It’s time to seriously start asking yourself whether Netflix is worth it.
With prices for its most popular plan jumping by $1.50 in February, Netflix is suddenly the most expensive major streaming service — more than even HBO Max. The problem is, after an end-of-the-year programming surge, Netflix is in reloading mode, and doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of new shows.
In the big picture, that $1.50 difference may not matter all that much to budgets, but in terms of perception, it sure feels like Netflix subscribers are paying more for less. (At least until its content firehose returns later this year.) For some, this could be a good point to bail — at least for a month or two. In fact, for February we’re recommending three services for a very budget-friendly $25 — and Netflix is not among them.
Each month, this column rates the major streaming services as a “play,” “pause” or “stop,” similar to investment analysts’ traditional ratings of buy, hold and sell, and picks the best content to help you make your monthly decisions.
As we’ve previously mentioned, consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting though a churn-and-return strategy — that’s 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 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 February 2022, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Peacock (free basic level, Premium for $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 a month with no ads)
Comcast CMCSA, +3.56% recently revealed Peacock had just 9 million paid subscribers as of the end of the fourth quarter. It should pick up a few more — at least temporarily — in February, thanks largely to the Winter Olympics.
NBCUniversal’s Summer Olympics streaming rollout was an absolute mess, spread out across Peacock and the NBCOlympics.com, with confusing schedules and some events not available on reply for a day or more after the fact. But NBC promises the Winter Olympics from Beijing will be much more streamlined and simple, with Peacock the one-stop shop with live streaming of every event (though 13 hours ahead of Eastern time) and replays available on-demand immediately after events end.
Geopolitical and COVID concerns aside, the Winter Olympics are always fun to watch, and Peacock should be a must-have for cord-cutters this month.
Keep in mind that while the Opening Ceremony is Feb. 4, some events actually start Feb. 2. And while all the major events will still air on NBC and its cable siblings USA and CNBC, they will NOT be available on Peacock’s free tier. So if you want to stream the Olympics, you’re gonna have to pay.
The good news is, for $5, that’s not a bad deal. For starters, you also get a little thing called Super Bowl LVI (Feb. 13) — again, only available on the paid tiers — and a full slate of sports, including English Premier League soccer, rugby, college hockey, IndyCar racing and PGA Tour golf.
There’s plenty of non-sports programming to check out too, including “Bel-Air” (Feb. 13), which reimagines the classic ’90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as a prestige drama. Jabari Banks plays the Will Smith role, as he makes a complicated journey from the streets of West Philadelphia to the gated mansions of Southern California. It’s a bizarre concept that looks interesting enough that it just might work.
Peacock also has “Marry Me” (Feb. 11) streaming the same day it hits movie theaters. The throwback rom-com stars Jennifer Lopez as an mega-famous pop singer who decides to marry a random guy — Owen Wilson — after discovering her rock-star fiancé has been having an affair. You can probably guess the rest of the plot, but it might be cute enough.
Also worth checking out: “Vigil,” a crackling, six-episode British murder mystery set on a submarine that quietly dropped in December (it’s very good, with a cast of “oh-I-recognize-them!” actors); the excellent football docuseries “Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure” that debuted in January; and a library of shows that include “Yellowstone,” “Dr. Death,” “Downton Abbey,” “Cheers” and last year’s musical comedies “Girls5Eva” and “We Are Lady Parts.”
Who’s Peacock for? If you like network and basic-cable TV, a good movie lineup and don’t mind ads, the free version of Peacock is great. And if you have a Comcast or Cox cable subscription, you likely have free access to the Premium tier (with ads). The paid tiers are generally unnecessary, except for soccer fans or one-offs like the Olympics.
Play, pause or stop? Play. The Winter Olympics alone (assuming they go off without a hitch) should make a subscription worthwhile. And there are some solid, under-the-radar shows to explore too.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
Apple’s AAPL, +6.98% newest series has to be an inside joke about the tech giant’s notoriously NDA-heavy work environment. “Severance” (Feb. 18) stars Adam Scott as a worker who agrees to a surgical procedure for a complete work-life split — where he can’t remember his home life when he’s at work, and can’t remember his work life when at home. Thing go awry and he’s left to unravel a big mystery. John Turturro, Christopher Walken and Patricia Arquette co-star, and the trailer shows promise, in a very dystopian, “Black Mirror” sort of way. There are nine episodes, with two dropping on the premiere date and additional ones coming every Friday.
