Out now, exclusively on Apple TV Plus, Beastie Boys Story might be my favorite thing I've watched during the 6 weeks I've been stuck inside under quarantine. It also got me thinking about the Apple TV Plus service, which probably hasn't been the home-run hit that Apple was hoping it would be.
But as I sat on my couch, going through the strongest (and widest range of) emotions, I got a feeling that this is the kind of programming that could help Apple TV Plus find its identity. Through films and programming like Beastie Boys Story, Apple could find their lane in the wild west of streaming, where Netflix runs the town and new gunslingers including Peacock and HBO Max are arriving this summer.
Yes, as the streaming media landscape gets more and more crowded, Apple TV Plus is going to have a harder and harder time getting people to pay its $4.99 monthly price — and not just cancel after their free year (given away with every iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac) is over.
Why you should watch Apple TV Plus' Beastie Boys Story
I'll admit that I'm probably the target demographic for this movie, but I'll break out of my inner Beastie Boys fan to explain the film's wider appeal. For starters, it's an easy sell because if you simply watch a few minutes of Mike D and Ad Rock on stage, from the start of the movie, their rapport and chemistry is charming in that funny/awkward dad way.
On a Zoom call, I got to talk to Jonze, Diamond and Horowitz, and see their chaotic energy live, and I'm amazed that Spike was able to rein them in. Ad Rock, especially, is always going against the grain. In the film, we got to learn about how he escaped to Los Angeles after the success of Licensed to Ill, which went so bad on tour that the band broke up, and stopped getting royalties from Def Jam.
Even Beasties fans like myself will learn something. Yes, I was aware of Kate Schellenbach, a founding member of the punk version of the Beastie Boys, but I didn't realize that Beastie actually stood for something — no not like Free Tibet, but as in an acronym: B.E.A.S.T.I.E stood for, "Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Inner Excellence." It's the kind of trivia that makes sense now, but would have totally thrown you for a loop back when "Fight For Your Right To Party" came out.
For decades, outside entities have told the story of how Mike D, MCA and Ad Rock went from punks to rappers to woke geniuses, but Beastie Boys Story is their first chance to actually show their side of it all, in an extended length of time, longer than any appearance on a talk show.
And when you see the 54-year-old Michael Diamond and the 53-year-old Adam Horowitz go through their history, and pay constant tribute to how Beastie Boys was something that came from Adam Yauch (RIP MCA), Beastie Boys Story feels like something that a lot of people, the Beasties themselves included, had needed: a tribute to Adam Yauch. Bands have played tribute shows, and articles have spilled a lot of ink in the name of MCA, but this is different.
At times, Beastie Boys Story feels like a joyful mourning, as it interweaves rare interview footage with Yauch (including a gem or two from the MTV days), and that, as with everything that isn't physically on stage, is Spike Jonze's touch. Yes, behind Diamond and Horowitz, there's a giant screen where Jonze has an amazing set of archival videos and photos, that turns this stage show into a documentary.
In my notebook, I wrote down, "It feels like good NYC pizza. Comfort food," and that's the kind of vibe I wish I got more often from Apple TV Plus.
How Apple TV Plus should seize on this excellence
As I've watched Apple TV Plus launch, and debut new shows since its Nov. 2019 launch, I've been waiting for the service to air something like Beastie Boys Story. Something that I didn't just enjoy or like. Something that I loved. Something I wanted to mainline. Something that would make the service's $4.99 monthly price worth it. Beastie Boys Story is just that thing.
For me, I'd be more than OK if Apple TV Plus had just one new show or movie per month that got me as excited and invested as Beastie Boys Story this has. So far, the only Apple TV Plus shows I felt compelled to finish were The Morning Show (which was touch and go before it got good) and Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet (which I liked well enough).
So, I hopped on a phone call with Paul Dergarabedian, a Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, to pick his brain about Apple TV Plus. Like me, Dergarabedian says his recent iPhone 11 Pro purchase in 2019 was his "gateway of getting Apple TV Plus," (devices that can watch Apple TV Plus came with a free year of the service) but he didn't gravitate back to it that often because there are "so many platforms" for streaming content — an issue that's gotten even harder for Apple in 2020, with Peacock, Quibi and - soon - HBO Max rolling out.
After I told Dergarabedian about how much I loved the documentary, and why it's so good, he had kind of a stroke of genius on the line. "You have Apple Music, the synergy is there and should be obvious: more music related programming could differentiate Apple TV Plus. It would be a smart move."
And while Apple TV Plus launched with its own voice, as a press release noted saying "subscribers will enjoy inspiring and authentic stories." Apple's initial push for uplifting content hasn't led to a massively successful show yet, at least in terms of how the public has consumed it. Yes, a Q4 2019 study described in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Apple TV Plus may have upwards of 33.6 million subscribers, but how many of those were free subscribers, like myself and Dergarabedian, who haven't paid at all for the service, but bought a device that came with a free year?
Dergarabedian continued, noting that Apple may not "necessarily [need] a new voice, but one that makes them more unique - with the talent and such they can attract," reminding me of all of the contacts the company is making through Apple Music and Beats One Radio. "You look at ESPN with their 30 For 30 series," he said, "music is the same way, you don't need to be interested in a genre of music to find an incredible amount of relatable material in these documentaries."
Much like myself, Dergarabedian isn't ready to grade Apple TV Plus: "All it takes is one breakout hit to put them on the map, and it takes time." TV isn't an industry where every hit is immediate, just look at Seinfeld, which didn't arrive as the mega-success it is today.
"Netflix used to be a DVD company," Dergarabedian reminded me, "and the journey for each platform is an evolution, not necessarily a revolution as it launches."
Apple, as you could tell just by looking at the headphones people wear in public, is a titan in music right now. AirPods feel like the next coming of the iPod in terms of how they're everywhere. Now it's just a matter of Apple finding more musicians to tell their stories for Apple, to create the next generation of Behind the Music. And with how good Beastie Boys Story is, Apple has a great proof of concept to invite more musical geniuses in front of the camera.