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Oct. 22, 2020, 8:35 a.m. EDT

‘The Mandalorian’ returns, but what other streaming picks are worth paying for in October 2020?

Looking to cut back on streaming subscriptions? October could be a good month to do so

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By Mike Murphy

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Play, pause or stop? (Recommendation has been updated, post-“Borat” announcement.) Pause and think it over. While Amazon has an impressive catalog, there’s nothing particularly compelling about October’s offerings, aside from “Borat,” which will be required viewing for some people (you know who you are).

Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)

Hulu’s new releases may be even less compelling than Amazon’s. Like its rival, Hulu is launching a quartet of horror movies and series just in time for Halloween — “Monsterland” (Oct. 2), “Books of Blood” (Oct. 7), “Helstrom” (Oct. 16) and “Bad Hair” (Oct. 23) — none of which looks particularly outstanding.

The real draw for Hulu in October will be its extensive library and its ability to show network and cable shows the day after broadcast. That will include “Saturday Night Live” (Oct. 4), “The Bachelorette” (Oct. 14), “The Voice” (Oct. 20) and “Superstore” (Oct. 23), as well as new episodes of “Fargo” and “Archer” from FX on Hulu.

Also see: Here’s what’s coming to Hulu in October 2020, and what’s leaving

Don’t forget the just-released second season of “Pen15,” a cringe-inducing but heartfelt comedy about the horrors of adolescence.

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. Hulu remains the best value in streaming, but with a weak offering of originals in October, you won’t miss much by dropping it for a month or so.

HBO Max ($14.99 a month)

October will bring a ton more movies and a handful of interesting originals to HBO Max. In terms of big names, the top newcomer is “The Undoing” (Oct. 25), an HBO miniseries starring Nicole Kidman as a New York therapist whose life spirals out of control amid revelations that her husband (Hugh Grant) may have done some very bad things. With a deep pool of talent (it also co-stars Donald Sutherland, and was written by David E. Kelley and directed by Susanne Bier), there’s no excuse for this to be anything but very good.

Also among the highlights: Greg Berlanti’s docudrama series “Equal” (Oct. 22), about the unsung heroes of the LGBTQ+ rights movement; the “West Wing” reunion special “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote” (Oct. 15), in which the cast will perform a live script-reading; “David Byrne’s American Utopia” (Oct. 17), a film directed by Spike Lee capturing the Talking Heads frontman’s critically praised Broadway show; the new documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” (Oct. 27), about the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon; and the season finales of a pair of HBO series, “Lovecraft Country” and “The Vow” (both Oct. 18)

There are also dozens of new movies coming to the service, including “Boogie Nights,” “Friday,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Malcolm X,” “The Matrix” trilogy, and “When Harry Met Sally” (all Oct. 1).

Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers. Though frustratingly enough, it’s still NOT for Roku or Amazon Fire users, since HBO Max owner AT&T Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +0.14%  has yet to hammer out a deal with the two biggest makers of streaming-TV devices.

Play, pause or stop? Stop. If you already get HBO, then by all means explore Max — you’re already paying for it. But the lack of Roku and Amazon compatibility makes it hard to recommend Max for most consumers.

Peacock (free basic level, $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 a month with no ads)

The new-ish streaming service from Comcast Corp’s. /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -0.10%   NBCUniversal is fast becoming an appealing option for cord-cutters who still want their network shows. October will see the additions of “Saturday Night Live’s” entire 45-season library (dates TBA), all eight “Harry Potter” movies, and “Mr. Mercedes” (Oct. 15), a dark crime drama from David E. Kelley, based on the books by Stephen King. Brendan Gleeson stars as a retired detective who’s haunted by an unsolved serial-killing case. The series, which spans three seasons and first ran on the obscure Audience cable network, got good reviews from critics and could be worth a watch.

