Tag Archives: Starz

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Channels

Previously on Pandemic Binge Watching I wrote about the three long established streaming services that have been staples of our watching habits, even before the current series of unfortunate events.

Hulu is the little channel that could.  We originally got it in order to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, then cancelled.  But it is the service I keep coming back to.  I had to get it to get through all of Archer after that fell off of Netflix.  At one point a year of so back I had a plan to simply replace our Comcast cable lineup with the local channel and sports package you can through get through Hulu, but was brought up short on the details.

My wife is a hockey fan, and we can get the channel that carries all the Shark’s games, but on Hulu it runs 20-30 seconds behind the cable broadcast and my wife was quickly annoyed that her game night texting buddies would announce somebody scored before it ever made it to our screen.  That is literally a deal breaker here it seems.  A pity, because I was good with every other aspect of it, especially picture quality.  Comcast put in a really bad compression algorithm a year of so back, so their HD service barely looks like HD anymore.  The streaming services look much better.

Hulu has a lot going for it.

Upside:

Some very good original content.  I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale already, and did a post previously about Catch-22.

The channel really excels at being the place to go watch seasons of things once they have wrapped up on cable channels that do not have their own streaming service yet.

Hulu has a bunch of subscription options.  You can go cheap if you can handle some commercials, or opt to pay a bit more to remove them, and add on a number of additional options, up to and including a basic cable replacement.

Downside:

Their interface hides the depth of the channel more so than some competitors I could mention.  If Netflix is a hyper puppy trying to get your attention, Hulu is an old sheep dog that can’t be bothered some days.

Not so much original stuff as you might imagine.

Really needs some of the features that Prime and Netflix have adopted to skip show intros and the like.  I realize this is related to the relationship they have with networks and what not, and that they are getting some of the features going, but still.  I do get a bit pissy when content from other networks won’t even let you fast forward past promos.

Current Status:  Subscribed and using the service to subscribe to Showtime rather than get into Showtime’s app.  Also still watching Bob’s Burgers.

 

On paper Disney+ should be a subscribe and never leave channel for our family.  It has all of the MCU movies, all of the Star Wars movies and (almost) all the shows, all of the Disney catalog that they’ll still admit to, and it has every episode of The Simpsons.  I should literally be parked in front of that channel forever.

Upside:

Inexpensive at $7.00 a month.  Can get it bundled with Hulu.

Literally everything 14 year old me could want.

The Madalorian was pretty good.  We watched that every week through its first season.

Downside:

The Hulu bundle made you take the ad sponsored version of the service last I checked, plus you have to take ESPN as well, in which I have no interest.  The faux seasons pro sports are putting on now are not enticing at all.

I’m not 14 any more.  I have seen almost everything on the service already.  Hell, I have a significant fraction of it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Not much new/original content

No Star Wars Holiday Special?  Are you kidding me?

Current Status:  Currently not subscribed, but another season of The Mandalorian is coming up soon.

Starz came to us when they had an offer back in March to get 6 months of their service for $30.  The thought was that we could finish up Outlander, but that stopped clicking with us after a couple seasons.  We came for that, but stayed for The White Queen and its follow on series, which I mentioned previously.

Basically Starz is a lesser version of HBO, an old school cable movie service that has expanded into some original content and its own stand-alone streaming app.

Upside:

Always has dozens of movies available to watch on demand.

Some very good original content

Downside:

Really a lesser version of HBO in too many ways.  Not so many movies you’d watch, not so many original series that you’d stick around for.

The UI design of their app always leaves me feeling I need to press the button to start a show or movie one more time that other apps.

Easily the hardest app for me to read text on from the couch.  They expect you to read the show/movie titles from the thumbnail.

Current Status:  Just lapsed, but The Spanish Princess 2 is coming up, so could return I suppose.

Apple TV+ is the latest channel we’ve tried.  I have been wary of it in the past because Apple has run it like the iTunes store in the past, where it is essentially a store front to sell you content, and there are a lot of other options in that market.  Also, it required an Apple device in the past.  Recently they have made it an app that I can get on our Roku and they have added a subscription and some original content.

I have been tempted to try it if only to watch The Morning Show, which has gotten good buzz, but my wariness as to what else one gets with their subscription has left me cold.  It is easier to figure out the difference between HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max that to get that info out of Apple.

But then Long Way Up was announced and my wife is a big Ewan McGreggor fan and watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down, so suddenly we had to give it a try.

Upside:

At $5.00 a month, the cheapest subscription service so far.

Available soon in a bundle deal with Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and iCloud.

Some original content, including Greyhound.

Some additional content from other sources available as well.

Splashy fresh UI.

Apple has the cash to fund content worth watching.

Downside:

Easily the most annoying service to sign up for in my experience so far.  You cannot sign up through Roku… somebody tell Epic Games… their web site is barely functional, and it is unclear to me if you can even sign up if you don’t have an iOS device.  I mean, I think you can, but my experience suggest it won’t be easy.

The original content is extremely limited.  I think I’ve named most of it already.  There is not a lot of “there” there.

Plays like an old school service, metering out an episode a week for their shows… though I suppose they really need to, given how little of it there is, in order to keep people subscribed.

The additional content is nothing special.  I think it is literally a subset of what I get on Hulu as part of that subscription.

98% of the service is there to offer you up rent or buy options.  It is the iTunes store on your TV.

