Looking to spend your entertainment dollars wisely in September? Watch Hulu and read a book or two.
That pretty much sums up a hugely underwhelming lineup from streaming services, which burned through their best shows in the spring and have little to offer for the start of the traditional fall TV season. That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of promising shows — there are — but is one decent new show per service worth the price of multiple monthly subscriptions? Almost certainly not.
It’s unclear if the dearth of new shows can be blamed on the Hollywood strikes (streamers boasted that they had many months of shows stockpiled and said viewers wouldn’t notice a dropoff until 2024), but the timing is more than a little odd, especially considering how viewers will likely be looking for alternatives to network TV’s barren, strike-impacted fall schedule.
The good news is that consumers can save some money by cutting back, because in the coming month, you really don’t need more than one or two subscriptions.
Each month, this column offers tips on how to maximize your streaming and your budget, rating the major services as a “play,” “pause” or “stop” — similar to investment analysts’ traditional ratings of buy, hold or sell. We also pick the best shows to help you make your monthly decisions.
Consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting with a churn-and-return strategy — adding and dropping streaming services each month. All it takes is good planning. Keep in mind that a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of the month, and keep an eye out for lower-priced tiers, limited-time discounts, free trials and cost-saving bundles. There are a lot of offers out there, but the deals don’t last forever.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in September 2023, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Hulu ($7.99 a month with ads, or $14.99 with no ads)
Hulu’s September lineup remains solid, but mostly because of August carryovers.
The big addition is Season 2 of FX’s “Welcome to Wrexham” (Sept 13), the critically acclaimed, hit docuseries about a lower-division Welsh soccer team’s strive toward promotion. Of course, it helps that the team is owned by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny, who have significantly raised the team’s profile and, most importantly, boosted its coffers. Season 1 was fantastically entertaining, if at times self-serving, and while Wrexham perhaps shouldn’t be called underdogs anymore, Season 2 should provide plenty more feel-good vibes. You don’t have to love sports to love this story. Note that new eps will stream a day after they air on cable’s FX.
Hulu’s already ramping up with creepy programming ahead of Halloween, with “The Other Black Girl” (Sept. 13), a “Get Out”-like sinister-workplace thriller starring Sinclair Daniel and based on Zakiya Dalila Harris’ novel; “American Horror Story: Delicate, Part 1” (Sept. 21), starring Emma Roberts, Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevigne in a story about an actress whose pregnancy takes a horrifying turn; and “No One Will Save You” (Sept. 22), a horror movie starring Kaitlyn Dever as an anxiety-ridden woman whose home is invaded by aliens.
There’s also ABC’s “The Golden Bachelor” (Sept. 29), featuring a 71-year-old widower seeking his soulmate, and new episodes every week of the breezily entertaining “Only Murders in the Building,” the final seasons of “Archer” and “Breeders” (series finale Sept. 25), and the brilliant, sublime “Reservation Dogs” (series finale Sept. 27). Also worth a watch: the terrifically tense eco-terrorism movie “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” which arrived in late August, and new movie additions such as “The Menu” (Sept. 3), “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Sept. 4) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Sept. 15).
Who’s Hulu for? TV lovers. There’s a deep library for those who want older TV series and next-day streaming of many current network and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Even in a month with few premieres, Hulu is head and shoulders above the rest. But be warned, Disney is jacking up the price of ad-free Hulu to $17.99 in October.
Amazon’s Prime Video ($14.99 a month)
In fairness, it’s a relatively blockbuster month for Amazon’s AMZN, +0.08% Prime Video.
After a two-year layoff, Season 2 of the sprawling fantasy epic “The Wheel of Time” (Sept. 1) picks up with Moraine (Rosamund Pike) and Rand (Josha Stradowski) now scattered and forced to regroup as the Dark One turns out to be far from defeated. Season 1 was one of Prime’s most-watched series ever, and Season 2 will reportedly be darker and more action-packed, spanning the second and third books of Robert Jordan’s series.
The end of the month will bring the premiere of “Gen V” (Sept. 27), set in “The Boys” universe and following a group of students with extraordinary abilities at a prestigious — and extremely competitive — college for superheroes-to-be. It looks every bit as depraved and violent as the massively popular “The Boys,” and fans of that show should dig it. For others, it may test your tolerance for exploding heads.
