It’s time to make some tough choices about what you want to pay for.
After a relatively slow January, streaming options will abound in February, with every major service launching at least one must-see new series. So budget-minded streaming viewers must choose: Will it be rom-coms or spies? Sci-fi or sitcoms?
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 the time being, 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 will be here to help. We will 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 that will help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in February 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)
Netflix is coming out swinging in February, with new seasons of three of its best series and a handful of eagerly anticipated new offerings.
While romantic comedies have largely faded from movie theaters, Netflix NFLX, +1.64% has doubled down on its efforts in the genre, and will launch the sequel to one of its most successful original movies, 2018’s high school rom-com “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” just in time for Valentine’s Day. “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” (Feb. 12) sees Lara Jean (Lana Condor) facing a romantic triangle, torn between now-actual boyfriend Peter (Noah Centineo) and old crush John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), who’s back in the picture. The original was a smash hit, especially with teens, and the follow-up will likely follow suit. But adults shouldn’t be scared off, it looks sweet and charming, and cozily reminiscent of John Hughes movies from the ’80s.
The new original series “Locke & Key” (Feb. 7) is another one that may be aimed at teens, but adults can comfortably enjoy as well. Based on a beloved and critically acclaimed comic series, “Locke & Key” mixes magic, mystery and horror as three traumatized siblings move back to their family’s ancestral home and discover magical keys that unlock powers — and demons that want to stop them. It looks like a fun thrill ride that, if done right, could be Netflix’s next “Stranger Things”-type hit.
Meanwhile, three decidedly more grown-up series are back with new seasons. “Babylon Berlin” (Feb. 28), a German-language crime drama, may be the best Netflix series that you’ve never heard of. Reportedly the most expensive German TV series ever made, the third season is set in 1929 Berlin, and follows a young homicide detective and his girlfriend, a police stenographer, as they investigate a murder in Berlin’s thriving film industry amid a backdrop of mobsters, corruption and a rising tide of Nazism. It’s a spectacular blend of mystery and historical drama that occasionally breaks out into lavish cabaret-style song-and-dance numbers. Jumping ahead several decades and half a world away, “Narcos: Mexico” (Feb. 13) returns for a second season in 1980s Mexico, with Diego Luna back as real-life drug kingpin Miguel Felix Gallardo. Scoot McNairy joins the cast as a DEA agent intent on justice — and revenge — against the Guadalajara cartel after the brutal murder of U.S. agent Kiki Camarena. It’s a series that provides not only suspense, but context on the decades-long war on drugs. And jumping ahead several centuries and many worlds away, the sci-fi series “Altered Carbon” is back for a second season on Feb. 27. Season 2 of the futuristic crime thriller will see protagonist Takeshi Kovacs inhabit the body of Anthony Mackie instead of Joel Kinnaman (long story, but basically one’s consciousness can be downloaded to any body in the future). Kovacs is off Earth this time around, on far-off Harlan’s World, tracking down his long-lost mentor/lover. If it’s anything like Season 1, expect mind-bending plotlines and lots (like, LOTS) of gratuitous sex and violence.
A couple of other February series of note: “Queen Sono” (Feb. 28), a South African thriller — and Netflix’s first African original series — about a female spy (Pearl Thusi) who battles bad guys while navigating her complicated personal life. It doesn’t sound particularly original, but could definitely be worth a look. And if you’re hungry for food porn, a new season of “The Chef Show” is coming Feb. 19, with actor/director Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi exploring drool-worthy food around the country, with hearty servings of celebrity guests.
Play, pause or stop? Absolutely Play. February will be a fantastic month for Netflix, with something for everyone.
Disney+ ($6.99 a month)
Disney DIS, +1.82% is keeping the “Star Wars” momentum going, after the recent success of “The Mandalorian” series and the box-office hit “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” with the highly anticipated final season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (Feb. 21). After six seasons on cable — the last of which aired way back in 2014 — the beloved animated series moves its seventh season to Disney+. The series chronicles the adventures of young Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi, along with Anakin’s padawan, Ahsoka Tano, with appearances by fan favorites like Yoda and Darth Maul. Yes, it’s for kids, but it’s also highly entertaining for adults.
Another animated show from the “Star Wars” universe, the second and final season of “Star Wars: Resistance,” which finished its run on the Disney Channel in January, is also coming to Disney+ on Feb. 25. That’ll have to settle your “Star Wars” fix for a while — the next season of “The Mandalorian” isn’t expected until the end of the year, and the upcoming live-action Obi-Wan Kenobi series, starring Ewan McGregor, has delayed production.
Back on Earth, Disney+ will also launch an original movie: “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” (Feb. 7). The comedy, based on a popular children’s book series, is about a hard-boiled 11-year-old detective who solves mysteries with his polar bear sidekick, and it looks pretty weird and great.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Your kids probably want Disney’s back catalog anyway, and the additions of “Clone Wars” and “Timmy Failure” should be worth paying for. Hint: Even if you don’t have kids, this month’s additions are probably worth paying for.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
Amazon.com’s AMZN, +1.36% Prime Video only has one major new series in February, but it’s a big one.
