By Mike Murphy
Call it the calm after the storm.
Viewers have weathered a deluge of new movies over the past couple of months, as Apple Inc. and Walt Disney Co. launched new flagship shows on their streaming services while their more established rivals responded with a torrent of new series to counter them.
But the frenzy will subside in January, offering a chance to pause, catch up, and give budget-minded subscribers a chance to save money.
The “Star Wars” spinoff series “The Mandalorian” ends its first season on Disney+ in December, and the shows that Apple TV+ launched in November will wrap up their runs as well. And while January will bring a handful of buzz-worthy shows on various services, the flood of original content will slow to a relative trickle.
As this column mentioned last month, consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting by capitalizing on the ability to add and drop streaming services each month, and all it takes is good planning and timing. Remember, a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of each month.
Consumers can also take advantage of a multitude of deals for free streaming trials, as Disney and Apple in particular focus on building subscriber bases rather than growing revenue for now. You’re never going to get a better deal than free, and the offers won’t last forever.
Free possibilities aside, when it’s time to decide where your subscription dollars should go, this column What’s Worth Streaming will be here to help. We will rate each major streaming service every month as a “play,” “pause” or “stop,” similar to investment analysts’ ratings of buy, hold and sell, and pick the best content that will help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in January 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)
Netflix will be well-stocked with new additions in January, including two of the streamer’s best returning shows.
One of the dirty secrets of Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -2.29% is that while it has many good series, there aren’t a whole lot of great ones. But “BoJack Horseman” is one of the greats, and it returns Jan. 31 with the second half of its sixth and final season . The animated comedy about a former TV star veers from absurdest humor and clever animal puns to coping with existential angst, addiction and depression. The final batch of episodes will see if a newly sober BoJack can finally achieve happiness and find some redemption after a lifetime of being a generally horrible horse/man. It’s a surprisingly powerful and empathetic series that can be laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly sad, often within the same episode. It’s not to be missed.
Empathy is also the key to another January returnee, “Sex Education,” which is back for its second season Jan. 17 and is well on the road to becoming Netflix’s next great series. The premise flirts with disaster: A shy British high school student uses what he’s learned through osmosis from his sex-therapist mom (a never-better Gillian Anderson) to start a sexual-advice business for his classmates. What could be raunchy and juvenile in less capable hands is instead sweet and full of heart and yes, still extremely raunchy and graphic. It’s a delightful, smart teen comedy that avoids cliches and treats its cast of fully formed characters with respect and kindness in a way that few other series do.
Other notable additions in January include a spooky new season of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (Jan. 24), the medical/cop-procedural spoof “Medical Police” from the creators of “Children’s Hospital” (Jan. 10), and the three-episode “Dracula” miniseries, from the makers of “Sherlock” (date TBA).
Play, pause or stop? Definitely play. Netflix is still the one must-have streaming service, even without “Friends,” which is leaving on the new year.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
Hulu only has one notable original debut in January, but it’s adding enough older shows and currently-airing shows to make it a worthy addition.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Aidy Bryant returns for a second season of “Shrill” on Jan. 24. It’s a unique, smart and often painful comedy about a self-described fat woman who, for the first time in her life, truly has a sense of her own self-worth and is unashamed about her body. It’s easily one of Hulu’s best shows.
Last year’s acquisition of Fox Entertainment by Walt Disney Co. /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.88% is finally paying dividends for Hulu, which is majority-owned by Disney. Aside from HBO, FX has been arguably the cable network with the highest quality of shows over the past two decades, and those series will be making their permanent streaming home on Hulu starting in March. A trio of FX classics are heading over early: “Damages,” “Rescue Me” (both Jan 1.) and “Justified” (Jan. 17). Denis Leary’s damaged, misogynist antihero on the firefighter drama “Rescue Me” might have aged poorly in today’s social climate, but the legal thriller “Damages,” starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, and the modern Western “Justified,” starring Timothy Olyphant as a trigger-happy U.S. marshal in Kentucky, will be excellent candidates for binge-watching.