A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
First thoughts on new streamer Star
ALSO: Exploring Disney's 'Magic Kingdom'. AND: More Modern Love.
There are two massive news events happening this week. The first was the launch of Star on Disney+ in international territories. That has happened within the past 24 hours now. I have my first thoughts below on the Australian launch of the service.
The second big event happens in the next 24 hours. It’s ViacomCBS launching Paramount+, its rebranded streaming service (formerly CBS All Access). Right now, Paramount+ seems… fine. Some good library titles, but nothing jaw-dropping. Let’s see if there’s any big announcements to come…
Disney+ streaming service Star: First thoughts
At 7pm on 23 Feb, Disney+ subscribers were presented with a new viewing option: Star. It’s a library full of older Fox and Touchstone movies and TV shows, along with a mix of new shows from across Disney’s US TV networks and streamers.
While on day one the focus is on the rich library of older titles, this will change as more content becomes available to use. For example, when the FX output deal with the BBC in the UK (or with Foxtel in Australia) expires, expect to see new FX series launch on Star. Plus Hulu originals. And also the slate of Star originals currently in production.
The service launched in UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Notably, not the US where Disney is still invested in using Hulu to attract older viewers.
Looking at the Star library on the screen for the first time, I was reminded of the joy of experiencing Netflix for the first time. The first time I used Netflix, I marveled at a library filled with a few hundred movies and TV shows - including a smattering of well-known films like (wait for it) the Police Academy films. That felt like a big deal to me in what was probably about 2008.
In Australia, we haven’t had as much access to subscription streaming services with a large volume of predominantly highly recognisable library titles. The launch last year of Binge changed that, relying on the long-held deals parent service Foxtel has with Hollywood studios/distributors. Star feels like another step forward again with a library that feels more permanent and focused around exploring the deeper vault of its catalogue.
It is genuinely exciting to find movies available for streaming that I simply haven’t seen on a streaming platform before. Even if those films seem like generic cable TV options. I was thrilled to add films like Cocktail, The Royal Tenenbaums, Con Air, Broadcast news, Return To The Planet of The Apes, and Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion to my list. Sure, I’ve seen these films a bunch on TV and on DVD in the past, but never just a button-tap away on a streaming service. Also - it’s been years since I watched movies on TV or pulled out any physical media, so it’s been some years since I’ve seen many of these titles.
And for those of you in the US who are wondering how Star compares with Hulu - right now, I think I’m happier with Star. As long as new Hulu originals make their way to Star in a timely fashion, I’m more than happy with this as a subscription service. All it’s really missing is other new US broadcast shows. And frankly, I’m willing to sacrifice seeing Jason Biggs hosting a Pepsi-sponsored big wheel game show.
As far as the interface goes, if you’ve used Disney+ before, you know exactly how Star looks and feels. It’s a sophisticated, easy-enough to use platform. These days it is missing the A-Z search function, which is a bit annoying when searching through a big new catalogue like this, but most viewers will likely be happy enough to just stumble-upon viewing discoveries rather than agonise over finding something to watch in the same way that a content hunter like myself may.
When first loading up Star, viewers are asked whether they want full access to the catalog. Click the button and you get one more screen asking you if you want to set a content restriction PIN. After that, all of the Star content is unlocked and visible from the home screen.
I watch a lot of TV and movies every week. But if I am a person who is only interested in watching the TV news, maybe a couple of shows a week, and a known Hollywood movie on Saturday night, I would be pretty satisfied by this as a single service. It satisfies a mainstream viewer like most platforms haven’t so far.
It’s a robust, satisfying platform already and will only continue in that direction.
What’s really at stake with Ronald D Moore exploring Disney’s Magic Kingdom universe?
TV producer Ronald D Moore’s known for current genre hits like the time travel romance Outlander and alternate-history NASA drama For All Mankind, but also has legendary TV status from his bold Battlestar Galactica series from the 00s and is also remembered well for his time on Star Trek shows in the 90s. I mention this just to point out his world-building bona fide’s.
