By Mike Murphy
November is light on new streaming releases, offering consumers either a chance to widen their viewing horizons or an opportunity to save some money.
With the exception of Season 4 of Netflix’s “The Crown,” the slate of new prestige shows is blank (no, Peacock’s “Saved By the Bell” reboot doesn’t qualify). The one truly must-see series, Disney+’s “The Mandalorian,” technically debuts in October, though will drop new episodes every Friday in November.
While the light lineup will allow some viewers to take a breath and catch up with older shows, it should also give budget-minded consumers a chance to drop a service or two for a month, and save money without fear of missing out on the next big thing.
As this column has previously mentioned, 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 deals for free streaming trials, as Disney+ and Apple TV+ in particular focus on building subscriber bases rather than growing revenue (for now, at least). You’re never going to get a better deal than free, and the offers won’t last forever.
While Netflix Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.70% has raised prices and ended its 30-day free preview, you can get a year of Apple TV+ for free when you purchase a new Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.87% device (such as the new iPhone 12) as well as through the new Apple One bundle , and Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ 0.00% offers a free bundle of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for some wireless customers.
Free and bundled possibilities aside, when it’s time to decide where your subscription dollars should go, What’s Worth Streaming is here to help. We 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 to help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in November 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Walt Disney Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.82% streaming service should be a must-have in November, thanks largely to its massive hit show “The Mandalorian,” which starts its second season Oct. 30, with new episodes every Friday. As mentioned in last month’s column , the “Star Wars” spinoff is one of most purely fun, enjoyable series out there, with first-rate special effects to boot. It makes the price of a Disney+ subscription worthwhile all on its own.
Luckily, there are more quality offerings, including the good-but-not-great reboot of “The Right Stuff” (new episodes every Friday until its season finale Nov. 20); its companion documentary “The Real Right Stuff” (Nov. 20); and a “modern-day reimagining” of “Black Beauty” (Nov. 27), the classic story of the bond between a girl and her horse.
We can’t forget the “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” (Nov. 17). Die-hard “Star Wars” fans will remember (or at least have heard about) the “Star Wars Holiday Special” in 1978, which went down as one of the worst made-for-TV movies in history and was never re-aired again. It shouldn’t be hard to make a better version, and the Lego animated franchise has a pretty decent track record, so at the very least it should be watchable.
There are also new episodes of a few Disney docu-series, which, frankly, come off as extended infomercials, but viewers looking for value can counterbalance those with the entire catalog of “The Simpsons.”
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hard-core “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in that group, its library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Play. There aren’t many must-see shows anymore. But “The Mandalorian” is one, and it works on enough levels that the whole family can enjoy it.
Netflix is focusing most of its energy in November to challenging Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel as THE place for holiday movies, rolling out a flurry of cheesy Christmas-themed rom-coms, family dramedies and musical specials (at least 19 at last count). Most look forgettable, though at least “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” (Nov. 22) features 14 original songs from Parton, who’s simply an American treasure.
Among non-holiday fare, the undoubted highlight is Season 4 of “The Crown” coming Nov. 15, introducing Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, and Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin as Charles and Diana. Olivia Colman stars again as Queen Elizabeth, and viewers can expect the usual fine acting, lavish sets and costumes, and behind-the-scenes personal drama of the royal family. At this point it’s Netflix’s crown jewel, and with good reason.
Last November, Netflix kicked off its big Oscar push with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” This year, Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” (Nov 24) gets that treatment. The drama, starring Amy Adams and Glen Close, is about a family’s struggles in Appalachia, based on the J.D. Vance memoir. Expect some controversy, as it’s already come under fire on social media about its depiction of poverty in rural America.
The rest of Netflix’s lineup for the month is surprisingly light — at least by its own drown-them-with-content standards. The dark-horse standout may be “The Liberator” (Nov. 11), a “Band of Brothers”-like World War II drama that uses a new animation technique that blends CGI and live action. The result is visually stunning.
Need more? Try the affable and comforting fourth season of the food/travel show “Somebody Feed Phil,” which drops Oct. 30; new episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” every Friday; the newly released chess drama “The Queen’s Gambit,” which is getting a lot of positive critical buzz ; or dive into the library and check out “Occupied,” a pulse-pounding political drama set in Norway after Russia has seized control of the oil-rich country.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Even at a slightly higher price and without a ton of new stuff, Netflix is still the king of streaming thanks to its massive library. This could be a good month to catch up on what you’ve missed over the past months.
The time has finally come to give Apple’ s streaming service a chance. Now, is it really worth it? Meh. But a free year’s subscription to TV+ will come to all those buying the much-hyped new iPhone — and that should bring a lot of new viewers. Besides, it’s fairly cheap and there’s not a lot of streaming competition in November, so why not finally give TV+ a test drive?
Unfortunately, Apple has no new releases to speak of in November, as most of its second-season lineup has been pushed back to 2021 due to pandemic-related production shutdowns. Still, there’s enough there to explore.
The best of the bunch is the recently completed “Ted Lasso,” a surprisingly warm comedy about an American football coach who takes over a struggling English soccer team. You don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy its charms. The same can be said about “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” a deliberately nerdy-sounding workplace comedy set at a videogame company. Both start slow but become much more engaging than expected, ending on satisfying and emotional high notes. (Check out the “Mythic Quest” pandemic special too.)
Among dramas, “Little America” is a heartfelt, sometimes hilarious, sometimes tearful, look at immigrants in America, based on true stories. “Tehran” is a sharp, suspenseful spy drama (if you don’t mind subtitles), and “For All Mankind” offers an intriguing alternate history of the space race if the Soviets had landed on the moon first. It could actually be a fun binge after watching Disney+’s “The Right Stuff” (Eric Laden even plays a similar character in each), and Season 2 is expected soon, perhaps in December.
There’s also a Bruce Springsteen documentary, “Letter to You,” that dropped in late October and serves as a companion piece to his new album, and to the chagrin of many, Apple is also the new, exclusive home to the “Peanuts” holiday specials, meaning that for the first time in more than 50 years, there’ll be no Charlie Brown on network TV this year. The “Peanuts” Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas specials will be made available for free, however, for a few days each ( click here for those dates ).
Who’s Apple TV+ for? It offers a little something for everyone, but not really enough for anyone, unfortunately.