Reality shows are often decried as somehow toxic. They celebrate shallowness, enshrine the worst people as idols, coarsen even love into just another game show. And in some ways Planet Of The Apps — Apple’s first foray into producing its own TV show, which is available via Apple Music — reflects those criticisms. But its real problem is that it celebrates something far more culturally toxic than even the most vapid show about thrown wine.
The concept is fairly straightforward: App developers, hoping for a shot at some venture capital, start delivering their pitch at the top of an escalator and have exactly 60 seconds to sell the four judges (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Will.I.Am, and the one actual tech mogul in the proceedings, Gary Vanyerchuk) on their dream. The judges vote yes or no on their iPads; four nos, and you’re gone. But even one “yes” lets you pitch your app in more detail, possibly turning heads. Then, the lucky few get a celebrity mentor and we see the allegedly thrilling build-up to their big venture capital meeting. If the whole thing sounds like a series of meetings, that’s more or less what it is.
Planet Of The Apps has two strikes against it right from the start. The first: as Apple’s first show, expectations are through the roof. The second: it’s built from the ground up to be a lengthy ad. Apple products are everywhere, every single developer on the show gets a nice chunk of airtime to promote their app, even if they don’t get funding, and Apple, of course, pushes the show through Apple Music.
The problem is that it has no grasp of why reality shows endure. A show like Survivor, or American Idol, or this show’s blatant inspiration Shark Tank, work because they cater to our fantasies of being a Robinson Crusoe-esque hero, the star of a Cinderella story, or serving as the CEO of our own successful company. People want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple wants employees, not competitors.