By Mike Murphy
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and classic movie lovers. Though oddly enough, it’s still NOT for Roku or Amazon Fire users, since AT&T Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +0.02% HBO Max has yet to hammer out a deal with the two biggest makers of streaming devices. But deals will likely come eventually, and Max is watchable online for those who can’t get it through their Roku or Fire.
Play, pause or stop? Pause and think it over. July is a rare slow period for fresh HBO content, though there are still a ton of older shows and movies worth bingeing.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
Hulu is taking a month off. Almost. The only notable addition in July is “Palm Springs” (July 10), a “Groundhog Day”-esque existential romantic comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti that got rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, where it sold for a festival-record price of $17,500,000.69. (It was the 69 cents that put it over the top.)
Aside from a handful of decent older movies and previously aired TV shows, there’s not a lot else coming in July. But that’s where Hulu’s impressive library comes in, offering an opportunity to check out binge-worthy new-ish shows like the existential sci-fi mystery “Devs,” the steamy Irish romantic drama “Normal People,” the Catherine the Great satire “The Great” and Season 2 of the Peabody Award-winning Muslim-American slacker comedy “Ramy,” along with older gems such as the Australian hit-man dramedy “Mr. Inbetween,” the anti-rom-com “You’re the Worst” and Donald Glover’s brilliant and genre-defying “Atlanta.”
Who’s Hulu for? TV lovers. There’s a deep library for those who want older TV series, and next-day streaming for many current network and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Pause. While Hulu is still the best value in streaming, there’s not much coming in July, so if you’re looking to cut expenses, now might be a good time. On the other hand, there’s plenty in the vault to justify the cost.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
One thing Amazon Prime Video does well is making action series that are better than they need to be. “Hanna” (July 3) is a prime example, taking a familiar premise and upping the ante with fantastic fight scenes, sharp writing and emotionally deep characters. Largely filmed in Europe, the conspiracy thriller/coming-of-age drama about a teenage super-soldier hunted by the CIA was a surprise treat last year, and Season 2, which drops July 3, looks to deliver more of the same.
Otherwise it’s a sparse month for Amazon, whose other major new releases — the Marie Curie biopic “Radioactive” (July 24), starring Rosamund Pike; and the Jim Gaffigan stand-up comedy special “Pale Tourist” (July 24) — look fine, but uninspiring. Subscribers may be better off catching up with shows they’ve missed, like the mind-bending and visually stunning animated dramedy “Undone,” the cringe-inducing relationship comedy “Catastrophe” and the afterlife comedy “Upload.”
There are also fewer new movies than usual coming to Amazon.com Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.60% streaming service, likely because licensing deals changed when HBO Max launched, with WarnerMedia keeping more of its movies for its own service. Still, Amazon’s movie library is about three times that of its nearest competitor (Netflix), though many of those are documentaries and direct-to-video productions.
Who’s Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. “Hanna” will be waiting for you later, and you won’t miss out on much by dropping Prime Video during its summer slumber.
Peacock (free basic level, $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 a month with no ads)
Do we really need another streaming service? The good news for most folks is that, if we’re talking about Peacock, you do not. Peacock launched in April for some Comcast cable customers, and will be available to the general public starting July 15. There will be three tiers: A free one with ads and 7,500 hours of content, a Premium tier with 15,000 hours of content (which will be free for some Comcast and Cox cable subscribers, $4.99 a month for everyone else), and an ad-free Premium version for $9.99 a month.
It’s not that the long-awaited service from Comcast Corp.’s /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -0.02% NBCUniversal doesn’t have a good library — it does. But most of its shows can also be seen on NBC, for free, and many are also on Hulu (until their licensing contracts expire, at least). Peacock will launch with a handful of originals, and all three scripted original series are, oddly enough, British-made. The most prominent is a new take on “Brave New World,” based on the utopian/dystopian 1932 Aldous Huxley book; along with “Intelligence,” a spy/workplace comedy starring David Schwimmer; and the conspiracy thriller “The Capture.” There are also a pair of docuseries, from Olympian Ryan Lochte and Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. ; a new “Psych” movie; and the animated kids shows “Curious George,”“Where’s Waldo?” and “Cleopatra in Space,” whose title pretty much explains its premise.
That’s in addition to a large library of older content, including “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Friday Night Lights,” as well as classic shows such as “Murder, She Wrote,” “Saved By the Bell” and “Cheers,” and a selection of around 600 movies. Users will also get early access to late-night shows and live sports.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Peacock hard. Its centerpiece attraction for launch was supposed to be the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which has been postponed, and the bulk of its original programming has been delayed until 2021 due to production shutdowns.
Who’s Peacock for? If you’re a cord-cutter who misses network TV, the free version of Peacock is great. If you’re eligible for Premium through a Comcast or Cox subscription, it’s also a perfectly fine free addition.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The free version is nice, but the paid tier will be unnecessary for most people.
CBS All Access ($5.99 a month or $9.99 with no ads)
CBS All Access appears to be on vacation in July, with no new series scheduled, though the second season of Jordan Peele’s “Twilight Zone” dropped in late June and is getting decent reviews . But the planned relaunch, incorporating news, live sports and more shows from the ViacomCBS Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200340870/composite VIAC +1.63% family of networks — which includes MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, essentially doubling its library of shows — has been pushed back from the summer to sometime in 2021.
Who’s it for? Cord-cutters who miss network TV.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The revamped version could be interesting, but until then, it’s far too pricey for what it offers.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
While Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -0.79% continues to sign impressive development deals (like Martin Scorsese’s next movie, for example), Apple TV+ still doesn’t have anything that’s must-see. July will bring the debut of “Little Voice” (July 10), a musical drama series about a young woman finding her way in the big city, with original music by Sara Bareilles, and “Greyhound” (July 10), a World War II movie starring Tom Hanks as a ship captain leading a convoy across the Atlantic under constant threat from Nazi submarines. Apple bought the high-profile movie in May after it was pulled from theatrical release due to the pandemic. That could be an entry point for a seven-day free trial, for those curious to see what Apple’s offering.
Who’s Apple TV+ for? That’s the big question — it offers a little something for everyone, but not enough for anyone, really. There are hidden gems, like the immigrant-story anthology “Little America,” the animated musical “Central Park” and the workplace comedy “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” but just not enough of them.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. With the shallowest library of any other streaming service and only one or two originals a month, it’s still not worth the admittedly low price.