Apple rolls out another big name with the eight-episode thriller “Suspicion” (Feb. 4), featuring Uma Thurman as a CEO whose son is kidnapped from a New York City hotel, leading to a cat-and-mouse game with four seemingly ordinary British citizens who were at the scene and fall under — you guessed it — suspicion. As with “Severance,” two episodes will drop at first, then one a week, every Friday.
There’s also the movie “The Sky Is Everywhere” (Feb. 11), a musical drama based up on Jandy Nelson’s YA novel, about a high school girl (played by Grace Kaufman) coping with her sister’s death and a budding romance, set amid Northern California’s majestic redwoods; the four-part documentary “Lincoln’s Dilemma” (Feb. 18), narrated by Jeffrey Wright and about President Abraham Lincoln’s complex journey to end slavery; new episodes every week of the genre-bending comedy/murder mystery “The Afterparty,” which somehow succeeds at telling its story from eight different perspectives among its all-star cast; and new episodes every week of M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller “Servant.”
Who’s Apple TV+ for? It offers a little something for everyone, but not necessarily enough for anyone — though it’s getting there.
Play, pause or stop? Play. There’s not a lot of new stuff, but what there is is good — or at least should be good. And at just $5, it’s worth the risk. Even if they’re all busts, there’s library stuff like “For All Mankind,” “Swagger,” “Mythic Quest,” “Acapulco,” “CODA” and “Dickinson” to dig into.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month without ads, or $9.99 with ads)
After a jam-packed January, February is significantly slower for AT&T’s T, +4.52% HBO Max. Yet there’s still more than enough to make a subscription worthwhile.
In addition to new, weekly episodes of “The Gilded Age,” Julian Fellowes’ new historical drama (dare we call it a “Downton Abbey” prequel?), there are new eps leading up to the season finales of the “Sex and the City” reboot “And Just Like That…” (Feb. 3), “Peacemaker” (Feb. 17), “Euphoria,” “The Righteous Gemstones” and “Somebody Somewhere” (all Feb. 27).
Meanwhile, the sci-fi series “Raised by Wolves” (Feb. 3) returns for its second season. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, the series follows two android “parents” raising six human children on a mysterious planet. Season 1 had big ideas and gorgeous special effects, but ended up being too cold and dense for its own good. It’s admirable when shows take big swings, even if they don’t work out, so maybe there’s hope for an improvement in Season 2.
A pair of Earth-bound thrillers look much more watchable: Zoë Kravitz stars in the “Rear Window”-esque movie “KIMI” (Feb. 10) as an agoraphobic tech worker (basically a Siri or Alexa transcriber) who gets caught up in a murder conspiracy that she accidentally overhears. Stephen Soderbergh directed the film, which is set amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also the four-part British miniseries “The Girl Before” (Feb. 10), a psychological thriller starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Loki,” “The Morning Show”) as a tenant who finds that her new dream home may be more of a nightmare.
Stephen and Ayesha Curry have a new celebrity-couples game show, “About Last Night” (Feb. 10); the Peabody- and Emmy-winning satirical news show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (Feb. 20) returns for its ninth season; and the most recent season of the demented animated hit “Rick & Morty” (Feb. 5), which first aired on Adult Swim last fall, will finally be available to stream. For streaming stragglers, there’s also the spectacular and moving post-apocalyptic miniseries “Station Eleven,” which ended in January; the fifth and final season of the Italian mob epic “Gomorrah,” which dropped Jan. 27; and the brilliantly bonkers final season of “Search Party,” which landed Jan. 7.
Max is also adding recent movies such as “Free Guy” (Feb. 23), last summer’s hit action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, and director Wes Anderson’s whimsical anthology comedy “The French Dispatch” (Feb. 25), along with a ton of older movies, including “Chinatown,” “Network,” and “The Untouchables” (all Feb. 1).
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Though February’s lineup isn’t as strong as in past months, it’s still pretty darn good. (One could argue it’s worth it for the ridiculously entertaining “Peacemaker” and “Last Week Tonight” alone.) In terms of quality, HBO Max is still the streaming leader, by a long shot, and thanks to Netflix’s latest price hike, its cost is less intimidating than it used to be.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
Amazon’s AMZN, +3.11% Prime Video has a pair of very big names coming in February.