Prime’s also got the nightmare-vacation thriller “Wilderness” (Sept. 15), the astrological dating show “Written in the Stars” (Sept. 15), and an impressive number of movie additions — about four times as many as were added in August. Highlights include “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Children of Men,” “Face/Off” and the original “Bad News Bears.”
Don’t forget the return of NFL Thursday Night Football, with some quality matchups: Eagles-Vikings (Sept. 14), 49ers-N.Y. Giants (Sept. 21) and Lions-Packers (Sept. 28).
Who’s Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Pause and think it over. “The Wheel of Time” and “Gen V” should be two of Prime’s most popular series this year and there’s a good slate of NFL games. But if you’re not a big fan of fantasy, excessively violent superheroes or football, the lineup suddenly looks lacking.
Netflix ($6.99 a month for basic with ads, $15.49 standard with no ads, $19.99 premium with no ads)
It’s an unusually slow month for Netflix NFLX, +1.43%, but there is one highlight: the fourth and final season of the excellent British high-school dramedy “Sex Education” (Sept. 21). Asa Butterfield, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey and Gillian Anderson return as the raunchy yet sweet coming-of-age story shifts the students to a new, ultra-progressive school, where they’ll try to fit in amid new challenges.
There’s also the fifth and final season of Matt Groening’s animated fantasy series “Disenchantment” (Sept. 1); the final season of the British crime drama “Top Boy” (Sept. 7); Season 5 of the romantic drama “Virgin River” (Sept. 7); Season 5 of the reality dating show “Love Is Blind” (Sept. 22); Wes Anderson’s short film “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (Sept. 27), based on a Roald Dahl short story; and the Chilean horror satire “El Conde” (Sept. 15), which asks if dictator Augusto Pinochet was actually a vampire.
Also, the epic WWII miniseries “Band of Brothers” and its sequel, “The Pacific” (both Sept. 15), join Netflix as part of HBO’s new licensing deal that includes “Ballers” and “Insecure.”
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Pause. Taken together, “Sex Education” and “Band of Brothers” are almost worth the subscription price alone, but beyond that…
Apple TV+ ($6.99 a month)
“The Morning Show” (Sept. 13) returns for its third season, as Apple AAPL, +0.85% basically keeps trying to make “fetch” happen. The newsroom-set, wannabe-prestige drama is not good, a narrative mess that borders on ridiculous. On the other hand, it’s fairly popular, thanks to one of the most impressive, and expensive, casts on TV (which adds Jon Hamm, Tig Notaro and Natalie Morales this season), and it’s probably hard to say no to Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. So instead of flirting with cancelation, the sunk costs will continue for a company that can definitely afford it.
Meanwhile, Apple also has “The Changeling” (Sept. 8), a horror series billed as a “fairytale for grown-ups,” starring LaKeith Stanfield as a new father whose wife mysteriously goes missing after giving birth, and tracks his nightmarish journey to find her; “Still Up” (Sept. 22), a British comedy series about romantic insomniacs; and “Flora and Son” (Sept. 29), a musical/family drama movie from writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Sing Street”) and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Hewson.
There are also new eps every week of “Invasion,” “Physical” (series finale Sept. 29), “Foundation” (season finale Sept. 15) and “The Afterparty” (season finale Sept. 6).
Who’s Apple TV+ for? It offers a little something for everyone, but not necessarily enough for anyone — although it’s getting there.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Apple’s had a great year, but there’s a pretty steep dropoff once “The Afterparty” ends.
Max ($9.99 a month with ads, or $15.99 with no ads)
Curiously and concerningly, Max — formerly HBO Max — has more AMC shows coming in September than it does HBO originals.
Max recently announced a partnership with AMC+ that will see seven AMC series — “Fear the Walking Dead”, “Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire,” “Dark Winds,” “Gangs of London,” “Ride with Norman Reedus,” “A Discovery of Witches” and “Killing Eve” — stream on Max for two months starting Sept. 1. It’s a good lineup too, with “Interview with the Vampire,” “Dark Winds,” “Gangs of London” and the first season of “Killing Eve,” in particular, worth checking out. The shows will be available for all tiers, and will be ad-free.
