Awards season is upon us, and that’s good news for streaming viewers.
Prestige dramas such as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and Apple’s “The Mosquito Coast” will premiere in April, as streaming services try to squeeze in their awards hopefuls before the Emmy deadline May 31. They’ll be joined by a slew of new comedies, docuseries and movies with the potential to be the next buzz-worthy sensation. And there’s still time to check out a ton of Oscar nominees ahead of the April 25 awards ceremony.
But what will actually be worth paying for? Well, that’s the big question.
As we’ve previously mentioned, consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting by churning — that’s the strategy of 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 free trials and cost-saving bundles. There are a lot of them out there, but those deals won’t last forever.
Free and bundled 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 April 2021, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
HBO Max ($14.99 a month)
AT&T’s T, +0.56% HBO Max has a trio of top-tier original series coming up, along with another new Warner Bros. movie streaming the same day it hits theaters.
The best of the bunch will likely be “Mare of Easttown” (April 18), a limited-series crime drama starring Kate Winslet as a small-town Pennsylvania detective investigating a murder as her private life falls apart. The previews look very good, if bleak, and the premise sounds reminiscent of Netflix’s “Happy Valley,” which is not at all a bad thing.
The two other notable new series come with some serious question marks. “The Nevers” (April 11), a supernatural thriller set in Victorian London about women who mysteriously get extraordinary abilities, lost creator Joss Whedon mid-production — he cited exhaustion, months before the recent allegations that he created toxic work conditions on previous shows. Philippa Goslett took over the reins, and it remains to be seen how the abrupt showrunner change will affect the show. Of note: The season will be split in two, with an additional six episodes debuting at a later date.
There’s also “Made for Love” (April 1), a “Black Mirror”-ish dark comedy starring Cristin Milioti as a woman escaping her suffocating marriage to a tech tycoon who finds out he’s tracking her through a brain implant. It sounds interesting, but early reviews have not been great, calling it overly complicated and relying on annoying storytelling crutches.
HBO Max’s same-day-as-theaters Warner Bros. movie of the month is “Mortal Kombat” (April 16), based on the classic videogame. No surprise: It looks kinda terrible. Smarter options include the second season of Robin Thede’s very funny “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (April 23), with guest appearances from Issa Rae, Gabrielle Union and Jessie Williams; as well as the four-part documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes” (April 7), which explores the exploitative and genocidal policies of European colonization.
There are also fresh episodes “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Sunday nights, and the stupidly fun “Godzilla vs. Kong” will be available through the end of the month.
Who’s HBO Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Between “Mare of Easttown,” “The Nevers” and “Made for Love,” at least one should be worth watching. Plus, there’s HBO’s deep library of excellent shows. Maybe catch up with the excellent Swedish small-town hockey drama “Beartown,” or the cringeworthy Comedy Central classic “Nathan for You.”
Disney+ ($7.99 a month)
The only notable addition to Disney’s DIS, +0.37% streaming service in April is “Big Shot” (April 16), a sports-dramedy series starring John Stamos as an abrasive big-time college basketball coach who gets fired from his job and has to find redemption coaching a girls high school team. Its premise — that coaching girls is this guy’s punishment — has already come under fire for being “lame, sexist trash.” Even best-case scenario, it sounds like a lazy twist on “The Mighty Ducks” and a million other sports stories.
Speaking of, new episodes of the surprisingly good “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” will drop every Friday in April, as will fresh episodes of the latest Marvel smash hit, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which will wrap up its six-episode season on April 23.
Who’s Disney+ for? Families with kids, and hardcore “Star Wars” and Marvel fans. For those not in those groups, its library can be lacking.
Play, pause or stop? Play. “Big Shot” may not be worth it, but new episodes “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” are reason enough for a subscription, along with Oscar nominees “Soul” and “Mulan.” (You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy any of those.)
Netflix ($7.99 a month for basic, $13.99 standard or $17.99 premium)
After a few lean months, Netflix NFLX, -0.11% finally has a more filled-out slate of new releases for April.
The streaming giant hopes it has its newest hit on its hands with “Shadow and Bone” (April 23), an adaptation of the hugely popular series of YA novels from Leigh Bardugo. Jessie Mei Li stars as Alina, an orphan mapmaker in a war-torn country who discovers she has mystical powers that could change the fate of her world. It looks super cheesy, but fans of the books likely won’t care.
For reality fans, there’s a second season of “The Circle” (April 14), the guilty-pleasure show that surged to popularity in the early days of the pandemic lockdown, featuring contestants flirting, befriending and backstabbing each other as they vie for a $100,000 prize. It’ll be released in a different format this time around, with four episodes dropping for the premiere, then four more on each of the following two Wednesdays, before the finale May 5.
