We all wanted to break free from the tyranny of pricey cable packages, and on-demand streaming came to the rescue! Until we realized that getting all the streaming services out there would be just as expensive as cable. That's why it's important to be selective about which ones you're subscribing to. You probably already subscribe to some combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney+, aka the big ones. But what about the smaller ones? The ones you don't need, but might want?
If you're in the mood to freshen up your streaming options and don't want to sit through another edition of Love Is Blind, we've recommended three streaming services that you probably don't have that are worth checking out. Remember: You can cancel subscriptions at any time (for now), so give a new service a try for a month, binge 'til your eyes fall out, and move on to the next if you aren't happy.
Apple's streaming service didn't get off to the best start in Nov. 2019, with a launch lineup that felt like it was put together by a company that, I dunno, was a tech giant trying to pretend it was in the entertainment biz. Its launch was promoted with all flash and little substance, A-listers thrown front and center without much to back up all the hoopla. Jennifer Aniston! Reese Witherspoon! Steve Carell! And that was just from one (morning) show. The idea to get attention with big names backfired, as The Morning Show was mostly panned, as was the platform's big sci-fi/fantasy tentpole, See. (In fairness, Dickinson and For All Mankind were solid launch titles that developed into two of Apple TV+'s best shows, but they were afterthoughts to what Apple initially pushed.)
But almost three years later, things have really turned around content-wise for Apple TV+. The spigot is on and the original shows are flowing. In the last six months, Apple TV+ has released nine new scripted dramas (seven of which came out since mid-March), compared to 15 in the 26 months prior. It has upset the awards circuit, with Ted Lasso earning 20 Emmy nominations and winning seven (including Outstanding Comedy and three acting awards) at the 2021 Emmys, and the acquired film CODA taking home Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards, making Apple the first streaming service to win the prestigious prize. And it did it in its first real try. (Netflix broke its back and bank trying to lay claim to that achievement.)
Strengths: Apple TV+ is still attracting big TV talent thanks to its deep pockets and promises of creative freedom, and because it's still in its infancy, it's unlikely to change that strategy in the near future as it looks for big hits to attract subscribers. That's good for us, because the quality-over-quantity strategy results in more shows like Severance and fewer shows like Love Is Blind. It's also one of the cheapest streaming services out there at just five bucks, and while a price hike is inevitable for every streamer, Apple has enough spare change lying around to keep pricing as is for the foreseeable future in order to stay competitive. Apple is also making one of streaming's biggest pushes into sports, with exclusive Major League Baseball games (in dazzling 4K!) and full broadcasting rights to Major League Soccer.
Weaknesses: Because Apple isn't a media production company with deep roots in the biz, Apple TV+ doesn't have a library of classics to fall back on and therefore only has a fraction of the options that some of its rivals — Paramount Global's Paramount+, WarnerMedia's HBO Max, or NBCUniversal's Peacock, for example — have. That means you're limited to Apple originals and the few franchises that Apple licenses, which so far has been Fraggle Rock and Peanuts specials. Not exactly subscription sellers.
The best shows and movies on Apple TV+: Severance, a smart dystopian sci-fi thriller about corporate exploitation from Ben Stiller, is Apple TV+'s best show and easily worth a month's subscription. For All Mankind, an alternate history drama about a never-ending space race between the U.S. and Russia from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore, has been called TV's best drama by multiple critics, and seems to get better with age. Sports comedy Ted Lasso swept the Emmys, and CODA, about a young singer with deaf parents, won Best Picture at the most recent Academy Awards.
The great shows and movies you don't know it has: Dickinson, Pachinko, Tehran, Slow Horses, Mythic Quest, Acapulco, Losing Alice, Wolfwalkers, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Boys State, The Velvet Underground
AMC+'s unique selling proposition is that unlike the big streaming services, it's not trying to be everything to everyone. It's focused on identifying sophisticated niche audiences and serving them better than anyone else. It's doing what AMC Networks' small but good cable channels have always done, all in one place for the first time. There are no low-rent reality shows clogging up the AMC+ home screen. Instead, there are a lot of shows starring actors who make you say, "If that guy is in it, it must be good."
An AMC+ subscription gets you access to AMC+ exclusives (which are mostly licensed international shows), AMC's current shows like The Walking Dead and ones from the library like Mad Men, and all the content from AMC-owned streaming services Shudder, Sundance Now, and IFC Films Unlimited, with live ad-supported feeds of cable channels AMC, BBC America, IFC, and SundanceTV thrown in as a bonus. It's a smaller package than other streaming services, but about the same number of good shows and movies. There's not a lot of detritus on AMC+, which launched in June 2020 and has quietly been gathering steam since then.
Strengths: Shudder, the expertly curated horror streaming service, is worth the price of admission alone. It has an exceptional collection of contemporary horror movies and shows you won't and wouldn't find anywhere else, like special effects legend Phil Tippett's stop-motion experimental epic Mad God and Australian Indigenous vampire hunter series Firebite, as well as the bar-none best collection of classic horror movies you will find on any streaming service. It's like the Criterion Collection for crazy old slasher flicks like Maniac Cop. And Shudder is just one of the collections within AMC+. The service is essential for fans of The Walking Dead Universe (new episodes arrive a week before they premiere on cable), British dramas (AMC+ and Sundance Now have a ton of them), and indie cinema (via IFC).
Weaknesses: AMC+ has a weird relationship with the Breaking Bad franchise. Better Call Saul's final season is only available on AMC+ while it's airing on AMC. If you go to AMC+ right now, you can't watch Better Call Saul. But when the show comes back on July 11, you'll be able to watch new episodes on AMC+ for a brief period of time before they expire. Breaking Bad isn't on at all. It would be nice if two of AMC's signature shows were on its streaming service, but their absence surely has to do with production studio Sony's long-term deal with Netflix to stream the franchise.
