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I just found my favorite show of the year on Apple TV Plus — and it’s 98% on Rotten Tomatoes

Apple TV Plus logo shown on TV
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I normally don’t get excited for any notifications I get on my phone (yay, someone just looked at my LinkedIn profile), but this week I was generally psyched when an alert popped up on my iPhone that Black Bird episode 4 was ready to stream on Apple TV Plus

I was a bit skeptical about this show heading into it, but now that I’m a few episodes in? I’m really enjoying Apple's latest series, a dark and gritty prison drama that’s inspired by true events. In fact, I’d say that Black Bird has a slight edge over Only Murders in the Building right now as my favorite show (yes, they are two very opposite sides of the same crime coin).

Why Black Bird is so compelling

Taron Egerton as Jimmy Keene, talking on a phone in prison, in Black Bird

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Black Bird is a limited six-episode series on Apple TV created by Dennis Lehane that centers on Jimmy Keene (played by Taron Egerton), a cocky drug runner who gets sentenced to 10 years in prison. But then Jimmy is offered a chance to commute that sentence — if he’s willing to transfer to a much worse prison chockfull of the criminally insane — to elicit a confession out of suspected serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser). 

I’m not going to give away any spoilers here, but I initially had trouble buying Hauser as Larry. I only know him from his limited appearances on Cobra Kai. If you're like me, you might think “I’m supposed to buy this party animal as evil?” as I did.

But then, I started watching. I quickly became engrossed by Hauser’s slow and creepy high-pitched speech, his crushing lonliness and the character’s belief that he’s unable to distinguish between reality and his dreams. Not enough to sympathize with the horrifying allegations against him, of course, but Black Bird really makes you understand his motivations. 

Another very pleasant surprise is Greg Kinnear, who I honestly have not seen in anything since his guest spot on Friends. First, my wife and I couldn’t start talking about how much he hasn’t aged. Then, Kinnear starting digging into the case and poking the literal bear that is Larry, and I appreciated the combination of his usual smirking charm with his dogged determination — inspired by protecting the likes of his own daughter from seeing Larry released into the wild. 

And really it’s the performance of this ensemble cast that keeps me coming back for more. From the guilt-ridden father of Jimmy played by the late Ray Liotta to the lead FBI agent Lauren McCauley played by Sepideh Moafi. She plays the perfect foil to Keene, pricking his arrogance while preparing him for the challenge of a lifetime. 

Last but not least is Taron Egerton, who delivers a physique and snark that almost seems like an audition for Wolverine in Marvel’s X-Men. And as Black Bird evolves and Jimmy Keene attempts to befriend a monster you can see Egerton’s slick high school football star veneer get chipped away in real time. 

Black Bird reviews: what the critics think

Critics generally have nothing have high praise for Black Bird, as it currently has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) from critics. And the audience score is nearly as high, at 94%. 

Peter Travers at ABC News (opens in new tab) says that “You’ll hang on in breathless suspense as Taron Egerton’s drug runner gets a shot at freedom if he can work a confession out of his serial-killer cellmate (a brilliant Paul Walker Hauser). And the great Ray Liotta as an ex cop deserves a posthumous Emmy."

Ray Liotta as Big Jim Keene in Black Bird

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Over at The Washington Post (opens in new tab), Inkoo Kang writes that Black Bird is "clearly (if competently) padded out into a six-hour drama with a movie’s worth of twists and turns, 'Black Bird' is most compelling not as a psychological profile of a disturbed anomaly but as a study of societal failure."

Not everyone loves Black Bird, though. Richard Lawson at Vanity Fair (opens in new tab) says that "While Lehane and director Michaël R. Roskam conjure up an effective mood of unease and horror, Black Bird’s wallow in depravity, wading in deeper and deeper as it goes, proves less enlightening, less thought-provoking than its creators no doubt hoped."

Should you watch Black Bird?

Overall, I've fallen down the rabbit hole with Black Bird in the best possible way. But this is not a show for everyone. If you don't like violence or dark themes, this is not the show for you. But if you're looking for a show that's expertly acted and written, Black Bird will win you over. And it's a big reminder why Apple TV Plus is one of the best streaming services around. 

Next: The impending Harley Quinn season 3 release date means HBO Max's best comic book show is back.

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • Souleman
    This is obviously the most paid article ever!!! I love Tom's guide for the impartial(normally) reviews. But this just SCREAMS apple paid!
    Reply
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Souleman said:
    This is obviously the most paid article ever!!! I love Tom's guide for the impartial(normally) reviews. But this just SCREAMS apple paid!

    This article like all others we run is completely independent editorial.
    Reply
  • Clay Cash
    I found your review of BLACKBIRD to be spot on-
    Reply
  • Dbones
    Souleman said:
    This is obviously the most paid article ever!!! I love Tom's guide for the impartial(normally) reviews. But this just SCREAMS apple paid!
    Seriously? Have never read a review before? Seems like a run of the mill review of a tv show that the writer actually really enjoyed. It would also seem that 94% of everyone else that watches it agrees. I don't see how you get paid advertising.

    My only issue is no one should talk about what the critics on town tomatoes think. They are so skewed is not even funny and it so obvious.
    Reply
  • Mark Spoonauer
    Dbones said:
    Seriously? Have never read a review before? Seems like a run of the mill review of a tv show that the writer actually really enjoyed. It would also seem that 94% of everyone else that watches it agrees. I don't see how you get paid advertising.

    My only issue is no one should talk about what the critics on town tomatoes think. They are so skewed is not even funny and it so obvious.

    Thanks for your comment. I tried to pick RT reviews that were positive and negative to show both sides...
    Reply
  • Gohomereviews7
    Bro I don't care. Where are the Emmys for the series 'for all mankind' with instant 100% on tomato-meter????

    Mod Edit - Language
    Reply