Fans of true crime will have “The Serpent” (April 2) to obsess over. Based on actual events, the series follows a serial killer who preyed on travelers along India’s “hippie trail” in the 1970s. But early reviews have criticized its muddled storytelling.
Jamie Foxx makes a return to television with “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!” (April 14), a sitcom about a single dad and his strong-minded teenage daughter.
Netflix is also rolling out some big-name movies, including “Concrete Cowboy” (April 2), an urban cowboy drama starring Idris Elba; “Thunder Force” (April 9), a superhero comedy staring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer; and “Stowaway” (April 22), a sci-fi thriller starring Anna Kendrick, Toni Colette and Daniel Dae Kim. There’s also time to check out Oscar nominees “Mank,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” before the April 25 awards ceremony.
On the documentary front, try “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist” (April 7), a series about a notorious Boston museum robbery in 1990, because art heists are almost never not cool; “My Love: Six Stories of True Love,” (April 13), with six longtime couples sharing their relationship stories and tips for everlasting love (box of tissues not included); and “Life in Color with David Attenborough” (April 22), an Earth Day-themed documentary about the way animals use color.
Who’s Netflix for? Fans of buzz-worthy original shows and movies.
Play, pause or stop? Play. The content firehose is back on, with a wide range of “good enough” material so that nearly everyone can find something that’s up their alley. And as March Madness wraps up, don’t sleep on the intense and unexpectedly emotional “Last Chance U: Basketball,” which debuted in March.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
After a two-year break, Hulu’s biggest series — “The Handmaid’s Tale” — is back for a fourth season starting April 28. The Emmy-winning dystopian drama picks up with June (Elisabeth Moss) facing new challenges as she leads a rebellion against the oppressive regime of Gilead. It’s a good show, if your emotional state can tolerate the misery-porn aspects of it. (It is…a lot.)
There’s also the documentary “WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn” (April 2), which tells the story of the Adam Neumann-led company’s rapid rise and fall; the three-part docuseries “Sasquatch” (April 20), which investigates whether Bigfoot killed three Northern California pot growers in 1993 (seriously!); and “Hysterical” (April 3), a documentary about women in standup comedy, streaming a day after it premieres on FX.
Hulu will also have the seventh and final season of the rom-com “Younger” (April 15), which will air on cable later this year. (See the Paramount+ section below for more details.)
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. “The Handmaid’s Tale” will be reason enough to watch for some, but if that show is not your thing, there’s not a whole lot else to offer in April.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
Amazon Prime Video doesn’t have a ton of new stuff coming in April, but what there is sounds intriguing.
At the top of the list is “Without Remorse” (April 30), starring Michael B. Jordan as John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who uncovers a global conspiracy while tracking down his wife’s killers. It’s based on the 1993 Tom Clancy novel, and could be a decent addition to the exceedingly-violent-revenge-thriller genre, alongside the “John Wick” series and seemingly every recent Liam Neeson movie.
If you’re more in the mood for creepy thrills, there’s “Them” (April 9), a limited anthology series from producer Lena Waithe (“Master of None,” “The Chi”) that explores terror in America. Set in the 1950s, Season 1 focuses on a Black family who move to an all-white part of Los Angeles, where they face hostility from neighbors as well as supernatural forces. It’s already drawn comparisons to Jordan Peele’s “Us” and “Get Out” and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” but “Them” looks like a solidly compelling and unsettling drama all on its own.
Amazon AMZN, -0.66% also has “Frank of Ireland” (April 16), a six-episodes comedy series about a misanthropic slacker trying to get his life together, starring Brian Gleeson and his brother, Domhnall Gleeson.
And you can always catch up on Oscar nominees “Sound of Metal,” “One Night in Miami” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
Who’s Amazon Prime Video for? Movie lovers, TV-series fans who value quality over quantity.
Play, pause or stop? Pause. “Without Remorse,” “Them” and “Frank of Ireland” all seem watchable. But are they essential? Maybe not. They’ll still be around if you don’t subscribe this month.
Paramount+ ($5.99 a month with ads, $9.99 no ads)
It’s actually a good month for the fledgling Paramount+. For reality fans, there’s “The Challenge: All Stars” (April 1), as 22 “Real World” and “Road Rules” veterans compete to win $500,000. Among the big names this season: Trishelle, Syrus, Beth, Ruthie and Big Easy. (It’s funny, I haven’t watched any of those MTV shows in probably 15 years or more, but those names still take up precious brain space.)
There’s also the seventh and final season of “Younger” (April 15), the sneakily compelling publishing-house romantic dramedy starring Sutton Foster. Four episodes will drop on the 15th, with the remaining eight episodes coming one at a time every Thursday. If you’re a fan of the show who doesn’t have Paramount+, don’t worry — the whole season will air on TV Land later this year. (It’ll also stream concurrently on Hulu.)