Once you get the hang of the app's design, it's easy enough to navigate, though it can be hard to see everything available on the service without searching. It's the app's tech that needs improvement. I have to log in almost every time I open the Roku app on my TV or visit amcplus.com, and once I had a bug that prevented me from using the app at all for a few days. It's a small, new streaming service, and it still has some tech issues to work out. Fortunately, it seems to be getting better. AMC+ recently added a customer support portal (but it didn't have one before when I really could have used it).
The best shows and movies on AMC+: The two best AMC+ exclusives are both licensed BBC shows. This Is Going to Hurt is a Fleabag-esque medical dramedy starring the great Ben Whishaw as an emergency OB/GYN, and The North Water is a haunting period nautical drama limited series about a whaling expedition gone wrong that features the most brutal performance of Colin Farrell's career. Navajo Nation-set crime drama Dark Winds is AMC's best show besides Better Call Saul at the moment. And if you've never seen Nicolas Cage's Shudder-exclusive psychedelic horror movie Mandy, you need to fix that as soon as possible. It will blow your mind like nothing else.
The great shows and movies you don't know it has: Halt and Catch Fire, Rectify, Channel Zero, State of the Union, The Little Drummer Girl, Creepshow, Killing Eve, Orphan Black, Color Out of Space, Hellbender, The Thing, House on Haunted Hill
Paramount+ as you know it has only been around for a little over a year; it made its debut in March 2021. But it was a rebranding of the somehow worse-named CBS All Access, which has been around since Oct. 2014, if you can believe that, though initially only as a portal for live streaming CBS affiliates and old shows owned by CBS. CBSAA didn't get into original programming until 2017, when it launched The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery. Sensing an opportunity to break into streaming on a competitive scale — being the streaming home of The Big Bang Theory wasn't going to cut it — Viacom and CBS re-merged in 2019 to become Paramount Global, providing CBSAA with a massive library (one that now includes Paramount Pictures, CBS Entertainment, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, and more) to sweeten its offerings and increase its standings among the big boys who had a head start in the streaming wars.
Aside from The Good Fight, CBSAA had trouble with its original programming. (Remember Strange Angel, the drama about a rocket scientist who also practiced sex magic?) But we're seeing the fruits of the merger now, as well as decisions to move certain shows from other CBS-owned networks to Paramount+, where they fit better; Evil slid over from CBS, Halo warthogged over from Showtime, Mayor of Kingstown moved over from Paramount Network. It pays to own a ton of media properties! Additionally, Paramount+ got its first subscription-seller in 1883, a spin-off of Paramount Network's mega-hit Yellowstone. (Ironically, Paramount+ suffers from the boneheaded and shortsighted decision to give Yellowstone streaming rights to rival NBCUniversal, which streams old seasons of Yellowstone on Peacock. Presumably, P+ will get the rights back as soon as the deal is up.)
Strengths: Paramount+ sells itself as a "mountain of entertainment," and it's not wrong. Its back catalog is deep, with everything from classics like The Godfather trilogy to new movies like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Jackass Forever, all of which come from Paramount Pictures' massive library (that means Top Gun: Maverick will eventually makes its way to P+). On the TV side, CBS's catalog includes mainstream shows like NCIS, Survivor, and Young Sheldon, while more niche shows from MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central fill in the cracks. Yep, SpongeBob is on Paramount+, as are many other kid-friendly options. Original series are improving as well, with Evil, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and Players among the best streaming shows anywhere. Paramount+ is also adding exclusive content from its parent company's franchises, like new South Park specials and SpongeBob spin-offs. Sports are also being pushed, with many of CBS Sports' broadcasts — NFL, college basketball, golf — and exclusive streaming deals with pro soccer leagues leading the way.
Weaknesses: With CBS leading the TV charge, the broadcast network's preference for familiar, popular comfort shows is still felt on Paramount+. And that isn't changing in the near future. Expect more new takes on classic IP like the upcoming Criminal Minds revival, a Frasier reboot, and as many Yellowstone spin-offs as we can handle, and fewer new, exciting, original ideas. (Maybe that's what you want, though!) So far, the original movie slate is looking lackluster, too, with Paramount focusing its biggest films for theatrical release (but they do make their way to Paramount+ eventually). Showtime, a division of Paramount Global, previews some shows on P+, but currently doesn't have plans to be absorbed into Paramount+ and requires its own subscription (though a Paramount+/Showtime bundle is available). No ads should be standard for all streaming subscriptions, but it will cost you 10 bucks for the no-ad plan for Paramount+. That's about the same as competitors, but still an obstacle if you're adding on to your existing streaming options.
The best shows and movies on Paramount+: The Good Fight is one of TV's most daring shows, supercharging the legal drama with injections of hot topics, delectable sass, and psychedelics. The same can be said about Evil, but throw in horror in there (and yes, keep the psychedelics). 1883 is arguably better than Yellowstone, and it's just the beginning of more Taylor Sheridan Westerns exclusive to Paramount+. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best of the new Star Trek series and brings the franchise back to its intellectual conundrum roots. SpongeBob!
The great shows and movies you don't know it has: Players, Ghosts, Chappelle's Show, Review, Detroiters, Freaks and Geeks, Nathan for You, Joe Pickett, Teen Wolf, Limitless, Twin Peaks, The Godfather, A Quiet Place, Top Gun
Price: $4.99/month with limited ads, $9.99/month no ads.