Everyone is overwhelmed by TV options, and it’s only getting worse by the month, as the number of streaming services continues to grow. Not only do you need to choose from a kajillion shows, but you need to pay for the services on which to watch them. The biggest complaint I hear from Globe readers is about not wanting to spend a lot of money every month on streaming services.
I have a strategy regarding this problem: Become a player.
Don’t subscribe to a service and just keep paying for it every month. You are not married to it. There is no long-term commitment, no legal or moral obligation. Sign up, watch intensely for a month or two, then cancel — just slip out the back, Jack — and move onto another service. Then repeat, always keeping track of cancellation dates in your calendar.
The following map of the major streaming services is geared toward this noncommittal approach. It tells you what you’ll pay, and what to watch, in the month or two that you’d subscribe to each one. I’ve tried to identify which shows are worth seeing while your subscription is active, although you ought to poke around once you subscribe.
APPLE TV+ The chosen few
Price: $4.99/month, or free for a year with new Apple hardware.
Vibe: Quality, not quantity. Apple the company is all about moving forward, and that includes its streamer, which offers only a tiny catalog of old TV and movies. The low price reflects that choice. This one is all about original content marked by prestige, ambition, and big budgets, and almost 2½ years in, the results have been uneven but still far better than some of the bigger and more expensive services.
“Severance” is a provocative sci-fi-tinged workplace thriller with Adam Scott, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, and an over-the-top Patricia Arquette.
“Dickinson” turns the life of the poet into a poignant, funny, and contemporized period piece.
“Little America” gives us one surprising and memorable immigrant tale in each half-hour episode.
“Ted Lasso” is … well, you know already. It’s light, optimistic, and addictive.
“The Afterparty” is a clever comedy about a murder at a high school reunion that toys with format. The cast is all aces, including Tiffany Haddish, Ilana Glazer, and Sam Richardson.
“Mythic Quest” is an eccentric high-tech workplace comedy, featuring Rob McElhenney as the ego-driven boss.
“The Shrink Next Door” got mixed reviews, but I found lots to like with Paul Rudd as an exploitative therapist and Will Ferrell as his vulnerable client.
“Schmigadoon!” is a playful and affectionate goof on old Broadway musicals starring Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key.
“Defending Jacob” is an entertaining legal drama about parents — played by Chris Evans and a brilliant Michelle Dockery — whose son may be a murderer.
“For All Mankind” is an at-times riveting alternate history about the space race.
“The Morning Show” is wannabe Aaron Sorkin that’s filled with stars, including Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.
“Slow Horses” A spy drama with Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas.
“Roar” A darky comic anthology series about women with Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, and others.
“The Essex Serpent” A Victorian drama with Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston.
HULU The sharp edge
Price: $6.99/month ($69.99/year), with lots of ads; $12.99/month ad-free.
Vibe: Currency. The service (which also offers a popular live-TV option for cord cutters) features many network and basic cable shows the day after they air elsewhere, as well as an ever-growing slate of originals with edge and cultural cachet. Owned by Disney, it’s the company’s more mature outlet, and it continues to produce some of TV’s essential series.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has stretched beyond its natural creative life, at four seasons and counting, but the disturbing dystopian drama starring Elisabeth Moss remains essential viewing.
“Normal People” tells the simple story of an Irish romance with an intimacy that’s rare on TV.
“A Teacher” is hard to watch, but effective, as it chronicles a teacher grooming her high school student for an affair.
“Difficult People” is a merger of “Seinfeld” and “Will & Grace,” with Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner as a pair of petty misanthropes in New York who don’t learn and don’t hug.
“PEN15″ could have been a gimmick, but the 2000-set comedy featuring 31-year-old actresses playing seventh-graders is honest, insightful, and just satirical enough.
“The Great” has the right title, as it satirizes the rise of Catherine the Great with brilliant leads by Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult.
“Only Murders in the Building” reteams Steve Martin and Martin Short for a warm whodunit on the Upper East Side.
“Life & Beth” is a rich portrait of a midlife awakening, but you’ve got to be an Amy Schumer fan.
“This Way Up” is a warm British comedy about the bond between sisters, one of whom is recovering from a breakdown.
