By Mike Murphy
Planning on a Frugal February ? A dearth of big-name streaming series next month may make that task a bit easier for budget-minded consumers.
Don’t worry, though — there’s plenty to watch for everyone still stuck at home, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to mix things up and cut some extraneous expenses during a slow month. Case in point: While this column usually tries to keep the monthly cost of recommendations in the $30-$40 range, in February you could be very happy while spending just $18 on streaming (or even less if you’ve recently bought an Apple product).
As we’ve previously mentioned , consumers can take full advantage of a cord-cutting strategy by capitalizing on the ability to add and drop 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.
Consumers who dig around can also take advantage of free trials and cost-saving bundles, 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 February 2021, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
The vast majority of Apple TV+ viewers are watching on free trials, according to a recent report , but in February the service will actually be worth paying for.
That’ll be thanks to new episodes of the delightfully offbeat second season of “Dickinson,” new episodes of the darkly absurd “Servant,” and the launch of the second season of “For All Mankind” (Feb. 19), the ambitious alternate-history drama about the space race, in which the U.S. is playing catch-up after the USSR is first to land a man on the moon. Season 1 was hit-and-miss, at its best moments reminiscent of “The Right Stuff” with a twist. Season 2, taking place in the Reagan years, raises the stakes further, with the moon now at the forefront of the Cold War, and with a militarized NASA bracing for space combat with the Soviets. The cast, led by Joel Kinnaman, Michael Dorman, Sarah Jones and Sonya Wagner, is fantastic, as is the creative team, led by Ron Moore (“Battlestar Galactica”). The pieces appear to be in place for a second-season leap toward becoming one of the more compelling, interesting dramas out there.
The problem with Apple’s /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -2.58% streaming service has been its lack of depth, but that’s becoming a lesser issue, thanks in part to a pair of recent — and excellent — Israeli imports: the spy drama “Tehran” and the Hitchcockian psychological thriller “Losing Alice,” which debuted in January. And if you still haven’t seen it, there’s always “Ted Lasso,” one of the best shows of 2020.
February will also bring “The Snoopy Show” (Feb. 5), a new animated series starring everybody’s favorite beagle, and “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” (Feb. 26), an intimate documentary about the young singer-songwriter’s rise to fame.
Who’s Apple TV+ for? It offers a little something for everyone, but not necessarily enough for anyone.
Play, pause or stop? Play. If you’ve bought an Apple device in the past year, take advantage and watch for free. For everyone else, there’s finally enough on to justify the admittedly low price.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
While no big-name original series are on tap for February , Hulu at least will have a pair of Oscar-contending movies: “Nomadland” (Feb. 19), starring Frances McDormand as a woman who sets out to explore the American West after losing everything in the recession, and “The United States vs. Billie Holliday” (Feb. 26), starring Andra Day as the iconic blues singer who was targeted by a government smear campaign.
Hulu will also debut a pair of FX series — Season 4 of the ’80s drug drama “Snowfall” (Feb. 25) and the new documentary series “Hip Hop Uncovered” (Feb. 13) — streaming a day after they air on cable, and will add all 11 seasons of “Modern Family” (Feb. 3) as part of a unique deal where it will also stream on Peacock.
But, really, the best watch of the month is a show that’s two decades old and dropped in January: “Freaks and Geeks,” one of the shows that originally sparked the description “brilliant but canceled.” The outstanding high-school dramedy, which originally aired from 1999-2000, features a veritable Who’s Who of future stars (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, James Franco and Busy Phillips, among many others) and retains its original soundtrack (which is a big deal in the licensing world). If you haven’t seen it before, watch it. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. It’s that good.
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? Play. While there aren’t a ton of new additions, what’s there is, for the most part, really good.
Disney+ ($6.99 a month)
The lack of “The Muppet Show” has been a glaring hole for Disney+ since it launched, but that will be soon be rectified, with all five seasons of the beloved family-friendly variety show, which ran from 1976 to 1981, finally becoming available to stream starting Feb. 19.
February will also have fresh episodes of the reality-bending Marvel spinoff series “WandaVision” and the debut of the Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.29% original movie “Flora & Ulysses” (Feb. 19), about a young girl who befriends a squirrel that has superpowers. But there’s not much new more beyond those releases.
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. FYI, the monthly price will rise by $1 in March, so this is your last chance to lock in a cheaper price if you want to get an annual subscription.
Play, pause or stop? Play. “The Muppet Show” and “WandaVision” alone are enough to justify a subscription.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month)
AT&T’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +1.46% HBO Max will debut a pair of wildly different Warner Bros. movies in February on the same day they’re released in theaters.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Feb. 12) stars Daniel Kaluuya as iconic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as a conflicted man infiltrating the revolutionary group on behalf of the FBI in 1968. It looks gripping and is generating some Oscar buzz. The other big release features a more straightforward pair of antagonists, “Tom & Jerry” (Feb. 26), in another animated adaptation of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Both will be available on HBO Max for 31 days.