A month without Netflix? It really is possible.
Streaming subscribers saw a firehose of new content at the end of 2021, but that will slow to a trickle in January, with just a handful of major releases scheduled. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it will allow viewers to catch up on what they’ve missed — and perhaps save some money by cutting back on services. In fact, for less than $25, you can get by perfectly fine with just two services in January — and neither of them is Netflix.
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. (For example, HBO Max currently has a 30-day free trial through Roku, but the offer expires in the coming weeks) 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 January 2022, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month without ads, or $9.99 with ads)
With a loaded lineup, HBO Max appears to be the only streaming service actually trying in January.
Nearly two and a half years since its first season aired, the envelope-pushing teen drama “Euphoria” (Jan. 9) is finally back for its second season (two specials bridged the gap between seasons). Season 2 will see Rue (Emmy-winner Zendaya) still battling drug addiction, struggling with mental illness and searching for healthier relationships — with ex-girlfriend Jules (Hunter Schafer) still not completely out of the picture. It’s not always an easy or fun watch, but its unflinching portrayal of modern life as a teenager is never not compelling.
On the less sobering front, Jon Cena stars in “Peacemaker” (Jan. 13), an eight-episode spinoff of James Gunn’s gleefully violent “The Suicide Squad” movie. Gunn directs much of the series too, which acts as both a prequel and sequel, set after the events of the movie but revealing the origins of the superhero who is dedicated to achieving peace at any cost — including killing anyone who gets in his way. (A note that should be obvious: This is not a superhero show for kids.)
Speaking of killing, “Search Party” (Jan. 7) is back for its fifth and final season, which sees Dory (Alia Shawkat) very much alive after the carnage of Season 4 and now apparently leading a cult with Jeff Goldblum, while her hilariously self-absorbed friends wonder what’s going on. The dark comedy series — which originally focused on a group of friends searching for a missing woman — has reinvented itself every season, and become one of the most surprising and binge-able shows anywhere on TV in recent years.
There’s also “The Gilded Age” (Jan. 23), “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes’ new historical drama series set in 1880s New York City starring Louisa Jacobson (Meryl Streep’s daughter) and featuring Carrie Coon, Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski; Season 2 of Danny McBride’s televangelist-family comedy “The Righteous Gemstones” (Jan. 9); the special “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts” (Jan. 1), which features a cast reunion; and the fifth and final season of the complex and compelling Italian crime drama “Gomorrah” (Jan. 27). (Pro tip: Watch the movie “The Immortal,” which bridges Seasons 4 and 5, first, or you’ll have a lot of questions. It’s available to stream on HBO Max.)
The brilliant limited series “Station Eleven” is set to conclude, with two episodes Jan. 6 and the finale Jan. 13. Watch it. It’s a mesmerizing, mysterious and ultimately hopeful post-apocalyptic story about survivors of a staggering tragedy who have come together and — instead of killing each other — formed a community dedicated to the lasting power of art. And there are new episodes every Thursday of the disappointing “Sex and the City” spinoff “And Just Like That…”
HBO Max is also bolstering its TV library with the classic hospital drama “ER” (Jan. 14) and the onetime Fox sci-fi series “Fringe” (Jan. 15), along with Seasons 1 and 2 of the Epix Batman prequel “Pennywise” (Jan. 24).
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Even without new Warner Bros. movies streaming the same day they hit theaters (the last of which, “The Matrix: Resurrections,” streams through Jan. 21), AT&T’s T, -0.73% HBO Max is still the No. 1 streaming service in terms of quality. Yes, it’s the most expensive, but you get what you pay for. It’s also got the best movie library of any service.
Disney+ ($7.99 a month)
Disney’s DIS, -0.67% streaming service is resting its January laurels firmly on the head of its new blockbuster series “The Book of Boba Fett.” And that’s probably OK. The seven-episode “Mandalorian” spinoff, showing the seedier side of the “Star Wars” universe, premieres Dec. 29 and will drop new episodes every Wednesday through Feb. 9, with Temuera Morrison reprising his role as the fan-favorite bounty hunter. This should be a must-see for at least two generations of “Star Wars” fans.
But aside from that, the slate of originals is sparse, with only the sixth “Ice Age” animated movie, “The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild” (Jan 28), and the streaming debut of Marvel’s “Eternals” (Jan. 12), the star-studded movie about a band of immortal beings who have watched over Earth for eons. The movie opened in theaters in early November to mixed reviews.
But there are also some still-fresh releases to catch up on, such as the heartwarming animated musical “Encanto,” and “Hawkeye,” the fun and relatively low-stakes superhero spinoff series (though like the previous Marvel shows, it stumbles in its finale).
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? Play. It’s hard to recommend a streaming service for just one series — but since that series is “The Book of Boba Fett,” and since Disney+ is pretty much a must-have for families, it gets the green light.