“Hunters,” executive-produced by Jordan Peele, rolls out Feb. 21, starring Al Pacino as the leader of a group of Nazi hunters in 1977 New York City who uncover a cadre of surviving World War II-era German officials living secretly in the U.S. and plotting to bring about the Fourth Reich. In a nutshell: Bloody revenge ensues. Amazon has a record of putting out action series that aren’t quite great, but are just good enough to be entertaining (“Jack Ryan,” “Hanna”). This should be another one. Who doesn’t enjoy watching Nazis get whacked?
The best non-Amazon original series added for February is “Counterpart” (Feb. 1), which originally aired for two seasons on Starz to criminally few viewers. It’s an ambitious spy thriller set in modern-day Berlin, decades after a secret passageway to an alternate universe is discovered, with the two worlds now pitted against each other in a Cold War. J.K. Simmons stars in double roles, as a mild-mannered analyst in one universe and a tough-as-nails assassin in the other, trying to uncover and stop an unfolding conspiracy. It was one of the best series on all TV in recent years, and it’s well worth checking out.
Other February highlights include the family comedy/drama “The Farewell” (Feb. 12), the movie for which Awkwafina won a best-actress Golden Globe.
Play, pause or stop? Tough call, but Pause. If “Hunters” and/or “Counterpart” seem like your thing, then that could make a subscription worthwhile by themselves. But if you’re not into spy games, it might be worth holding off and saving your money for another month.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
If you were making an all-time Top-5 list of Hulu’s February releases, the “High Fidelity” reboot series (Feb. 14) would doubtless be No. 1, with a bullet. Two decades after John Cusack starred in the classic 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, record-store owner Rob is back — with the twist being that this time around, Rob is a woman. Zoë Kravitz — whose real-life mom, Lisa Bonet, played a singer who hooked up with Rob in the movie — plays the unlucky-in-love, pop-music-obsessed Rob, who’s down in the dumps after a crushing breakup and decides to contact her exes to see why she’s “doomed to be rejected.” Rom-com escapades ensue. Based on the trailer, the series looks strikingly similar to the movie, down to the fourth-wall-breaking confessionals to the audience. That could either be a good thing or a bad thing, but there’s the potential for greatness here.
Hulu will also launch the sci-fi musical series “Utopia Falls” (Feb. 14), in which a group of teens in a dystopian future use the power of music and dance to discover the truth about their past — and ignite change toward a new, more hopeful future. The 10-episode series features the music of Kendrick Lamar, the Notorious B.I.G., the Roots and more, and Hulu describes it as featuring “themes of afrofuturism, youth activism, and eco-awareness.” There’s a lot to unpack there, but it should be unique, if nothing else.
There are also a bunch of older movies coming to Hulu just in time for Valentine’s Day, and one could do worse than a rom-com marathon of “Bridget Jones’ Diary,”“Say Anything,”“About a Boy” and “When Harry Met Sally.”
Play, pause or stop? Pause. “High Fidelity” could be good, but there’s not much else terribly compelling coming in February.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
As with most first-generation Apple AAPL, +2.83% products, TV+ still isn’t worth getting, but four months into the new streaming service, its future is starting to look more and more encouraging.
In early January, the service signed former HBO CEO Richard Plepler to an exclusive, five-year production deal. While his name probably isn’t familiar to most casual viewers, Plepler is the executive who pretty much made HBO the prestige network that it is today, greenlighting shows from “The Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones.” Later in the month, Apple signed actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s basically an Emmy magnet, to an exclusive, multiple-year deal. Bottom line: Apple is serious in building a streaming powerhouse, and is betting that Plepler and Louis-Dreyfus will bring their magic to new shows. With their track records, that seems like a pretty good bet. Oh, and they’ll be joined by folks like Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams and Oprah Winfrey, who already had Apple TV+ deals.
So enjoy not having to pay for Apple TV+ for the time being. But here’s a prediction: In a couple of years, probably less, you’ll be happily signing up for a subscription.
Apple only has one new show on tap for February, the intentionally ridiculous-sounding “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.” The service’s first straight-up comedy series stars Rob McElhenney (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) as the megalomaniacal developer of a popular videogame. It’s got serious “Silicon Valley” vibes and the trailer, at least, delivers laughs.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. There’s still not enough content worth paying for. Yet.
CBS All Access ($5.99 a month or $9.99 with no ads)
The “Star Trek” spinoff “Picard,” which launched in January, is getting good reviews, but from a strictly budget-minded perspective, CBS’s VIAC, +0.65% All Access still isn’t worth paying for. For viewers who want to watch “Picard,” the value play is to continue holding out and sign up for a month in March, when all episodes of the first season will be available for a quicker binge-watch.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. There’s just not enough to justify a subscription.
Mike Murphy is a MarketWatch editor and former TV blogger who still watches way too much TV. Follow him on Twitter at @mmmmurf or email your streaming questions to email@example.com.