We live in a truly connected world. A world in which television has been transformed by the internet. Streaming services have been de rigueur for the TV connoisseur looking for the very best in entertainment. Battles between traditional broadcasters and streamers are a regular occurance – often ending in the two working together to create, produce and distribute a series outside of a broadcaster’s home country.

Netflix’s first original TV show was produced in conjunction with Norway’s national broadcaster, NRK1. It was called Lilyhammer and featured The Soprano’s Steven Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano, a former underboss in an American Mafia family who testifies against his former boss who placed a hit on him. Under federal protection, he opts to go and live in Lillehammer, Norway, under a new identity of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen.

We had three wonderful seasons of Lilyhammer. It was almost the perfect show – especially after Breaking Bad. It mattered not that Johnny only ever spoke English and everybody else spoke Norwegian (with English subtitles) .- the excuse WAS plausible. This was a true “fish out of water” comedy drama which exuded charm. And it all came to a sudden end at the end of season three – with the only episode directed by Van Zandt himself.

There were rumours that NRK1 did something that Netflix didn’t like. Some said it was the other way around. But in any event, Netflix pulled out of the deal and we were left with a great show that ended suddenly, leaving at least one major plotline unresolved (that of Sigrid, Johnny’s former girlfriend and mother to his children).

Fast forward to 2019. Moria Walley-Beckett, a former actress turned writer-producer and showrunner, who has won more awards and nominations than I can count on my fingers (including three Emmys), announced that season three of “Anne with an E” – her more modern take on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables – has not been renewed for a fourth season.

Quite frankly, I’m pissed off.

You may think it’s rather odd for a 43-year old straight bloke to enjoy a show whose demographic – well, I’m not and never was going to be the key demographic for this genre am I? But trust me, I do like this show. I really do.

Firstly, Anne (with an E) has such a fine cast and crew for a historical drama that’s as complex and endearing as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, two shows that I never expected to love and enjoy as much as I did (and still do – and I also include The Crown in that bunch – something I wouldn’t normally have ever touched 20-30 years ago).

The show absolutely found its Anne in Amybeth McNulty, its Marilla in Geraldine James, and Matthew in R. H. Thomson. The supporting cast are equally as brilliant – and you really appreciate the work that casting directors do – a very overlooked profession that doesn’t truly get the recognition it deserves.

The crew is equally superb – some of Canada’s finest directors including Anne Wheeler, Ken Girotti, Helen Shaver, Amanda Tapping (of Stargate fame) and Norma Bailey, amongst others. The first episode was directed by none other than New Zealander Niki Caro, whose Whale Rider was a triumph of filmmaking. Anne (with an E) doesn’t feel like regular episodic television – the cinematography, direction, writing, performance and production design makes it feel that you’re watching a cinematic masterpiece each week.

I think Anne (with an E) is an important show as it’s an exceptionally positive adoption story. That and Dreamworks Kung-Fu Panda trilogy. It may seem silly to compare a big live action drama with a family animated film – but having gone through (and unfortunately due to a variety of reasons never completed) the process of (international) adoption some time ago, the meaning of belonging, acceptance, and dealing with things like attachment is important.

I tell you right now – the second episode of the first season of Anne (with an E) had me literally in floods of tears when Matthew, who instantly warmed to Anne’s strong personality and intelligence after meeting her for the first time, managed to find her after running away from Green Gables and exclaimed to everybody in the room that she was his daughter. Anne started crying. I started crying. It was such a bloody lovely moment.

Moria Walley-Beckett’s Anne (with an E) goes beyond the books and introduces themes that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t have been addressed in Victorian Canada at the time. Not just issues surrounding adoption, but other social and personal matters. It’s truly an inclusive drama which I’ve seen critics have a go at the show for – but the beauty of transformative works is that they can be whatever the writers want it to be.

Now while I haven’t yet read the Green Gables books – I’ve bought the whole lot on Kindle as soon as I started watching the show. I know certain key points in Anne’s life, and how the series ends. It would take a considerable number of seasons to cover it all – and you’ll find that previous adaptations (including a version of Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata) only go up to a certain point in the book series. But from what I gather of season three (which hasn’t yet aired internationally) it’s a rather bittersweet ending.

My question is – who put the knife in? Netflix? CBC? I doubt it’s CBC – a national broadcaster is unlikely to have killed off a series which is universally liked – especially in its home territory. Did CBC manage to piss off Netflix? Is it Netflix data? Did the computer say no? (I always say, computers are generally good for some things, but without humans behind them, cold facts can get in the way of doing good deeds.)

That there are several petitions (which I’ve signed) with over tens of thousands of signatures each to ask to reinstate a fourth (and maybe fifth) season goes to show that this show has a solid fanbase. It IS a good show. It’s a damn good show. It is one of the best, most lovingly produced shows I’ve ever seen, and everybody involved with it has clearly poured their heart and soul into it.