Netflix ($7.99 a month for basic, $13.99 standard or $17.99 premium)
If you’ve been tempted to try life without Netflix NFLX, -1.58%, this may be the month to finally give it a shot.
After releasing a ridiculous number of big-name series and movies in recent months, the streaming giant will take a pause — relatively speaking — in January. Netflix’s one major release is the hit series “Ozark” (Jan. 21), which is back for its final season after a nearly two-year layoff. But annoyingly, its fourth season will be split in two, with seven episodes dropping in January and the rest coming later in the year. The (literally) dark crime drama will see once-reluctant money launderers Marty and Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) now firmly entrenched with the cartel, and — dare we say? — breaking bad.
Then there’s “The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window” (Jan. 28), a new dark comedy series that satirizes domestic thrillers like “The Woman in the Window” and “The Girl on the Train,” starring Kristen Bell. There’s potential for something good here, but it’ll have to walk a fine line to avoid being a one-note spoof.
Netflix also has the third and final season of Ricky Gervais’ bittersweet comedy “After Life” (Jan. 14); “Archive 81” (Jan. 14), a supernatural horror series from producer James Wan (“The Conjuring”); Season 3 of the stay-celibate-or-you-lose dating show “Too Hot to Handle” (Jan. 19); and “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness” (Jan. 28), a new educational series from the “Queer Eye” co-star, which delves into topics he’s interested in learning more about. There are also a pair of original movies: “Munich: The Edge of War” (Jan. 21), a pre-WWII thriller about a plot to expose Hitler’s plans and force Britain to abandon its appeasement policy at the infamous 1938 conference between the Nazi leader and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (played by Jeremy Irons); and “Home Team” (Jan. 28), starring Kevin James as a disgraced NFL coach who takes over a sixth-grade football team, based on the true story of the Saints’ Sean Payton.
To be fair, there are also some good late-December releases to catch up on, such as new seasons of “Cobra Kai,” “Queer Eye,” “Emily in Paris” and “The Witcher.”
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Pause and think it over. “Ozark” fans might be happy for its return, but the rest of Netflix’s lineup looks pretty meager. One option: Keep subscribing and catch up on December releases. Another option: Drop Netflix for a month and see what it feels like. You won’t be missing much.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
Apple AAPL, -0.35% hopes to have a new hit on its hands with the upcoming comedy/mystery “The Afterparty” (Jan. 28), about a murder that takes place at a high school reunion. There’s enough talent attached to this series that’s there’s really no excuse for it not being good, from producers Chris Miller & Phil Lord (“The Lego Movie”) to a roster of stars that includes Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ike Barinholtz, Ben Schwartz, Ilana Glazer and Dave Franco. The first three episodes will drop on the 28th, and the trailer looks promising.
There’s also the third season of “Servant” (Jan. 3), the creepy psychological thriller produced by M. Night Shyamalan; “Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock” (Jan. 21), a reboot of the beloved classic series about colorful, musical Fraggles from the Jim Henson Co.; and “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Jan. 14), starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in director Joel Coen’s heavily stylized adaptation of the Shakespeare classic. The movie opened in December to outstanding reviews.
And if you got an Apple device over the holidays that came with a free trial for TV+. take advantage of it and check out “Ted Lasso,” “For All Mankind,” “Mythic Quest,” “Dickinson,” “Swagger” and “Foundation,” for starters.
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? Pause. A familiar refrain: Apple’s new stuff looks good, but is it enough to justify paying for this month? Meh.
Hulu ($6.99 a month or $12.99 with no ads)
Kids, there was once a popular sitcom called “How I Met Your Mother.” And even though its finale was awful and kinda ruined the series’ entire run for some, there were plans for a female-led spinoff. That was 2014.
Eight years later — after two more attempts in 2016 and 2017 failed in development — “How I Met Your Father” (Jan. 18) will finally premiere. Hilary Duff stars this time around as a single young woman in New York City, with an older version of herself (played by Kim Cattrall) narrating the story of how she met her true love — and all the romantic misadventures that preceded that. Two episodes will drop on its premiere date, with new eps every following week. But based on the trailer, expectations should be kept low.
Hulu also has the teen comedy movie “Sex Appeal” (Jan. 14), and a slew of network shows streaming a day after they air, including ABC’s new civil-rights drama series “Women of the Movement” (Jan. 7); a new season of “The Bachelor” (Jan. 4); the new grade-school sitcom “Abbott Elementary” (Jan. 4); and the final-season premieres of NBC’s “This Is Us” (Jan. 5) and ABC’s “Black-ish” (Jan. 6).
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. There’s value in the lineup of next-day-streaming shows, and Hulu’s vast library, but “HIMYF” is a wait-and-see prospect.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
It’s a pretty slow month for Amazon’s AMZN, -1.14% Prime Video too, with the best new offering probably “A Hero” (Jan. 21), a thriller from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi that drew raves at last summer’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s about a man imprisoned because of his debts who schemes to convince his creditor to let him off the hook, only to have it all spin out of control.
