By Mike Murphy
Awards season is upon us, and that’s good news for streaming viewers.
Prestige dramas such as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and Apple’s “The Mosquito Coast” will premiere in April, as streaming services try to squeeze in their awards hopefuls before the Emmy deadline May 31. They’ll be joined by a slew of new comedies, docuseries and movies with the potential to be the next buzz-worthy sensation. And there’s still time to check out a ton of Oscar nominees ahead of the April 25 awards ceremony.
But what will actually be worth paying for? Well, that’s the big question.
As we’ve previously mentioned , consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting by churning — that’s the strategy of adding and dropping streaming services each month — and all it takes is good planning. Keep in mind that a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of a month.
Also keep an eye out for free trials and cost-saving bundles. There are a lot of them out there, but those deals won’t last forever.
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 April 2021, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month)
AT&T’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -0.77% HBO Max has a trio of top-tier original series coming up, along with another new Warner Bros. movie streaming the same day it hits theaters.
The best of the bunch will likely be “Mare of Easttown” (April 18), a limited-series crime drama starring Kate Winslet as a small-town Pennsylvania detective investigating a murder as her private life falls apart. The previews look very good, if bleak, and the premise sounds reminiscent of Netflix’s “Happy Valley,” which is not at all a bad thing.
The two other notable new series come with some serious question marks. “The Nevers” (April 11), a supernatural thriller set in Victorian London about women who mysteriously get extraordinary abilities, lost creator Joss Whedon mid-production — he cited exhaustion , months before the recent allegations that he created toxic work conditions on previous shows. Philippa Goslett took over the reins, and it remains to be seen how the abrupt showrunner change will affect the show. Of note: The season will be split in two, with an additional six episodes debuting at a later date.
There’s also “Made for Love” (April 1), a “Black Mirror”-ish dark comedy starring Cristin Milioti as a woman escaping her suffocating marriage to a tech tycoon who finds out he’s tracking her through a brain implant. It sounds interesting, but early reviews have not been great, calling it overly complicated and relying on annoying storytelling crutches .
HBO Max’s same-day-as-theaters Warner Bros. movie of the month is “Mortal Kombat” (April 16), based on the classic videogame. No surprise: It looks kinda terrible. Smarter options include the second season of Robin Thede’s very funny “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (April 23), with guest appearances from Issa Rae, Gabrielle Union and Jessie Williams; as well as the four-part documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes” (April 7), which explores the exploitative and genocidal policies of European colonization.
There are also fresh episodes “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Sunday nights, and the stupidly fun “Godzilla vs. Kong” will be available through the end of the month.
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Between “Mare of Easttown,” “The Nevers” and “Made for Love,” at least one should be worth watching. Plus, there’s HBO’s deep library of excellent shows. Maybe catch up with the excellent Swedish small-town hockey drama “Beartown,” or the cringeworthy Comedy Central classic “Nathan for You.”
Disney+ ($7.99 a month)
The only notable addition to Disney’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +1.68% streaming service in April is “Big Shot” (April 16), a sports-dramedy series starring John Stamos as an abrasive big-time college basketball coach who gets fired from his job and has to find redemption coaching a girls high school team. Its premise — that coaching girls is this guy’s punishment — has already come under fire for being “lame, sexist trash. ” Even best-case scenario, it sounds like a lazy twist on “The Mighty Ducks” and a million other sports stories.
Speaking of, new episodes of the surprisingly good “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” will drop every Friday in April, as will fresh episodes of the latest Marvel smash hit, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which will wrap up its six-episode season on April 23.
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hardcore “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in those groups, its library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Play. “Big Shot” may not be worth it, but new episodes “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” are reason enough for a subscription, along with Oscar nominees “Soul” and “Mulan.” (You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy any of those.)
Netflix ($7.99 a month for basic, $13.99 standard or $17.99 premium)
After a few lean months, Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +0.86% finally has a more filled-out slate of new releases for April.
The streaming giant hopes it has its newest hit on its hands with “Shadow and Bone” (April 23), an adaptation of the hugely popular series of YA novels from Leigh Bardugo. Jessie Mei Li stars as Alina, an orphan mapmaker in a war-torn country who discovers she has mystical powers that could change the fate of her world. It looks super cheesy, but fans of the books likely won’t care.
For reality fans, there’s a second season of “The Circle” (April 14), the guilty-pleasure show that surged to popularity in the early days of the pandemic lockdown, featuring contestants flirting, befriending and backstabbing each other as they vie for a $100,000 prize. It’ll be released in a different format this time around, with four episodes dropping for the premiere, then four more on each of the following two Wednesdays, before the finale May 5.
Fans of true crime will have “The Serpent” (April 2) to obsess over. Based on actual events, the series follows a serial killer who preyed on travelers along India’s “hippie trail” in the 1970s. But early reviews have criticized its muddled storytelling .
Jamie Foxx makes a return to television with “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!” (April 14), a sitcom about a single dad and his strong-minded teenage daughter.
Netflix is also rolling out some big-name movies, including “Concrete Cowboy” (April 2), an urban cowboy drama starring Idris Elba; “Thunder Force” (April 9), a superhero comedy staring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer; and “Stowaway” (April 22), a sci-fi thriller starring Anna Kendrick, Toni Colette and Daniel Dae Kim. There’s also time to check out Oscar nominees “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” before the April 25 awards ceremony.
On the documentary front, try “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” (April 7), a series about a notorious Boston museum robbery in 1990, because art heists are almost never not cool; “My Love: Six Stories of True Love,” (April 13), with six longtime couples sharing their relationship stories and tips for everlasting love (box of tissues not included); and “Life in Color with David Attenborough” (April 22), an Earth Day-themed documentary about the way animals use color.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Play. The content firehose is back on, with a wide range of “good enough” material so that nearly everyone can find something that’s up their alley. And as March Madness wraps up, don’t sleep on the intense and unexpectedly emotional “Last Chance U: Basketball,” which debuted in March.