It’s a good thing live sports are coming back, because with a few exceptions, there’s not much worth streaming in August.
Whether it’s an extreme version of the typical August content drought, or the first effects of pandemic-related production delays (or both), it should be a good month to either catch up on past shows or tighten the belt and save money on subscriptions.
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 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.
Free 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 August 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee
Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)
So there’s good news and bad news. The good: Netflix NFLX, +2.17% has dozens of original series, specials and movies coming in August. The bad: Not much of it looks particularly compelling.
Sure, there are new seasons of cult favorites such as “Lucifer” (Aug. 21), the cop procedural that Netflix rescued after it was canceled by Fox, in which the bored devil solves mysteries with the LAPD, and Brazil’s dystopian drama “3%” (Aug. 14), along with a number of solid-looking documentaries, kids’ shows, comedy specials and international series — Denmark’s post-apocalyptic “Rain” (Aug. 6), the baking game show “Nailed It! Mexico” (Aug. 7) among others — but little that screams “you need to see this.”
But there are, at least, two high-profile debuts that may be worth checking out. One is “Project Power” (Aug. 14), an action movie in which Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt team up to take down those responsible for a street drug that gives people superpowers for five minutes at a time. It looks intensely stupid, but hey, with good actors, decent flight scenes and nothing in movie theaters, it could scratch that itch for dumb summer blockbusters.
The other is the six-part docuseries “Immigration Nation” (Aug. 3), which examines the nation’s broken immigration system from the inside, with behind-the-scenes looks into how Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents do their jobs. Here’s where it gets interesting: The New York Times has reported that the Trump administration has threatened legal action to stop the series from being aired before the November election and demanded scenes to be cut, after revelations that it shows potentially illegal acts by ICE agents, as well as scenes of them lying to gain access to immigrants’ homes, and mocking those they arrest. At this point in time, one has to believe that if the government doesn’t want the public seeing it, then it’s most definitely worth watching.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Despite the slim pickings of August, Netflix still has a deep, deep library. Take the opportunity to watch a series or two that you missed when they first came out. (The crime thriller “Giri/Haji,” the old-timey gang drama “Peaky Blinders” and the Western miniseries “Godless” come to mind.)
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
It’s a quiet month for Amazon Prime Video too.
The best of the new additions looks to be “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” (Aug. 14), a made-for TV adventure race spanning 10 episodes and 671 kilometers. Bear Grylls hosts, as 66 teams from around the world race for 11 days across the jungles, mountains and waters of Fiji. Think of it as a mix of “Survivor” and the old “ABC Wide World of Sports” presentations of the Ironman Triathlon. For sports-starved viewers, it could hit that sweet spot of competition, thrills and cheering for the underdog.
Amazon AMZN, +1.17% will also roll out the teen romance movie “Chemical Hearts” (Aug. 21), starring Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams, and a slate of kids shows and older movies. As with Netflix, this is a good time to dive into the library and discover shows you’ve missed. Try the acclaimed dark comedy “One Mississippi,” the con-man drama “Sneaky Pete” or the superhero spoof “The Tick,” or catch up on the twisted superhero satire “The Boys” before Season 2 drops in September.
Who’s Amazon Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Not much new, but “Eco-Challenge” should be legitimately good, and there’s a deep library to explore.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
Now’s also the time to appreciate Hulu’s vast library of older TV shows — because the cupboard of originals is pretty bare in August.
The biggest offering is “The Binge” (Aug. 28), a teen comedy movie starring Vince Vaughn (who’s notably not a teen). It’s a parody of “The Purge,” set in a world where fun is banned, except for one day a year where everyone can drink, take drugs and let loose. It … does not sound great.
The better bet is a re-watch of shows you used to love — “Lost,” “The Amazing Race,” “Community,” “Veronica Mars” — or more recent ones that slipped past you — “The Great,” “Pen15,” “The Terror” — or below-the-radar shows that you didn’t even realize you missed — such as the comedies “The Wrong Mans” and “Difficult People” and the time-travel thriller series “11.22.63.”
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 and think it over. Even though there’s not much new, Hulu’s deep library could still be worth it.
Disney+ ($6.99 a month)
For those of you who picked up a Disney+ subscription in July just to watch “Hamilton,” it’s safe to cancel now. There’s not a lot coming in August.
But for those whose kids need their Disney DIS, -0.94% fix, there are some family-friendly debuts, most prominently “The One and Only Ivan” (Aug. 14), the CGI-heavy story of a silverback gorilla who’s taken into captivity and forced to perform at a mall circus, and the friends he makes along the way. Brian Cranston stars as Ivan’s keeper, and Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren and Danny DeVito do voice work. It looks cute.
There’s also “Howard” (Aug. 7), a documentary about Oscar-winning lyricist Howard Ashman, new episodes of “Muppets Now” and a new “Phineas and Ferb” movie (Aug. 28).