Later in the month, Warner Bros. Discovery WBD, -12.02% will finally integrate Max and CNN, after scuttling CNN+ last year soon after its launch. CNN Max will launch Sept. 27, on all Max tiers, offering live news and original programming. It’s not a live feed of cable’s CNN, but it may be close enough to satisfy cord-cutters.
Aside from that, there’s the animated comedy “Young Love” (Sept. 21), about a tight-knit Black family in Chicago, and based on Matthew A. Cherry’s acclaimed animated short “Hair Love”; Season 3 of the British romantic comedy “Starstruck” (Sept. 28); and “The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart” (Sept. 2), a movie that wraps up the hilariously twisted Adult Swim series.
The one saving grace for Max this month is new episodes of some very good returning shows, such as “How to with John Wilson” (season finale Sept. 1), “Harley Quinn” (season finale Sept. 14) and “Winning Time” (season finale Sept. 17).
Who’s Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers. And now, unscripted TV fans too, with a slew of Discovery shows.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. What a dramatic shift from spring’s monster lineup. Once “Winning Time” ends, there’s little to justify the cost.
Disney+ ($7.99 a month with ads, $10.99 with no ads)
It’s a dismal month for Disney+.
The forgettable live-action version of “The Little Mermaid” (Sept. 6) makes its streaming debut, and “I Am Groot” (Sept. 6) — the animated “Guardians of the Galaxy” spinoff — returns for its second season of shorts, along with a handful of “behind-the-scenes” Marvel and “Star Wars” specials.
Meanwhile, the “Star Wars” series “Ahsoka” has new episodes every week. While it’s entertaining enough for those who are caught up with the four-season animated “Star Wars: Rebels” — it’s essentially Season 5 of “Rebels” — newcomers may find themselves a bit lost.
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, hardcore “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For people not in those groups, Disney’s DIS, -2.44% library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The price of ad-free Disney+ is rising significantly in October, so it’s time to start thinking about whether you really need to subscribe. This month, you really don’t.
Peacock (Premium for $5.99 a month with ads, or $11.99 a month with no ads)
Peacock’s big addition this month is “The Continental: From the World of John Wick” (Sept. 15), a prequel miniseries about the origins of the hotel for assassins from the “John Wick” universe. It’s a rich premise, but the producers managed to blow any goodwill by inexplicably giving a starring role to Mel Gibson, despite his long and ugly history of racist, misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic comments. This was a conscious choice on their part. And you, the consumer, have a choice too. So no. Just … no.
There’s also the streaming debut of the drive-fast-and-blow-things-up blockbuster movie “Fast X” (Sept. 15); “The Irrational” (Sept. 26), a silly-looking new NBC procedural starring Jesse L. Martin as a behavioral scientist who uses his expertise to help The Man, aka governments, law enforcement and corporations; and a ton of Halloween-themed movies, from “The Birds” to “Ghostbusters” to “Halloween” to “Saw.”
Things look better on the live-sports side. Big Ten college football returns Sept. 2, and NFL football starts Sept. 7. Sundays feature an MLB game of the week, and there’s a full slate of English Premier League soccer, motorsports and golf, including the Ryder Cup (Sept. 29-Oct. 2).
Who’s Peacock for? Live sports and next-day shows from Comcast’s CMCSA, -2.20% NBCUniversal are the main draw, but there’s a good library of shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The live-sports offerings are the only lure.
Paramount+ ($5.99 a month with ads, $11.99 a month with Showtime and no ads)
It’s a weak lineup for Paramount+ as well, with new seasons of realty-competition standbys “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” (both Sept. 27) the biggest highlights. There’s also the summer-camp-activities competition “The Buddy Games” (Sept. 14); the British comedy “Dreaming Whilst Black” (Sept. 8); the British heist thriller “The Gold” (Sept. 17); Season 4 of the animated “Star Trek: Lower Decks” (Sept. 7); and the season finale of “Special Ops: Lioness” (Sept. 3).
Sports-wise, Paramount has a bunch of college football (Big Ten starts Sept. 2, SEC starts Sept. 16), NFL football every Sunday starting Sept. 10, and a slew of European soccer.
Who’s Paramount+ for? Gen X cord-cutters who miss live sports and familiar Paramount Global PARA, -9.54% broadcast and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Even with football back, there’s just not enough there.