“No Activity” (April 8) returns for a fourth season, with a big twist: The cops-and-criminals comedy switches from live-action to animation this time around, with the voices of Tim Meadows, Kevin Bacon, Bob Odenkirk and Will Forte. And for Earth Day, there’s “Cher and the Loneliest Elephant” (April 22), a documentary about Cher’s efforts to rescue an elephant from captivity in Pakistan.
It’s also a great month for sports fans. Paramount+ will stream the men’s Final Four (April 3) and NCAA men’s championship game (April 5); as well as the final two rounds of The Masters (April 10 & 11), including special hole-specific livestreams from Augusta; and the UEAFA Champions League’s quarterfinal matches (April 6-14) and the first leg of the semifinals (April 27).
Who’s Paramount+ for? Gen-X cord cutters who miss live sports and familiar ViacomCBS VIAC, +3.55% broadcast and cable shows.
Play, pause or stop? Pause and think it over. Most people still don’t need it. But “The Challenge,” “Younger” and the live sports will appeal to different niche audiences, and each could be very appealing.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
It’s a quiet month for Apple AAPL, -1.23% originals, but the one premiere could be a good one. “The Mosquito Coast” (April 30), stars Justin Theroux (“The Leftovers”) as a radical idealist and inventor who flees from the U.S. government with his family and settles in Mexico. It’s based on the novel written by Justin’s uncle, Paul Theroux, which was also made into a Harrison Ford movie years ago. This version, produced by Neil Cross (“Luther”), looks fantastic and could quickly become one of Apple TV+’s most gripping dramas.
There’ll also be fresh episodes every Friday of “For All Mankind,” which is the current contender for Apple’s most gripping drama.
Who’s Apple TV+ for? It offers a little something for everyone, but not necessarily enough for anyone.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. It’s tempting to say “For All Mankind” alone is worth a subscription, but to get your money’s worth, you’d be better off waiting until it ends and binging the series all at once with a one-month subscription. Besides, “The Mosquito Coast” won’t debut until the end of the month, and May will have a stronger lineup of new shows.
Peacock (free basic level, Premium for $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 a month with no ads)
Peacock has a really intriguing sitcom on the way in “Rutherford Falls” (April 22). Ed Helms (“The Office”) stars as a small-town scion who gets into a kerfuffle with a local Native American tribe over moving a statue of his ancestor, who founded the town, while Jana Schmieding co-stars as his best friend, who’s trying to turn the tribal cultural center — currently located in a casino — into a full-blown museum. The show has a seriously impressive creative team behind it, with producers Michael Schur (“The Office,” “The Good Place,” “Parks and Recreation”) and Sierra Teller Ornelas (“Superstore,” “Happy Endings”), and half of its writers are of indigenous heritage, which should provide some fresh comedic points of view. No one’s better than Schur at making feel-good, small-town comedies, and if “Rutherford Falls” can live up to its potential, this could be a gateway show to lure paid subscribers to Peacock — call it the “Ted Lasso” effect.
And then there’s wrestling. The WWE Network will fully merge with Peacock on April 5, and Peacock Premium subscribers will get access to watch this year’s WrestleMania (April 10 & 11). A lot of WWE programming has already migrated over, including WrestleManias from years past. (Tip: If you’re of a certain age and were a WWF fan as a kid, watching WrestleMania from, say, 1986, is highly entertaining.)
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, -0.38% or Cox cable subscription, it’s also a perfectly fine free addition.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. By all means check out the free version, but the paid tier will be unnecessary for most people (with the exception of soccer fans, since Peacock Premium is the exclusive streaming home of the English Premier League). “Rutherford Falls” could change that, though, so stay tuned.
Discovery+ ($4.99 a month, $6.99 ad-free)
Discovery+ is going all-in for Earth Day in April, with a number of original docuseries about our planet. That includes “Expedition Deep Ocean” (April 1), in which a submersible team explores the depths; “First to the Top of the World” (April 8), a documentary about a forgotten 1968 polar expedition; “Endangered” (April 22), following wildlife conservationists and narrated by Ellen DeGeneres; and “Chasing Ocean Giants” (April 28), featuring dazzling underwater photography of little-seen creatures and scenery.
The streaming service will also add a handful of old shows from the former Viceland channel: “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” which explores the history of drugs; the pro wrestling docuseries “Dark Side of the Ring” and its companion show “After Dark,” the Action Bronson cooking show “F*ck That’s Delicious”; “Hate Thy Neighbor,” which examines the rise of hate groups in America; and the pot-culture show “Weediquette.”
Who’s Discovery+ for? Cord cutters who miss their unscripted TV or who are really, really into “90-Day Fiance.”
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Discovery+ is fantastic for background TV. But there’s not much there that’s essential viewing. It’s really only a good option for those who’ve cut the cord completely — if you still have cable or get Discovery DISCA, +5.36% 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.)