Two promising late-night talk shows debuted in September — Larry Wilmore’s “Wilmore” and Amber Ruffin’s “The Amber Ruffin Show” — and will drop new episodes every Friday in October. Both are smart, funny and timely, and offer a welcome bit of diversity among the late-night offerings.

Peacock will also become the exclusive streaming home of the beloved sitcom “Parks and Recreation” in October, ending its run on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. It will still be available on Peacock’s free tier, though with ads, along with Peacock’s other prize: “The Office.”

Update: Peacock is also drawing ire from some soccer fans for keeping big Premier League matches on the paid, Premium tier of the service, rather than airing them on NBCUniversal’s cable channels as they did in the past. But don’t expect that to change anytime soon — U.S. fans of English soccer may be forced to pay up if they want to see live matches.

Who’s Peacock for? If you don’t mind ads, the free version of Peacock is great. If you’re eligible for Premium through a Comcast or Cox cable subscription, it’s also a perfectly fine free addition.

Play, pause or stop? Stop. By all means check out the free version (which is now available through Roku devices ), but the paid tier will be unnecessary for most people (with the possible exception of soccer fans).

Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)

It’s getting to be a repetitive criticism — Apple TV+ has some decent things to watch, just not enough of them. But as time goes on, its catalog is indeed getting better and a bit deeper.

October will see just two big splashes: the nature documentary “Tiny World” (Oct. 2), as narrator Paul Rudd explores small but amazing creatures, and the movie “On the Rocks” (Oct. 2), a comedy directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. It’s getting good reviews, as Jones plays an author with writer’s block and a crumbling marriage who reconnects with her father (Murray) while playing detective to find out if her husband (Damon Wayans Jr.) is having an affair. Like many things Apple TV+, it sounds perfectly fine, but not quite compelling enough on its own to jump for a subscription. It shouldn’t be long, though, before Apple has enough of those in its catalog to make it worth signing up (among those: the surprisingly delightful “Ted Lasso.” )

Who’s Apple TV+ for? That’s the big question — it offers a little something for everyone, but not enough for anyone, really.

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.

CBS All Access ($5.99 a month or $9.99 with no ads)

“Star Trek: Discovery” was one of CBS All Access’ first big shows, and it returns for a third season Oct. 15. While the first two seasons were set about a decade before the original “Star Trek,” Season 3 will see the crew of the USS Discovery travel 900 years into the future, as they try to reverse a galactic cataclysm.

Meanwhile, the first season of “Discovery” is airing on CBS this fall, as the broadcast network hopes to lure new fans to the streaming service.

All Access (soon to be Paramount+ — long story, we’ll talk about that another time) also has NFL football on Sundays, as well as a growing catalog of shows from ViacomCBS /zigman2/quotes/200340870/composite VIAC +0.70%   cable networks.

Who’s CBS All Access for? Cord-cutters who miss network TV and sports.

Play, pause or stop? Stop. There’s still not enough to justify the price.

Quibi ($4.99 a month with ads, $7.99 a month with no ads)

Forget wondering if Quibi is worth paying for (it’s not, still), the question now is, will it even exist in a couple of months? The troubled short-form streaming service is reportedly looking for a buyer just six months after launching, after failing to meet subscriber and advertising targets. Some experts say the service’s underlying technology — particularly its ability to flip screen proportions vertically or horizontally — is worth more than its content (which Quibi doesn’t even own, it just licenses), leading to the very real possibility that we won’t have Quibi — ahem, pardon, Emmy-winning Quibi — to kick around for much longer.

But while it’s still here, Quibi has a few dramatic offerings for October: “Last Looks” (Oct. 12), about true crimes that rocked the fashion world; “Murder Unboxed” (Oct 19), another true-crime series delving into real case evidence; and “The Expecting” (Oct. 5), a horror series about a mysterious pregnancy.

Who’s Quibi for? Some bigger company that wants its underlying technology, most likely.

Play, pause or stop? Stop. Save your money. Just not nearly enough quality for the price, and who knows how much longer Quibi will be around.

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