I've been saying this for years. I mean, I really have been saying this for years. While most everyone was focused on the "Can Netflix become HBO before HBO can become Netflix?" debate, most everyone overlooked what was actually happening. HBO was being used, first by AT&T and now Warner Bros. Discovery, to glow-up the shit ton of other content they have – and importantly, needed to have – in order to launch a streamer, Max, to compete with Disney.
And I say Disney here deliberately. No one is competing with Netflix. Netflix did not want to become HBO, they wanted to become television. As in, all of it. And they largely have. They're the default television service for millions and millions of households now. They now have wrestling. But Apple clearly had other plans.
Unlike Warner Bros. Discovery, Apple doesn't need to compete to have the most amount of content and subscribers possible to have their streaming bet pay off. Apple is playing a different game. They can afford to, quite literally. Amazon is as well, of course, but they have almost the opposite tactics. Amazon is a few extremely high profile shows (and NFL games) but mostly it's aiming for everything under the sun. It's almost more akin to Netflix. Apple is well, just like good old HBO. Relatively few shows, but a slow and methodical approach to building a library.
Not every show is great, but pound-for-pound, it's probably the best hit rate. Including, yes, Slow Horses.
This sounds downright goofy until you see it. Half the time it's firefights, KGB agents, and hairsbreadth escapes; the other half is Sorkin Lite bickering about farting or being a nepo baby or a poser. There are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy references in honor of Oldman’s previous role. It’s the kind of show that makes you marvel at the fact that you can watch Welsh character actor Sir Jonathan Pryce, mutter, “He’s dead. I’m alive. I’m going to go put the kettle on,” and stomp off with a shotgun, for just $10 a month.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing about Slow Horses, though, is that it’s just one of a slate of great shows on Apple TV+.
So no, it doesn't surprise me that Apple TV+ has become HBO. The actual most contentious debate seems to be if, quality aside, anyone is actually watching. The data would seem to indicate that increasingly, yes, people are. But I will admit that I constantly now get (very pleasantly) surprised to learn about a great new show on Apple TV+, as if it just appeared out of nowhere. This didn't happen with HBO. So perhaps Apple has to amp up the marketing. Which is something no one has ever said about Apple, ever.