The big news is that Moore, who just signed an overall deal at Disney, will produce multiple series based on Disney’s Magic Kingdom. If you’re not a Disney uberfan, the Magic Kingdom is basically the idea that all of the themed lands and characters in the Disney theme parks and classic Disney films all exist together in a shared, alternate reality. For example, Mickey Mouse can go and visit the fox Robin Hood in Sherwood Forrest and battle the new Sherriff Cruella DeVille.
Ron Moore will write and executive produce the first project: The Society of Explorers and Adventurers. He’ll also be working with the Disney Imagineering Team on other projects, which I’m sure will create synergies between the on-screen stories and the theme parks.
Think of this as Moore creating a Marvel universe-like approach to OG Disney.
That’s all very interesting on its own, but it also dawns on me that it’s a really elegant way for Disney to breathe new life not only into supporting characters who can then become stars themselves in new shows, movies, and books, but it also helps Disney provide modern frameworks to resuscitate older IP that may not exactly match cultural standards set by the modern era.
Disney is constantly in the news for adding warnings to the start of classic films and series that advise viewers that cultural depictions are of their time. And then there’s films like Song of The South that are so problematic that Disney has vaulted them. The Magic Kingdom offers a platform to break out characters from these older films and build new worlds and contexts around them. In other words: Disney has a way to reclaim Zip-a-dee Do Dah.
Amazon Prime Video’s not-good, yet still rather watchable anthology show that asks the question: “Love, but modern?” will return for a second season. Today we know who Cupid will be putting through the ringer: Kit Harington, Anna Paquin, Minnie Driver, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Garrett Hedlund, Miranda Richardson, Lucy Boynton, Zoë Chao, Susan Blackwell, Tom Burke, Ben Rappaport, Jack Reynor, Marquis Rodriguez, James Scully, Don Wycherley, and Jeena Yi.
Mattel and Paramount are teaming for a live-action TV movie and an animated series based on the Monster High toy line. Read: Deadline
Angel Manuel Soto will direct a Blue Beetle movie for WarnerMedia. It is not known whether this will be a theatrical release or planned for HBO Max. This will be the Jamie Reyes version of the superhero, making this the first live action superhero film to star a Latino character. Read: The Wrap
Movie theatres in New York have been given the green light to open. But there’s still a pandemic… will anyone go? Read: CNN
Jon Hamm and Tina Fey will star in John Slattery’s new film Maggie Moore(s). Read: Deadline
Harry Shearer will no longer play Dr Julius Hibbert. The role will now be voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Read: Uproxx
The Office and Friends leaving Netflix in the US had little impact on Netflix, but has driven viewership to Peacock and HBO Max. Read: The Verge
Peacock is making a TV series based on the game Frogger. I’m almost certain that there’s an Urban Dictionary definition for that term. Read: Variety
HBO Max will not remove Woody Allen films from its platform despite also streaming single-perspective doco Allen v Farrow. Read: Indiewire
Seth Meyers contract up?
There’s probably nothing to this. But it might be worth keeping an eye on…
City on a Hill season 2 debuts on Showtime March 28. It streams in Australia on Stan.
Jupiter’s Legacy debuts on Netflix May 7.
Can you live up to the legacy of the world's first generation of superheroes? From Mark Millar, the mind behind KICK-ASS and Kingsman, comes Jupiter's Legacy
Doco Tina debuts March 27 on HBO/HBO Max.
With a wealth of never-before-seen footage, audio tapes, personal photos, and new interviews, including with the singer herself, TINA presents an unvarnished and dynamic account of the life and career of music icon Tina Turner.
Murder Among The Mormons debuts on Netflix March 3.
High-stakes exploits turn deadly - and shake a global church to its core - in this extraordinary true crime story.
Luis Miguel: The Series returns for a second season on Netflix on April 18.
All Or Nothing: Juventus debuts soon on Amazon Prime Video.
What’s next? Tomorrow.
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