“To survive, I had to be reborn. To evolve, I had to get into a new skin.” So says Faraday, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s main character in The Man Who Fell to Earth, one of the standout series on the latest service to join the TV streaming party. Paramount+, the new iteration of the legendary Hollywood studio behind the likes of The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever and Beverly Hills Cop, launches tomorrow with a slew of new shows and nearly 8,000 hours of archival content (from Top Gun and Mission Impossible to Cheers and The Good Wife) – an old catalog far superior to those of Netflix, Amazon or Apple, and surpassed only by Disney. Much of that will be looted for future reboots and spin-offs, while the service’s strong presence in live sports in America (where it launched last year) also opens up intriguing future possibilities. But what about the present?
The number of stars that were slated to attend a press release last night suggests the company is serious: Kevin Costner, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Chastain and, er, Joey Essex were all on the bill. But with Netflix’s financial plans in apparent disarray, Apple TV+ is expected to raise prices, and Amazon’s future ambitions will likely depend on the fate of its billion-dollar bet this fall, The Lord of the Rings, entering a saturated market amid to an impending recession is a gamble.
For viewers, it’s a gamble that doesn’t pay off — yet. Monthly pricing is competitive (at £6.99, the same as basic Netflix, cheaper than Amazon, Disney+ or Now TV, more expensive than Apple TV+), but while the list of launches can be ambitious, so is is frighteningly testosterone-heavy (the fun, The Queen of the Universe, with the Graham Norton-led X Factor-meets-Drag Race competition is an honorable exception), while its two highest-profile launch shows are major misfires.
There’s not enough for its rivals to worry about at this stage, but it’s worth remembering that Netflix launched in the UK without original series (House of Cards came a year later, in 2013), while Apple and Amazon launched with a handful of series. that most viewers have already forgotten about (sorry Dickinson and Transparent). And even after 10 years, Netflix still doesn’t have a vast trove of branded franchises ready for exploration. Paramount, however, does: if Tom Cruise relaxes his anti-streaming stance, as he surely will, spin-offs of Top Gun or Mission: Impossible could even be on the horizon.
For now, Paramount+ is an added, non-essential bonus, though it’s worth the seven-day trial to wallow in the archives. There are also some very promising shows coming up.
the new shows
The Man Who Fell to Earth revisits the themes of both Nic Roeg’s definitely weird-of-the-time David Bowie vehicle and Walter Tevis’ origin novel, and has interesting ideas, but, like ITV/AMC’s ill-fated remake of The Prisoner, works heavily in the shadow of its predecessor’s inimitable strangeness. Ejiofor is excellent and funny in a way he has rarely been before as Faraday, the technology god turned alien arriving on Earth with big plans and a difficult past; Bill Nighy is characteristically awkward in the role of Thomas Newton’s Bowie, and Naomie Harris tightly curls up as a reluctant ally in Faraday’s scientist. But characterless direction and a wobbly tone mean it never justifies its existence.
Idem the first lady, a self-conscious attempt to create a prestige series in the style of The Crown. With a cast made especially for the Emmys, she tries and fails to penetrate the public images of Michelle Obama (Viola Davis, lost in imitation), Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson, offering a variation of her tight, imperious Thatcher) and Betty Ford ( Michelle Pfeiffer, painfully vulnerable) as they face racism, misogyny, and society’s hypocrisy about addiction and illness, respectively. The chronological nonsense is tiresome, while the shallow dialogue groans under the weight of exposition and aphorism. The superb Pfeiffer deserves a better showcase than this extravagant novel.
Paramount+’s most expensive-looking show is also its most successful: Taylor Sheridan’s 1883 is a prequel to Kevin Costner’s nouveau western Yellowstone (also on Paramount+), largely unknown around here, but the most-watched cable TV show in America. Stately, sweeping and giving a rare lead role to human Mount Rushmore Sam Elliott, it has chases and shootouts, thugs and smallpox as Elliott leads a carriage on the Oregon Trail. Every penny of the $100 million (£82 million) budget is on screen, and 1932, another prequel starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, is also in the works.
Another new Sheridan show, mayor of kingstown, is bound to be unfavorably compared to Mare of Easttown, despite not being fully related. Well, more or less. It also foregrounds a rust belt metropolis with committed and desperate characters, though its women are notably underrated, whether they are mothers, wives, or sex workers. The story of two powerful brothers – Kyle Chandler (underused) and Jeremy Renner (austere, low-key) – who get their hands dirty to improve the fate of a city overshadowed by its many prisons, sinks under the weight of their brooding aesthetic.
Paramount is also looting its cinematic archives: not just for the movies themselves (as of 2024, all of Paramount’s new features, including the Mission: Impossible franchise, will debut on the platform after the theatrical release), but for the stories behind them. The ofert creates a wide-ranging and entertaining miniseries from the creation of The Godfather to the life of producer Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) under the wing of Paramount boss and New Hollywood pivot Robert Evans (an arrogant show-thief Matthew Goode) . The stakes seem low and there’s a lot of talk surrounding Hollywood backlots, but their period trappings and sheer energy are irresistible.
So fun and with even more arrogance is super pumped, the story of Uber and its extremely annoying but compulsively watchable CEO/founder Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Season two pits Mark Zuckerberg against Sheryl Sandberg, which should be a blast.
areola it’s another inglorious addition to the list of game-to-screen transfers (Doom, Streetfighter, Super Mario Bros) and often resembles a 20-year-old video game with string effects and shallow storytelling.
Much hotter and more attractive is Star Trek: Strange New Worldsa welcome return to the sense of goofy charm and awe that underpinned the initial series, and one where prior knowledge doesn’t seem essential when counting the decade before Captain Kirk took command of the USS Enterprise.
Expectations are high for the revival of one of the greatest comedies of all time – even without the long-lost John Mahoney (not to mention the canine actors Eddie, Moose and Enzo).
Amid a welter of unlikely remakes (Love Story, Fatal Attraction), sequels (Flashdance, The Italian Job) and prequels (Grease), this prequel to one of British cinema’s most eccentric creative highlights is intriguing, despite the absence of Jonathan Glazer.
Once too big a physique, ego and star quality to be confined to the small screen, Sylvester Stallone stars in his first TV series as a mobster who moves to Oklahoma.
After Jackass Forever showed that there was life in both the concept and its aging stars, the pioneering reality comedy will return for a full series of heartbreakingly funny stunts.
Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons
Documentaries are also on the horizon for Paramount+, with this three-part rise, fall and cultural significance of the lingerie empire an encouraging and twisted subject.
Of the file
Enigmatic, influential and rewarding, David Lynch’s magnum opus was often imitated but never matched in its blend of surreal comedy, everyday horror and cult cast.
Like Twin Peaks, Dexter has been removed from NOW, and his take on the trend of anti-heroic protagonists to its natural conclusion (Michael C Hall’s forensic expert is also a serial killer) remains effective.
The Trekkers are perhaps the only group that likely considered Paramount+ essential from the start, with every Star Trek series already made available on the platform.
Still available on Comedy Central, but Paramount+ will be the first place to see the new misadventures of Cartman, Kenny et al.
Sponge Bob Square Pants
Paramount+ isn’t just for adults: the Nickelodeon connection means children’s series from the sublime (SpongeBob SquarePants) to the unforgivable (Paw Patrol) will also be available.