There’s also “The Tender Bar” (Jan. 7), directed by George Clooney and staring Ben Affleck as a bartender who takes his 9-year-old nephew under his wing, based on the memoir by J.R. Moehringer — though it’s not getting very good early reviews; “As We See It” (Jan. 21), a new series about autistic twentysomething roommates, from creator Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”); and “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” (Jan. 14), the fourth installment in the popular animated franchise.
Meanwhile, the excellent and underwatched sci-fi series “The Expanse” ends its six-season run with a series finale Jan. 14, and there also the recently completed first season of the fantasy epic “Wheel of Time.”
Who’s Amazon Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Aside from the last two eps of “The Expanse,” there’s nothing particularly compelling on the way.
Paramount+ ($4.99 a month with ads but not live CBS, $5.99 a month with ads, $9.99 without ads)
January is also pretty light for Paramount+, aside from its live-sports lineup.
The animated “Star Trek: Prodigy” (Jan. 6) returns with the final 10 episodes of its first season, which premiered in October. Season 2 has already been green-lit. There’s also “The Envoys” (Jan. 20), an intriguing Spanish-language drama series about a team of Vatican investigators in Mexico searching for the truth behind claims of a miracle, who stumble upon a much deeper mystery. Meanwhile, new episodes of the “Yellowstone” prequel “1883” — a pretty decent throwback Western — will stream every Sunday.
There’s also the 64th Annual Grammy Awards (Jan. 31), hosted by Trevor Noah, which — COVID allowing — will feature a slate of performances from some of the biggest names in music.
But Paramount+ is fairly loaded with sports, with a full slate of college basketball, NFL games (including playoffs starting Jan. 15), PGA golf, international soccer and CONCACAF Men’s World Cup qualifying, including a key USA-Canada match Jan. 30.
Who’s Paramount+ for? Gen X cord-cutters who miss live sports and familiar ViacomCBS VIAC, -3.02% broadcast and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Unless you need it for live sports, there’s just not enough coming in January to make it worth your while.
Peacock (free basic level, Premium for $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 a month with no ads)
Peacock mirrors Paramount+ in January — shy on new series, but with a good live-sports slate.
“Wolf Like Me” (Jan. 13) is an intriguing new horror/rom-com series starring Isla Fisher and Josh Gad as a couple dealing with grief, baggage and secrets (hmm, perhaps werewolf-ism?) in their new relationship. There’s also the animated “Supernatural Academy” (Jan. 20), a YA fantasy series based on the best-selling novels.
The sixth and final season of “This Is Us” will start streaming Jan. 12, a week after its debut on NBC. It’ll be joined by a pair of promising NBC sitcoms: “American Auto” (Jan. 5), from Justin Spitzer, creator of “Superstore,” and starring Ana Gasteyer as the new CEO of an auto maker; and “Grand Crew” (Jan. 5), about a group of young Black professionals who hang out at a wine bar. New episodes will stream every week, after first airing on NBC.
And for what it’s worth, if HBO Max’s “The Gilded Age” sparks some “Downton Abbey” nostalgia, Peacock has all six seasons in its library.
On the sports front, Peacock has “Sunday Night Football,” which concludes Jan. 9 as the NFL’s regular season ends; a full slate of Premier League soccer; the U.S. Figure Skating Championships (Jan. 6-9); and a full lineup of World Cup skiing and snowboarding, Supercross and WWE events.
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 CMCSA, -0.51% or Cox cable subscription, it’s also a perfectly fine free addition.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. If you’re a cord cutter who still needs live sports, it’s a solid choice, and there’s a good amount of content on the paid tiers. But it’s not essential for everyone.
Discovery+ ($4.99 a month, $6.99 ad-free)
Discovery+ actually has a pretty appealing lineup in January.
Mike Rowe returns with a revival of his longtime Discovery Channel hit “Dirty Jobs” (Jan. 2), shining a light on the workers who provide the essential (and often filthy) jobs that keep American running.
That’s not the only classic show getting rebooted by Discovery+ — “Ghost Hunters” (Jan. 1) returns with a new season, with the original TAPS team of paranormal investigators — armed with new technology — returning to some of their favorite spooky locations. Meanwhile, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins” (Jan. 1) returns for another season of Australian wildlife adventures, and high-end real estate meets drama in the reality spinoff “Selling the Hamptons” (Jan. 20), which is basically a repackaged version of Netflix’s canceled “Million Dollar Beach House” (same agents, same market).
Who’s Discovery+ for? Cord cutters who miss their unscripted TV or who are really, really into “90 Day Fianc?e.”
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, -3.72% 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.)