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hard-core “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in that group, its library is lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Pause. If you have kids, it’s a no-brainer — it’s worth a subscription. If not, then you’re not missing much.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month)
HBO Max will have some decent additions in August, but its lack of availability to many streaming viewers will continue to be a frustration.
The main selling point of HBO Max is, obviously, HBO, which has the lion’s share of new releases. The best of the bunch is likely to be “Lovecraft Country” (Aug. 16), the adaptation of the acclaimed novel about a young Black man in Jim Crow-era America who travels cross-country to track down his missing father, facing terrors both human and supernatural. It stars Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Michael K. Williams and Courtney B. Vance, and looks to be a timely hit.
HBO is also rolling out a new season of its NFL behind-the-scenes docuseries “Hard Knocks” (Aug. 11), this time focusing on the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers; the documentary “The Swamp” (Aug. 4), about the corrosive effect of money on Capitol Hill; and a ton of new movies, including Oscar-winner “Jojo Rabbit” (Aug 1), six older Batman movies (Aug. 1), the Harley Quinn follow-up “Birds of Prey” (Aug. 18), “Richard Jewell” (Aug. 8) and “Queen and Slim” (Aug. 22).
Max’s selling point will be the original movie “An American Pickle” (Aug. 6), which stars Seth Rogen in a double role, as Herschel, an early 20th-century immigrant who falls into a pickling vat and wakes up a century later, and as his great-grandson Ben, who Herschel meets in modern-day Brooklyn. Rogen is reliably funny and this seems like a solid fish-out-of-water comedy, with a little heart.
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers. Though oddly enough, it’s still NOT for Roku or Amazon Fire users, since Max owner AT&T Inc. T, -0.69% 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. 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)
Peacock, the streaming service from Comcast’s CMCSA, -0.09% NBCUniversal, launched in July without most live sports and with much of its original programming delayed by the pandemic. That situation won’t change much in August
Peacock announced a deal in early July to become the U.S. home to English Premier League soccer, offering more than 175 matches during the 2020-’21 season. However, the next Premier League season won’t start until September, so nothing much to see here yet.
As for originals, Peacock is still relying on overseas shows, launching the British comedy series “Hitmen” (Aug. 6), starring former “Great British Bake-Off’ co-hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, and the Australian dramedy series “Five Bedrooms” (Aug. 13), about five single people who buy a house together.
Who’s Peacock for? If you’re a cord-cutter who misses network TV, the free version of Peacock is great. If you’re eligible for Premium through a Comcast or Cox subscription, it’s also a perfectly fine free addition.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The free version is nice, but the paid tier will be unnecessary for most people, at least for now.
CBS All Access ($5.99 a month or $9.99 with no ads)
A few months after “Star Trek: Picard,” CBS All Access is once again reaching into the “Star Trek” universe in search of a hit.
That would be “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” an animated workplace comedy about the support crew on a Federation starship, far from the escapades of Kirk or Picard. One encouraging sign: It comes from Mike McMahon, the Emmy-winning writer/producer of “Rick and Morty” and “Solar Opposites”
All Access will also bolster its live-sports lineup, signing a deal in July to be the exclusive U.S. streaming home to the UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer for the next four years, beginning with the Champions League Round of 16 starting Aug. 7. It’s all part of ViacomCBS’s VIAC, -1.29% effort to beef up the service, which is expected to relaunch next year.
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, and for soccer fans, the Champions League final on Aug. 23 will almost certainly air for free on CBS.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
Apple’s AAPL, +1.77% streaming service has a pair of August releases, both of which — like nearly all Apple TV+ shows — seem perfectly fine, but not particularly must-see TV.
The new comedy series “Ted Lasso” (Aug. 14) stars Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach who — despite knowing nothing about soccer — gets hired to coach a professional soccer team in England. (Where it’s called “football,” so connect the joke dots.) “Scrubs” producer Bill Lawrence is part of the creative team, which is encouraging. Apple also has “Boys State,”a film about a mock state-government exercise held by Texas high-school students, which won the Grand Jury Price for documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival.
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.
Quibi ($4.99 a month with ads, $7.99 a month with no ads)
Yes, Quibi is still a thing. But at the rate it’s apparently burning cash and failing to lure subscribers, who knows how long that will last. (Pro tip: If you really want entertaining content that can be consumed in less than 10 minutes, read this Vulture exposé on Quibi’s behind-the-scenes drama.)
Still, it’s rolling out high-profile new shows in August, including Kiefer Sutherland’s reboot of “The Fugitive” (Aug. 3), new seasons of “Punk’d” (Aug. 17) and “Reno 911” (Aug. 24), and “This Joka with Will Smith,” a stand-up comedy showcase hosted by the megastar.
Who’s Quibi for? Unknown. But if you figure it out, please alert Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Save your money.