“Shrill” is Aidy Bryant’s affecting comedy about not fitting other people’s weight-related expectations.
“Reservation Dogs” follows four Indigenous teens in Oklahoma who are trying to get to California.
“Casual” is a sweet comedy about midlife dating, with a strong cast led by Michaela Watkins.
“Devs” is a cryptic sci-fi thriller set at a cutting-edge tech company run by Nick Offerman’s twisted guru.
“Pam & Tommy” takes a look back at the sexism at play when the celebrity couple’s sex tape was stolen and released, with A+ turns by Lily James and Sebastian Stan.
“The Bisexual” is a wise charmer about a woman who needs to come out of the closet as bisexual.
“Ramy” is a winningly comic take on being young and Muslim in America, starring Ramy Youssef.
“The Girl From Plainville” The Michelle Carter case, starring Elle Fanning.
HBO MAX The peak of Peak
Price: $9.99/month ($99.99/year) with ads, $14.99/month ($149.99/year) ad-free.
Vibe: Quality, and quantity. The service boasts a large catalog filled with HBO’s classic cable shows, content from other WarnerMedia brands such as new Warner Bros. movies, oldies like “Friends,” and new originals only on HBO Max (which I focus on below). It’s the second most expensive service after Netflix, if you go ad-free, but you’re getting TV’s very best. I’d argue it beats Netflix as the most rewarding streaming deal.
“Station Eleven” is one of the most moving of the many post-apocalyptic series, as it follows the survival of the arts after a catastrophic flu pandemic.
“Hacks” is a full-on pleasure, with Jean Smart tartly charming as a legendary comedian trying to update her material.
“Minx” is a buoyant comedy about starting an erotic magazine for women in the 1970s.
“The Other Two” is a sharp satire of American fame, as two bitter siblings cope with the mass success of their brother and mother.
Almost everything formerly and currently on HBO, from “Succession” and “Barry” to “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus.”
“The Tourist” is a twisty mystery about a man, played by Jamie Dornan, who has amnesia and doesn’t know why he’s being stalked.
“Starstruck” is a light British rom-com in which a New Zealand woman in London (the delightful Rose Matafeo) gets involved with a movie star.
“Julia” A dramedy about the rise of Julia Child, played by Sarah Lancashire.
“Gentleman Jack” Season two of Suranne Jones’s extraordinary portrait of a gender non-conforming lesbian in 1830s England.
NETFLIX The Granddaddy
Price: The most popular option is $15.49/month for two streams in HD. You can also pay $9.99/month for a single, non-HD stream or $19.99/month for four streams in ultra HD. By the way, the company is about to test charging additional fees for illicit password sharing.
Vibe: A bottomless well. The service is crammed with enough movies and series to keep immortals busy for at least a century. The foreign-language series such as “Shtisel” and “Call My Agent!” are excellent. As with anything trying to be all things to all people, the good stuff is mixed together with a lot of mediocrity.
“The Crown” is an epic and beautifully acted portrait of Elizabeth II and her family.
“Ozark” gives us an entire family breaking bad, with Jason Bateman and a sardonic Laura Linney.
“The Queen’s Gambit” is a smartly told and beautifully filmed tale of an orphaned chess prodigy who struggles with addiction.
“Sex Education” charms thoroughly as it looks at the romantic and sexual lives of both a mother and her son (the sharp team of Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield).
“Russian Doll” finds Natasha Lyonne’s super cynic shaken up — movingly — after getting caught in a “Groundhog Day” spiral.
“Maid” is a fine portrait of an abused mother trying to improve her life, despite all the systemic red tape.
“Unorthodox” is the remarkable story of an Orthodox Jew (played unforgettably by Shira Haas) who runs away.
“Squid Game” is a dark — but ironically candy-colored — vision of desperation, class, and money from South Korea.
“Bridgerton” is tons of Regency drama fun, with a bit of “Gossip Girl” thrown in.
“Dead to Me” is a pleasing, if aimless, portrait of an unlikely friendship between two women.
“Never Have I Ever” is Mindy Kaling’s winsome coming-of-age story about a teen grieving her father.