One is more literal: “Reacher” (Feb. 4), the long-awaited series adaptation of the popular character from Lee Child’s series of novels. Alan Ritchson plays Jack Reacher, a giant of a man who has a very particular set of skills and can’t help but get involved in dealing out justice where it’s needed. The first season has Reacher, a former military policeman-turned-drifter getting arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, and forced to unravel a deadly conspiracy to prove his innocence. The fight-filled action series has potential, in a dumb-but-fun sort of way, and will drop all eight episodes at once.
Later in the month, Amazon’s most prestigious current series, the Emmy-winning comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Feb. 18) returns for its fourth season (Season 3 came out way back in 2019!), with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) honing her comedy act in 1960, but facing growing rifts as her drive to succeed alienates friends and family. Two episodes will drop every Friday over the course of four weeks.
Prime Video also has an appealing-looking rom-com, “I Want You Back” (Feb. 11), starring Jenny Slate and Charlie Day as newly dumped strangers who bond over trying to sabotage their exes; “Book of Love” (Feb. 4), a rom-com about an English author (Sam Claflin) on a book tour in Mexico; and “Phat Tuesdays” (Feb. 4), a three-episode docuseries about influential Black comedian Guy Torry.
There are also a ton of library shows to explore, including last year’s fantasy hit “The Wheel of Time,” the misanthropic comedy series “Loudermilk” and the I’m-not-crying-you’re-crying autism dramedy “As We See It.”
Who’s Amazon Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Pause and think it over. Though light on new shows, Prime Video’s lineup looks solid this month, although its relatively high price may make consumers think twice.
Hulu ($6.99 a month or $12.99 with no ads)
It feels almost embarrassing to say out loud, but Hulu’s upcoming miniseries “Pam & Tommy” (Feb. 2) looks like it might actually be very good.
Yes, another one of the more sordid episodes of the ’90s is being revisited, with Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) and Sebastian Stan (“Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) starring as Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, and Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman as the pair who steal their sex tape and scheme a get-rich-quick plan to show it to the world through the fledgling internet. The blend of nostalgia, scandal, drama and utter ridiculousness (Jason Mantzoukas plays the voice of Tommy’s talking, animatronic penis, for example) could make this extremely bingeable.
It’s fairly slow going for Hulu aside from that. Kat Dennings returns for Season 2 of the original comedy “Dollface” (Feb. 11). If that doesn’t ring a bell, it may be because Season 1 premiered way back in 2019. There’s also Season 5 of “Rick & Morty” (Feb. 5); the Season 5 premiere of FX’s underrated ’80s drug drama “Snowfall” (Feb. 24), with kingpin Franklin Saint and his family at the peak of their power, only to face a renewed threat from the government and the police; and the premiere of Season 21(!) of NBC’s iconic “Law & Order” (Feb. 25), revived after being canceled in 2010, with Sam Waterston and Anthony Anderson returning and joined by Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”) and Hugh Dancy (“Hannibal”). Note that new eps of “Snowfall” and “Law & Order” will stream the day after they originally air on TV.
There are also a pair of pretty decent recent movies — Guillermo del Toro’s noirish thriller “Nightmare Alley” (Feb. 1), and Matthew Vaughn’s action prequel “The King’s Man” (Feb. 18) — and the Hulu original “No Exit” (Feb. 25), a suspense/thriller about a group of strangers stranded together in a blizzard.
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. As with Prime Video, Hulu doesn’t have a ton of new stuff on the way, but what there is looks promising. One point in its favor: Hulu’s basic tier is half the price of Amazon.
Netflix ($9.99 a month for basic, $15.49 standard or $19.99 premium)
As light on new programming as Netflix NFLX, -0.61% was in January, February isn’t much better. And it’ll cost you more.
February’s lineup is noticeably more sparse than what subscribers saw toward the end of last year. The big new release is “Inventing Anna” (Feb. 11), a limited series from hitmaking producer Shonda Rhimes (“Bridgerton,” “Grey’s Anatomy”). Emmy-winner Julia Garner (“Ozark”) stars as “Anna Delvey,” an Instagram-famous fraudster who convinced New York’s elite that she was a German heiress, in this ripped-from-the-headlines miniseries. Rhimes seems like the perfect creative force for this soapy, scandalous real-life story, and it should be Netflix’s brightest offering of the month.
