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Feb. 2, 2021, 4:10 p.m. EST

Here’s what’s worth streaming in February 2021 (and why you don’t need to spend more than $18)

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By Mike Murphy

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Max also has “Earwig and the Witch” (Feb. 5), a new movie from the legendary Japanese animators Studio Ghibli, about a young orphan who ends up living with a selfish witch. Ghibli releases are usually must-sees, but this one has already drawn fan outrage for its dramatically different style of animation .

On the series side, look for the welcome return of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (Feb. 14); “It’s a Sin” (Feb. 18), an AIDS drama set in the 1980s that debuted in the U.K. to rave reviews in January; and the surprise addition of “Chewing Gum” (Feb. 1), the hilarious and filthy 2015 series from Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”) that’s moving over from Netflix. There are also the documentaries “Fake Famous” (Feb. 2) and “There Is No ‘I’ in Threesome” (Feb. 1), fresh episodes of the reality show “Haute Dog” (Feb. 4), and the Swedish small-town drama “Beartown” (Feb. 22).

On top of that are the additions of some pretty decent movies, including Errol Flynn’s “Captain Blood” and Dustin Hoffman’s “The Graduate” (both Feb. 1), “Dunkirk” (Feb. 12) and “Blade Runner 2049” (Feb. 26).

Who’s HBO Max for?  HBO fans and movie lovers.

Play, pause or stop?  Pause and think it over. In terms of sheer quality, HBO Max is easily the best streaming service, with some good additions next month. But if you’re really looking to save money, you might be better off spending that $15 in another, more stacked month instead.

Netflix ($7.99 a month for basic, $13.99 standard or $17.99 premium)

For the second month in a row, Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.86% has a surprisingly unimpressive lineup on tap . Whether the result of coronavirus-related production delays or just a seasonal lull, it may be enough for some to re-evaluate just how necessary Netflix is.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to watch. These are the times when Netflix users can fall back on its massive library of shows and find things they overlooked or haven’t had time to watch. At the top of that list should be “Lupin,” a breezy, fun French series about a charming “gentleman thief” that’s become a global phenomenon since its release in early January. The first batch of five episodes ends on a cliffhanger, but another five eps will drop this summer, Netflix says.

Netflix has at least 17 original movies coming in February, but most look forgettable. The most likely hit should be “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” (Feb. 12), the final installment in the popular but bland teen rom-com trilogy, starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. The relationship drama “Malcolm & Marie” (Feb. 5) had once been seen as a late-breaking Oscar contender, but some reviews have been harsh . Other movies of note include the crime thriller “I Care a Lot” (Feb. 19), starring Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage; and “Space Sweepers” (Feb. 5), a South Korean sci-fi thriller that’s getting decent buzz as a “Guardians of the Galaxy”/”The Fifth Element”–type of adventure.

Among new series, Katherine Heigl will make her return to TV with “Firefly Lane” (Feb. 3), co-starring Sarah Chalke, in a story about best friends whose relationship spans decades of trials and tribulations. Kevin James has a new sitcom, “The Crew” (Feb. 15), about a NASCAR pit crew, and Nadiya Hussain — one of the most beloved “Great British Baking Show” competitors ever — has a new series, titled, appropriately enough, “Nadiya Bakes” (Feb. 12). There’s also “Ginny & Georgia” (Feb. 24), a drama about a free-spirited mother and her teenage daughter, that a cynic might say sounds like a “Gilmore Girls” ripoff.

Who’s Netflix for?  Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.

Play, pause or stop?  Pause. Suddenly, Netflix doesn’t seem so essential. If you subscribe, maybe it’s a good time to dive into its library to catch up on shows you’ve missed.

Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)

It’s a slow month, too, for Amazon Prime Video , which has had an impressive run of original movies in recent months. The best of the bunch for February may be “Bliss” (Feb. 5), an off-kilter romantic drama starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek as a couple who are increasingly convinced that they’re living within a computer simulation. The trailer, at least, looks interesting, which is more than can be said for “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” (Feb. 12), a rom-com about two teens trapped in a day that endlessly repeats, “Groundhog Day”–style, which sounds suspiciously like a version of last year’s Hulu hit movie “Palm Springs.”

More intriguing is “Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers”  (Feb. 16) on Amazon’s free IMDb TV, a docuseries co-produced by LeBron James, following a high-school basketball team that’s stacked with talent (including James’s son, Bronny, and Dwyane Wade’s son, Zaire).

Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.25% will also debut “Tell Me Your Secrets” (Feb. 19), a psychological thriller that TNT finally cut loose after it had been sitting on the shelf for two years. That is not a good sign.

Who’s Amazon Prime Video for?  Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.

Play, pause or stop?  Stop. There’s a good library if you have a yearly subscription, but nothing that’s must-see this month.

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

Peacock is short on originals in February but will add all 11 seasons of “Modern Family” (Feb. 3), in a unique sharing deal with Hulu. But there’s a twist: Only 12 episodes at a time (they’ll rotate) will be available on Peacock’s free tier; you’ll need to pay to get access to all 250 episodes.

Update: Peacock does have an original after all: The reboot of “Punky Brewster” (Feb. 25), with Soleil Moon Frye reprising her now-grown-up role from the popular ’80s sitcom. Her character is now a divorced mom whose shoes still don’t match.

Who’s Peacock for?  If you like network and basic-cable TV and don’t mind ads, the free version of Peacock is great. If you’re eligible for Premium through a Comcast /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -0.31%  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, but the paid tier will be unnecessary for most people (with the exception of soccer fans, since Peacock Premium is the exclusive streaming home of the English Premier League).

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

It’s a quiet end for CBS All Access, which ViacomCBS /zigman2/quotes/200340870/composite VIAC -1.38% will rebrand as Paramount+ at the beginning of March. There aren’t any originals launching in February, though sports fans will be able to stream Super Bowl LV (Feb. 7) as well as a full slate of UEFA Champions League soccer matches. There’ll also be a smattering of promising new shows from CBS, such as Queen Latifah in “The Equalizer” (Feb. 7), the “Silence of the Lambs” spinoff “Clarice” (Feb. 11) — which is legally forbidden from mentioning the name “Hannibal Lecter” — and Season 2 of the Phil Keoghan–hosted reality competition “Tough as Nails” (Feb. 10).

See: Super Bowl LV: Why brands like Coke, Budweiser and Pepsi are benching their stars from in-game commercials this year

Who’s CBS All Access for?  Cord cutters who miss live sports (especially the NFL and UEFA Champions League soccer) and familiar broadcast and cable shows.

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

Discovery+ ($4.99 a month, $6.99 ad-free)

Discovery Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/200511275/composite DISCA -2.47% one-stop shop for all your unscripted-series needs is planning on more than 1,000 hours of original content in its first year, and February’s lineup reflects that, with about two dozen new shows on tap, including “Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Games” (Feb. 7), a pair of “90-Day Fiance” spinoffs (both Feb. 14, of course), “Chopped Sweets” (Feb. 9) and “House Hunters: Comedians on Couches Unfiltered” (Feb. 17).

Are any of those essential watching? No. But are they — and the rest of Discovery+’s massive library — perfectly fine for background watching as you fold laundry? Yep. And there’s something to be said for comfy, familiar programming that feeds that sweet spot where you don’t have to think much.

Who’s Discovery+ for?  Cord cutters who miss their unscripted TV or who are really,  really  into “90-Day Fiance.”

Play, pause or stop?  Stop. As addictive as “Chopped” or old episodes of “MythBusters” are, it’s very much a niche service, and most people won’t need it. (Besides, many of the shows are also available on Hulu.)

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$616,452
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