‘Masters of the Air’ review — Apple TV+ series recreates ‘Band of Brothers’ magic

Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air
(Image credit: Apple Studios)

When I first heard about “Masters of the Air,” I assumed it had to be an HBO show. After all, its predecessors “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” were major hits for the prestige TV network.

But even though this show is on Apple TV Plus instead, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an HBO show after watching it. The cinematography, the polish, the standout star performance from Austin Butler — impressive given the loaded cast — and the score all have the hallmarks of the best HBO has offered in the past. And that’s a major win for Apple TV Plus, which needs a massive hit in its quest to be the best streaming service.

I’m not here to talk about Apple though. I’m here to tell you whether or not you need to watch “Masters of the Air” now that the first two episodes have arrived on Apple TV Plus. 

The answer? A resounding yes. Here’s why this limited series is must-stream TV.

‘Masters of the Air’ is crafted like a Best Picture contender

Really quick, if you haven’t seen the first two episodes already — and there’s a real chance you haven’t given they only just released on Apple TV Plus — there are some mild spoilers ahead. It’s by no means a play-by-play of the entire show so far, but to discuss why you need to watch the show, I do need to discuss some details of the show.

Watch 'Masters of the Air'

Release date: Episodes 1-2 premiered today (Jan. 26)
Where to stream: Apple TV Plus

First of all, this show is shot beautifully. I’m glad it’s a limited series because the amount of story it aims to cover certainly needs more runtime than even the longest blockbuster movie. But this show is shot like a movie, or at least certainly appears that way. The budget was reportedly $250 million and after watching the B-17 bombers of the 100th Bomber Group fly over Germany and Norway, I have no problem believing it.

The score is also incredible. Not only does Blake Neely nail the intro credits, which give instant “Band of Brothers” vibes, but from the first aerial scenes of the series to the assault on a Nazi U-boat base in Norway in the second episode, the music controls your emotions, forcing you to give in to the building tension of the scene.

Austin Butler stars in a loaded ensemble cast 

Austin Butler in Masters of the Air

(Image credit: Apple)

If Austin Butler wasn’t already a star, his portrayal through two episodes of Major Gale Cleven would certainly be considered a breakthrough for the actor. He oozes charisma on the screen while also feeling completely natural in the scenes. His relationship with Major John Egan (Callum Turner) feels reminiscent of Major Richard "Dick" Winters (Damian Lewis) and Captain Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston) in “Band of Brothers” and I find myself awaiting their scenes together at the pub or mess hall as much as I await the tense action scenes in the air.

But Butler isn’t the only star on the screen, nor is he the only one who shines. "Saltburn's" Barry Keoghan really settles into the role of Lt. Curtis Biddick in episode 2, American accent and all. The first episode doesn’t give him much to do and at first, I found his presence almost distracting, but by the end, he blends in perfectly with the ensemble cast.

One person we still have yet to meet is Ncuti Gatwa as Tuskegee Airman 2nd Lt. Robert Daniels. While the show is primarily centered around the “Bloody Hundredth” — and so far they are the sole focus — the Tuskegee Airmen are expected to make an appearance at some stage, which I’m eagerly awaiting.

Conclusion: ‘Masters of the Air’ is a must-watch — ‘Band of Brothers’ in the air

If you’ve come to this show expecting something groundbreaking, I will be honest, “Masters of the Air” hardly reinvents the wheel. I even found myself thinking, “It’d be nice if things took an unexpected twist” at one point in the second episode.

But here’s the thing — the formula works. This is meant to be the same as “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” Pick a group(s) of soldiers, tell their incredible story using talented actors and repeat as necessary. If it ain't broke, why fix it? 

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Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.