The first episode of Apple's new reality show, "Planet of the Apps," has arrived — and it's a total mess.
The show is a "Shark Tank"-style competition among app developers vying for a mentor who will turn their app into the next Facebook, along with a bag stuffed with venture-capital money — in other words, the Silicon Valley dream.
Apple's first original TV show features celebrity judges and DJ-turned-host Zane Lowe.
Of course, making good TV requires different muscles than building beautiful hardware. And Apple's inexperience in this realm quickly shows up in a variety of clumsy, comical, and at times cringeworthy scenes throughout the hour-long show.
Business Insider watched the first episode. (New episodes will be released every Tuesday.) Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly from Apple's first foray into TV entertainment.
"Planet of the Apps" is hosted by Honest Company founder Jessica Alba, musician Will.i.am, Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, and VaynerMedia founder and CEO Gary Vaynerchuk — and therein lies one of the show's major problems.
None of the hosts has ever developed an app. With the exception of Paltrow, whose company, Goop, built a travel app called G.Spotting, none of the hosts owns or is affiliated with a company that builds apps. None of the hosts even works in tech at all, unless you count Will.i.am's Buttons headphones or Vaynerchuk's early investments in Facebook and Twitter.
So why are these four judging a show about making a hit app? That's the biggest mystery of "Planet of the Apps," and one the judges themselves seem stumped by. At several points throughout the first episode, the judges bow out of mentoring a company because they have zero expertise in the field.
Oddly, the judges' decisions appear on a digital circle on the floor — red means no, and green means yes. If the contestants get all reds, they can't continue pitching their app. If they get one yes, they stand in the middle of the circle and tell the judges more about their product.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the show is that the contestants must stand on a moving escalator and pitch their app before reaching the ground. This appears to be a play on the "elevator pitch" cliché of an ambitious startup founder trying to sell their idea to an investor during a brief elevator ride. Elevators have closing doors that don't translate well to TV, though, so we have an escalator instead.
It's awkward to watch, and probably even more awkward — and disconcerting — for the contestants. No one seemed outwardly phased by their escalator ride, but it was hard to watch.
It's another unnecessary affectation that gives the show a forced, convoluted feel. Why not use a simple timer and buzzer to ensure the pitches stay concise? Why not have a digital scoreboard showing the judges' decisions instead of digitizing the floorboards?
Apple seemed hell-bent on differentiating the show from "Shark Tank," and the results look overcomplicated, confusing, and, frankly, a little amateurish.
In the first episode, we met three sets of founders. First up was Andrew Kemendo, whose Pair app uses augmented reality to help you pick furniture.
Kemendo got Alba's support, and she signed on to mentor him and help him prepare to meet with venture capitalists.
Next up were J. Peter Kazickas, Bradley Gifford, and James Ricciardi, who built a dating app called Twist meant to encourage users to meet in real life.
Paltrow initially said yes to Twist, which allowed us to hear more — only to have the company torn apart by Alba and Will.i.am. (Paltrow later changed her vote to a "no.")
The app lets you sign up to attend an event, then browse through all the single people who would also be attending. This pitch ended up being one of the few bright spots of the episode ...
... but not because it was a great idea. The judges quickly pointed out a flaw that the founders seemingly hadn't considered: The app encouraged men to pick attractive women and confront them in person. The app put women in the awkward position of possibly being hunted down by strange men and then rejecting them to their face.
The founders' confused and progressively heartbroken expressions as things went from bad to worse were one of the few unintentionally humorous portions of the episode, along with Will.i.am calling the app's consequences "a sausage fest."
But Twist's presentation allowed Alba to shine as the most personable, down-to-earth, and funny personality on "Planet of the Apps."
Alba described Twist as "dudes trying to holler" and said it was clear none of the founders had consulted a woman while building their app. She encouraged the founders to talk to a woman about their idea rather than create an app for men to stalk women.
And her reaction when asked whether she had changed her mind about mentoring the team was priceless: "Still red," she said while laughing and miming a hard "no."
About 20 minutes in, we were finally treated to a company all four judges could agree on: Companion, a safety app that tracks your location and has someone keep an eye on you from afar.
Companion, developed by Jake Wayne and Lexie Ernst, already had a strong user base before coming on the show. Vaynerchuk took them under his wing and mentored them for six weeks leading up to their pitch in front of investors.
That leads us to Vaynerchuk, whose personality on the show is a bit tough to take. While he has the most expertise, and he asked the toughest questions, he's also the harshest judge.
Vaynerchuk's character seems intended to be the enforcer, but he lacks the charm or empathy to balance the occasional harshness of his opinions. He may win us over in coming episodes, but the first 50 minutes were unpleasant.
However, Will.i.am and Paltrow barely spoke throughout the entire episode, and each looked bored or perplexed, while Alba's reactions and critiques were all over the map.
But for all of Vaynerchuk's toughness, plus some clever editing, the first episode of "Planet of the Apps" lacked any real drama. A few arguments, some tears, or even just a sign that Paltrow and Will.i.am were still awake would have been a welcome respite from the crushing boredom.
Eventually, it was time for the makers of the two surviving apps to pitch a real-life Silicon Valley VC: Jeremy Liew, of Lightspeed Venture Partners.
The introduction of Liew and his partners — Aaron Batalion, Alex Taussig, and Nicole Quinn — lent some gravitas to the show. Their questions were pointed, their expertise in apps and platforms was more legitimate, and they knew their way around a startup pitch session. Liew, one of the first VCs to invest in Snapchat, made the show feel as if a grown-up had finally arrived to right the ship.
Sadly, even the VCs couldn't save "Planet of the Apps." When discussing the pitch from Pair's Kemendo, the investors quickly got bogged down in a discussion of the intricacies of esoteric augmented-reality technology. What was most likely a two-minute discussion felt like two hours, and even Kemendo and Liew seemed confused.
Thankfully, the episode ended on a happy note: Companion received $1 million in funding from Lightspeed.
The pure, uninhibited joy Wayne and Ernst showed in getting an investment was sweet to watch. After 50 minutes, viewers were finally treated to real emotion and excitement by people who actually seemed to like apps. You could tell that the Companion founders enjoyed their experience on the show, even though no one else there seemed to.
At the end of the day, "Planet of the Apps" simply isn't a good show — and the real shame here is that Apple has produced nine more episodes.