That splashy, fresh UI is overwrought and unclear at times and doesn’t always render correctly on the Roku.  But their website doesn’t always render correctly on anything besides Safari, so go figure.  But at least it mostly works on the Roku.  Apple does not make a Windows or Android client.

Hard to tell if it is a work in progress that needs more time or if Apple arrogance levels have exceeded their eWorld peak, back when I heard Apple execs saying they would own the online experience because they could rebrand a literal copy of AOL.

Current status: Subscribed at least until we finish up get the last episode of Long Way Up.

Pandemic Binge Watching Part One

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept many of us at home for more than four months now.  All that staying home has led to a demand for entertainment.

Oddly, video games haven’t proven quite the outlet for me that you might imagine.  The problem is that I have also been working from home for more than four months, so I spend 8-10 hours a day sitting at my desk in front of a computer.  When work is over, I often feel strongly that I need to get up and go somewhere else in the house rather than switching over to play a game at that very same desk.

So, for my wife and I, with no movies, no going out to dinner, and not even any sports, the television series has become the entertainment outlet for us.  We are subscribed to a few streaming services which offer us up full seasons of shows, and so we have spent time binging on those.  I’m often tempted to write something up about each as we finish them, but that means going back to my desk again, so I have been slacking on that.

Now, however, I am going to sum up some of what we watched both as a public service as well as a reminder to myself as to what we have watched.  This is in some sort of order close to chronologically related to when we watched them, but there was some overlap.  The bullet points are the title and the service on which they are currently available.

That is a three-fer right there.  Based on the books by Philippa Gregory, they cover the War of the Roses and its aftermath, spanning a time frame that covers a few of Shakespeare plays.  They represent and ongoing story, though each series was filmed independently and is a complete story on its own.

A good set of tales, if not fully historical at times, they point out the key problem of the War of the Roses, which was too damn many people named Henry, Edward, Elizabeth, and Margaret.  Seriously, at one point I think there were four Henrys, three Edwards, two Elizabeths, and two Margarets in play, and more came and went.  We had to pause to establish which Henry or whoever was being referenced at times.

Also, a completely new set of actors takes over for each series, which can be a bit of a test when the same characters can span series.  Still, some good fun, if you like that era.  I enjoyed watching the 1995 film version of Richard III after this to see how many of the same people were treated by the two perspectives. (Also, that movie is a must for the casting alone.)

Starz had a $25 for six months deal on their streaming service, and these three made that worth the money.

Good for: Tolerant history buffs, people named Henry, and people keen for drinking games related to spotting actors from other shows.

More historical tales, this one is a comedic look at Catherine the Great and her early time in the court of the Czar.  I had to double check that this was a US produced series, as we’re not usually that big on European history that doesn’t involve us directly.  Very funny at times, often crude, and feeling no need to adhere to any particular historical accuracy, it can be quite a ride.  The main problem was it felt like about 8 episodes worth of content in a 10 episode series, so it flags a bit towards the end.  Still, I was good with it.  Huzzah!

Good for: Really tolerant history buffs and people who kind of miss Blackadder.

I don’t think I have laughed out loud as much in a long time as I did during the first two seasons of this series.  Hank Azaria’s character is relentless.  This humor is often crude and rarely strays from sex, drugs, alcohol, and his character flaws.  Very much not for children.  Gets serious at the end of season two and into season three, then completely flies off into a bizarro future history in season four, but is still pretty damn funny.

Good for: Hank Azaria fans, baseball fans, and anybody who might like a Filipino knock-off of Hart to Hart.

A solid interpretation of the novel by Nick Hornby, transplanted to New York City in the current era, so mix tapes are out and play lists are in.  Vinyl though, that is eternal.

The cast is very good and the story flows well enough.  My main problem is that this series exists in the same universe as the 2000 film version of the novel which is a favorite of mine.  The series seems tame and a bit flat compared to the manic energy and comedic rhythm of Jack Black and John Cusack in the film.  Also, the characters in the TV series are not even half as obsessed about music as the film cast is, and that obsession really drives the characters at times.

Basically it is the same issued I had with the Catch-22 series; if I already like the existing film version a series really has to work to get away from that comparison.

Good for:  People who haven’t seen the movie… or read the book probably.

I think Hulu is our best value for streaming services at this point.  Also, another series that is based on the same work as an already existing film that I like.  A Terry Gilliam film no less, so you know I have it on DVD on the shelf already.  Oh, and the series is literally based on the film so, while I don’t know how that works legally, it certainly qualifies as a great big “Danger Will Robinson.” (Which reminds me, I need to put Lost in Space on the list for next time.)

That said, the series didn’t just copy the movie.  I suspect the lack of a popular novel as the original source material meant that they didn’t have to go scene for scene to meet expectations and could run with their own plan.  And that plan seemed to be to illustrate that no simple plan ever ends as expected.

The first season is a non-stop roller coaster of “if we just jump somebody back in time to save a person, kill a person, or stop an event, then our problems will be solved.”  That never happens.  I mean, of course it doesn’t or it would be a very short series.  But you do end up with a lot of plans and time spent figuring out what they missed and the jump back in time to fix that only to find there is some other complication.

Season two is a little less jumpy on the timeline, but still full of paradoxes and unanticipated results.  We haven’t started on season three yet.  We’re still a little dizzy and needed a break to watch something else.  The acting is good and I like most of the cast.  It will hold your attention.  Just don’t expect resolution, or even answers half the time.

Good for: People who like their time travel shows to be complicated.

Next time: Maybe something not on Hulu.