelorn character of a young man named Maximo. The co-creators include Eduardo Cisneros, Jason Shuman, and Austin Winsberg — the latter of whom is also the creator of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and a TV veteran who is clearly hardcore about making sure you feel good after spending time with any of his shows.
Speaking of Winsberg, he tweeted on Friday that the show just organized its first table read earlier in the day for Season 3 of Acapulco. I couldn’t be happier that Apple continues to invest in this series, which is a definite must-watch for the Ted Lasso fans among you.
Ted Lasso: These next two Apple shows share similar DNA. Bill Lawrence is the co-creator behind both, which are each built around flawed but ridiculously likable protagonists.
In Ted Lasso, the title character is an aw-shucks, small-time coach from Kansas who gets a job in England coaching a Premier League football team. Like with so many Lawrence shows, however, that setting is just the packaging for something timeless and much more approachable at the core. You don’t have to be a sports fan at all, in other words, to appreciate this series about learning how to find and embrace your better self.
The show got even more interesting last season, when the irrepressible optimism and feel-good spirit of Season 1 was complemented by a focus on mental (with the addition of a team therapist). Characters like Coach Lasso, whose marriage has fallen apart, were fleshed out even more — and Season 3 which debuted on March 15 will find him confronted by the challenge of leading the team out of their malaise and (hopefully) back to the top.
Season 3 also brings us everything from a hotshot new AFC Richmond player to the return of Ted’s panic attacks; a secret that one of the Richmond players is hiding; and individual members of the whole enterprise — Jamie, Keeley, Rebecca, and so many others — continuing to navigate their own special sets of circumstances while figuring out how to maybe come out a little better on the other side.
From our review of the new season:
“At the end of the day, there’s always a little bit of arrogance involved in writing about any kind of art — not that it won’t stop the massive hot-take machine from weighing in on the highly anticipated new season of the show. Does Ted Lasso stick the landing? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself, of course, but I can only offer — again — that if you’ve enjoyed the ride thus far, I think the thing you’ll be the most disappointed by here is that the show that encouraged us to be a goldfish — and to be curious, not judgmental — is coming to an end.”
Shrinking: Lawrence is also a co-creator of Shrinking, which stars Jason Segel as Jimmy Laird — a Lasso-ian kind of therapist, struggling with grief and passionate about making a difference in the lives of his patients.
At work, Jimmy’s colleagues include fellow therapists Paul (Harrison Ford) and Gabby (Jessica Williams), the latter of whom steals practically every scene she’s in, and is so likable I wish her character was real. I dare you, by the way, to not sing along with her as she’s belting out Absolutely (Story of a Girl)), that earworm from the band Nine Days, while she’s driving her car.
When we meet Jimmy, it’s been a year since his wife Tia was killed in a car accident. Compounding Jimmy’s grief is the fact that he and his wife were fighting during their last interaction. As he’s reeled from the tragedy, meanwhile, his neighbor Liz has stepped in to act as a kind of surrogate mother figure for Jimmy’s daughter Tia, who’s had to grieve while also dealing with the loneliness that’s come from her dad basically checking out since the tragedy.
Watching all of the characters navigate grief while also embracing joy has been an absolute treat, and it’s no wonder Apple TV+ has already renewed the show for a Season 2. Shrinking is at its best when it avoids fortune cookie pablum and presents grief as the long dark tunnel that it is. And how no one is meant to navigate their way through it passively, or alone.
Mythic Quest: From Apple’s official description of the show: “Mythic Quest follows a group of video game developers tasked with building worlds, molding heroes, and creating legends, but the most hard-fought battles don’t occur in the game — they happen in the office. In season three, as Ian and Poppy navigate the gaming world and their partnership at the newly formed GrimPop Studios, Dana is forced to play mediator to her bosses’ incessant bickering.”
Little America: This show is an anthology series about the lives of real-life immigrants who all have different experiences in pursuit of the American Dream. As an aside, Episode 3 of Little America Season 2 (titled The 9th Caller) is one of the best single episodes of TV I’ve seen in a long-time — make sure a box of Kleenex is nearby while you watch. Apple has also extended the show beyond TV, via a Little America podcast.
This final category includes some of the best dramas that you’ll find on any streamer, a few of which made many critics’ Best TV of 2022 lists.