If Netflix did pull the knife, it has got to be careful about how it does so in the future. I can terminate my Netflix subscription at any point. Anybody can. There are alternatives now. There always will be alternatives. It’s difficult to ask us to invest ourselves in a show, then cancel the bloody thing two or three seasons in. Who are you? The SyFy Channel (or as I like to call it: The Cancellation Channel).

Save Anne (with an E). It makes sense. It keeps people in employment. It’ll continue the excellent storytelling. It’ll make the fans happy.

What’s to differentiate between Apple TV+ and other streaming services, other than the content and a lower price? Unfortunately, very little. One of the biggest frustrations I have with all of the current streaming services is the complete lack of additional features and audio commentaries.

Apple had a chance to make their Apple TV+ streaming service truly unique by introducing special features and audio commentaries to their original content, but this just has not happened. Yet. Until they do, Apple TV+ is just another platform offering limited original content.

iTunes Extras has been the only service available to most (dependent on the film studio) film purchases on iTunes to provide special features. It’s the main reason I’ve stuck with iTunes as a purchase platform. It is the closest I can get to physical media features on a digital platform. I can play films on my Apple TV 4K, iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max or 2018 MacBook Pro. It’s both portable and can be played on the big screen TV. I still prefer physical media for most things, but as I’ve mentioned many times here and elsewhere, it’s a rapidly losing battle.

On the TV programs front, iTunes has been a poor show. None of the titles available are in 4K, and very few carry any extras – mainly because iTunes Extras is a format reserved for films. Breaking Bad is currently the ONLY title I own that has special features and audio commentaries – and I can only play the audio commentaries by disabling Dolby Surround.

Apple TV+ content IS available in 4K. Whether this will push existing TV studios to consider releasing their purchasable content on iTunes in 4K, I just don’t know. I doubt Apple will let you purchase episodes or whole series of Apple TV+ shows since it’s in their interest to keep you as a subscriber. But that then brings me back to the special features and audio commentaries.

Netflix, oddly, puts many special features about their shows on YouTube. Not on their own platform. Amazon is equally rubbish at this, and also put special features on their YouTube channel too. Amazon have been the only streamer to put an audio commentary on their service, but only for one title, and for one season.

No. Unless Disney+ pulls its fingers out and puts special features and audio commentaries on their platform as well as releasing new content and offering their back catalogue, Apple TV+ isn’t going to be unique in the market place at all.

Other problems with Apple TV+ have been the super annoying Up Next bar during end credits. I can’t dismiss it – but it does vanish after a while – but it still obscures credits. And the Apple TV+ user interface doesn’t tell me the frequency of new episodes of a current season. I had to look up when new episodes for For All Mankind came out having watched the first three episodes this weekend.

For All Mankind, BTW, is a decent show but somewhat let down by its visual effects. I’ve seen Method Studios and Pixomondo do better. But the storytelling is compelling enough to stick around for now. Other titles have received very mixed reviews. I have a free year’s trial with Apple TV+ thanks to upgrading to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, so only time will tell if I’ll be paying for it next year (even if it’s £4.99/month).

In other news, I cannot tell you how much frustration MacOS Catalina and iOS 13 have caused me over the past few weeks. This is some seriously buggy piece of crap from Apple, and by far the worst quality releases that have come from them in years. If Apple doesn’t buck their ideas up, I’ll be moving back to Dell and Windows late next year.

The end of an era?

Star Wars was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. I’m too young to remember EXACTLY when I saw it (it was released in 1977 when I was just one year old, so no chance of catching it when it first came out) – but it must have been during one of the semi-frequent cinema re-releases. I do remember going to see Empire Strikes Back in the cinema with mum (and I was scared stiff of Yoda at first!), and Return of the Jedi with both my mum and dad. I loved every minute of it. Star Wars was a wonderful universe, full of imagination and strange creatures. And we could enjoy it as a family.

So Star Wars, for me, is rather special. The forthcoming release of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker will be quite special in that it ends the 9 films run featuring the Skywalkers. We’ve witnessed the rise of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into Darth Vader. We’ve seen his son and daughter find each other after being separated at birth and fight the Empire. We’ve seen Leia’s son kill his dad, while Luke abandoned teaching after the terrible tragedy which saw his nephew turn to the dark side.

And it all ends here:

Mind you, while it will be sad to say goodbye to the Skywalker family, we’ll always have Disney+ to look forward to. No idea as to the availability in the UK, but it will carry the first-ever Star Wars TV series: The Mandolorian. Plus there will also be other TV series set in the Star Wars universe to follow. Disney recognises the importance of Star Wars as a brand, so they’re not going to just let it sit there and gather dust – unlike what they’ve done with The Muppets (which is a big shame).

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs to put more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).