Other potential hits include “Vikings: Valhalla” (Feb. 25), a spinoff series of History Channel’s popular, grimy and bloody “Vikings,” set 100 years after that series; a new season of the addictive dating series “Love Is Blind” (Feb. 11, with new eps every week); and the improv comedy/mystery series “Murderville” (Feb. 3), starring Will Arnett and celebrity guests. There’s also a reboot of the classic horror movie “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Feb. 18); Part 4 of Matt Groening’s animated fantasy series “Disenchanted” (Feb. 9); and “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” (Feb. 16), a three-part docuseries about Kanye West.
And in the “don’t bother” category, the plodding and unfunny Steve Carrell sitcom “Space Force” (Feb. 18) returns for a second season that nobody asked for.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Shocking, right? But for once, it’s safe to drop Netflix and not feel like you’re missing out on much. “Inventing Anna” should be good, but it can always be binged sometime down the road. Considering Netflix is now the most expensive major streaming service, the value is just not there this month. Looking ahead, March — with the return of “Bridgerton” — should offer more bang for the buck.
Disney+ ($7.99 a month)
It’s a slow month for Disney DIS, +2.37% too, and if your kids can live without it for a while, February is an excellent time to save some money and cancel your subscription. (Don’t worry, you can pick it up again in time for Oscar Isaac’s “Moon Knight” at the end of March.)
The only new series is a revival of “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” (Feb. 23), a diverse, animated, family/coming-of-age comedy that ended its original run in 2005. Also on tap: the season finale of the disappointing “Star Wars” spinoff series “The Book of Boba Fett” (Feb. 9), and “Free Guy” (Feb. 23), last year’s hit action-comedy movie starring Ryan Reynolds.
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hardcore “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in those groups, Disney’s library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Despite a fairly deep library, there’s not enough new programming to justify paying for this month.
Paramount+ ($4.99 a month with ads but not live CBS, $5.99 a month with ads, $9.99 without ads)
Myriad “Star Trek” shows are the backbone of Paramount+, and that’ll be in evidence in February, as “Star Trek: Discovery” (Feb. 10) returns with six new episodes after a new year’s hiatus. The new eps will drop every week, with Sonequa Martin-Green starring as Captain Michael Burnham in the prequel that takes place in the pre-Kirk era.
There are also new episodes every week of the cheesy yet addictive “Yellowstone” prequel “1883,” which will conclude its first season Feb. 26; as well as “Big Nate” (Feb. 17), a new animated series about a middle-school kid, based on the popular comic strip and children’s books; and the CBS News docuseries “Wasteland” (Feb. 24), which tackles the impact of garbage and waste on America’s waterways.
And just in time for Valentine’s Day, there’s the supernatural (and super sappy) romance movie “The In-Between” (Feb. 11), starring Joey King and Kyle Allen as a teen couple who even death can’t keep apart.
On the sports front, Paramount+ has a loaded schedule featuring NCAA basketball, PGA Tour golf, CONCACAF soccer qualifiers and UEFA Champion’s League matches.
Who’s Paramount+ for? Gen X cord-cutters who miss live sports and familiar ViacomCBS VIAC, +4.97% broadcast and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Unless you need it for live sports or your “Star Trek” fix, there’s just not enough there to make it worth your while.
Discovery+ ($4.99 a month, $6.99 ad-free)
Discovery+ has more of the usual in February. Which is to say: Plenty of perfectly watchable but disposable shows, with none particularly worth paying for.
The best of the bunch look like “Secrets of the Salisbury Poisonings” (Feb. 17), the true story of a double agent living in England and the botched Russian plot to kill him with a nerve agent; “90 Day Journey” (Feb. 4), which repackages “90 Day” couples’ stories from multiple shows into a single storyline; “Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines” (Feb. 4), as the Waco-based lifestyle influencer shares her favorite recipes; and “Puppy Bowl Presents: The Winter Games” (Feb. 3) and “Puppy Bowl Presents: Puppy Mania” (Feb. 12), in which…puppies!
Who’s Discovery+ for? Cord cutters who miss their unscripted TV or who are really, really into “90 Day Fiancée.”
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Sorry. Discovery+ is still fantastic for background TV. But there’s not much that’s essential viewing. It’s really only a good option for those who are HGTV/Food Network/TLC superfans who’ve cut the cord completely — if you still have cable or get Discovery DISCA, +7.57% channels through a live-streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu Live, it’s just not necessary. (Besides, many of its cable shows are also available on Hulu.)