Severance: From director and executive producer Ben Stiller and creator Dan Erickson, Severance tells the story of a team at the fictional Lumon Industries, whose employees have undergone a “severance” procedure that surgically divides their memories between their work and personal lives.
There’s a reason this dystopian drama, starring Adam Scott, has a near-perfect critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. Strap yourself in for a wild ride.
Pachinko: A breathtaking artistic achievement, this adaptation of the blockbuster novel from Min Jin Lee interweaves the stories of multiple generations of a Korean-Japanese family into one unforgettable whole. From Apple:
“Pachinko chronicles the hopes and dreams of a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they leave their homeland in an indomitable quest to survive and thrive. Starting in South Korea in the early 1900s, the story is told through the eyes of a remarkable matriarch, Sunja, who triumphs against all odds.”
The series was created by Soo Hugh, and its cast includes Academy Award-winning actress Youn Yuh-jung as the older Sunja, Lee Min-ho as Hansu, Jin Ha as Solomon, and Kim Min-ha as the teenaged version of Sunja. Apple renewed the show for a second season in 2022. “Words cannot express my joy in being able to continue telling the extraordinary story of this indomitable family,” Hugh said about the renewal.
A personal note: The scene in Episode 4 of Pachinko, in which Solomon dances in the rain to a cover band playing The Cure’s “In Between Days,” is one of my favorite TV moments of 2022. If it doesn’t move you, too, check your pulse — you might have already shuffled off this mortal coil.
Bad Sisters: In this critically acclaimed dark comedy featuring an ensemble cast that includes Sharon Horgan, per Apple, the Garvey sisters “are bound together by the premature death of their parents and a promise to always protect one another.”
“When their brother-in-law winds up dead, his life insurers launch an investigation to prove malicious intent — and set their sights on the sisters, all of whom had ample reason to kill him.”
The cast includes Horgan, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene, and Eve Hewson along with Claes Bang.
Slow Horses: This spy drama led by Gary Oldman offers a refreshing change of pace. The spooks herein aren’t beautiful or handsome, nor are they rakish or debonair a la James Bond. Rather, they’re the washed-up, sad-sack intelligence misfits shunted out to MI5’s administrative Siberia called Slough House, from which comes their pejorative moniker — the Slow Horses.
The degree to which the cast is also stacked with top-notch British acting talent — including Oldman, but also Kristen Scott Thomas, Jack Lowden, and Jonathan Pryce, among others — should also provide an indication of the quality on offer here. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t also point out: The series is based on the Slow Horses series of spy novels from writer Mick Herron, who follows in the best tradition of spy novelists like Ian Fleming and John le Carre.
The Reluctant Traveler: This travelogue hosted by actor Eugene Levy is basically the antithesis of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
Where the latter was an urbane, profane, frequently mesmerizing writer with a masterful command of prose who was in love with the world, Levy is a 76-year-old fussbudget who prefers his creature comforts in lieu of traveling the globe — and who especially prefers luxe hotels and fine meals over venturing out to mingle with the locals.
So, of course, that’s exactly what Apple gives Levy a show to do. To visit a series of exotic and far-flung locales, enjoy swanky accommodations, but also to carpe the diem. This show was a delightful surprise for me, as much for the astonishing visuals as being reminded that you’re never too old to get out of your comfort zone a little.
Real Madrid: Until The End: Per Apple, this three-part series introduced by David Beckham “steps onto the field and, for the first time ever, goes behind the scenes with the iconic football club for a look at their astonishing 2021–2022 season, filled with dramatic come-from-behind victories and no shortage of on-field heroics from both veterans and newcomers alike.
“Fueled by their fervent fans, they defy the odds and skeptics on their way to one of the most memorable finishes in football history, culminating in a record 14th Champions League title.”
Now, having detailed the best of the best Apple shows in each of those categories above, we’ll wrap up this Apple TV+ show guide by breaking things down even more. Put simply, if you’re pressed for time and are only looking for one of those Apple shows in each category, in our opinion, these are absolutely hands-down the series that you cannot miss.
- Best Apple feel-good show: Ted Lasso
- Best Apple drama: Pachinko
- Best Apple documentary: Real Madrid: Until the End
- Best Apple crime/thriller series: Tehran
For a higher-level overview of Apple’s streamer, also check out our guide covering all things Apple TV+ that dives into more detail about the service’s pricing, supported devices, and much more.