“Master of None” is a fresh comedy about Aziz Ansari’s actor in New York — for the first two seasons, anyway.
“The Pentaverate” Mike Myers plays eight characters in this comedy about an evil cabal.
“Anatomy of a Scandal” An anthology series about upper-class messes in the United Kingdom.
AMAZON PRIME The various and sundry
Price: $14.99/month ($139/year), which includes Amazon’s delivery benefits. For streaming only, it’s $8.99/month.
Vibe: Massive, but a bit random. The service features a large library that just grew with Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, and it includes the option to buy or rent much more. Without the added Amazon benefits, though, the original content is hit-or-miss and a bit arbitrary.
“The Underground Railroad” is Barry Jenkins’s epic alt history in which enslaved people in the 1880s attempt to escape the South by train.
“A Very English Scandal” is a joy, starring Hugh Grant as gay English politician Jeremy Thorpe going to extremes to rid himself of his disgruntled ex-lover.
“Catastrophe” is a wonderful portrait of an accidental couple trying to make it work in London, starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan.
“Fleabag” needs no introduction, as the Emmy-winning look at Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s grieving Brit has become a contemporary classic.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is popular, as it tells the story of a pioneering female comic — but I’ve disliked its later seasons.
“One Mississippi” is Tig Notaro’s dryly comic semi-autobiographical tale.
“Sneaky Pete” is an entertaining suspense drama starring Giovanni Ribisi as a con man pretending to be his former prison cellmate.
“Forever” is an odd and endearing fantasy starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” A big-budget return to the Tolkien-verse in September.
“Night Sky” Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons star as a couple with access to a deserted planet.
DISNEY+ The mouse that roars
Price: $7.99/month ($79.99/year). A cheaper version with ads is coming later this year. Disney also offers Disney+ in a bundle with its two other streamers, Hulu and ESPN+, for $13.99/month (with Hulu ads) or $19.99/month (with ad-free Hulu).
Vibe: Disneyesque, of course. This slam-dunk of a service is loaded up with blockbuster and franchise content, from “Star Wars” to Marvel and Pixar. If you have kids, or are a kid at heart, here is your new best friend. If not, don’t bother.
“The Mandalorian” is a space Western set five years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.”
“WandaVision” has Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany spin off their movie roles and get bombarded with a mass of TV tropes.
“Loki” features Tom Hiddleston reprising his movie role, coping with some clever timeline issues.
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” gives us high school kids starring in “High School Musical: The Musical.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” Ewan McGregor’s Jedi Master watches over the young Luke Skywalker.
“Ms. Marvel” An Avengers fangirl gains her own powers.
PEACOCK The incipient
Price: $4.99/month ($49.99/year) with ads, $9.99/month ($99.99/year) ad-free. There’s a free tier, but you get ads and you don’t have access to the full selection of movies and TV.
Vibe: Nebulous. The service has plenty of good library stuff, including “Modern Family,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock.” But it’s short on originals, and it hasn’t really established a solid identity yet. I’m still waiting for more, but there’s enough to occupy you for a month here.
“We Are Lady Parts” is a winning comedy about an all-girl Muslim punk band in the United Kingdom.
“Girls5eva” is silly and completely enjoyable, as a former girl group reunites in middle age.
“The Capture” is a timely British drama in which deep fakery gets in the way of crime-solving.
“Rutherford Falls” sweetly takes us to a small town with a history of mistreating the local Native Americans, with Ed Helms at the helm.
“Bel-Air” reimagines the “Fresh Prince” sitcom as a drama, one that’s soapier and more like “The O.C.” than you might expect.
“Angelyne” Emmy Rossum stars as the LA billboard icon who became famous for being famous.
PARAMOUNT+ The nascent
Price: $4.99/month ($49.99/year) with ads, $9.99/month ($99.99/year) ad-free.
Vibe: CBS All Access is all grown up now! It has all those Paramount movies, of course, along with the bulk of the CBS catalog, which means a boatload of procedurals. The service has the “Star Trek” genre, too. But it’s terribly low on originals, not unlike Peacock, which is similarly from a traditional media outlet, NBC.
“The Good Fight” is the “Good Wife” spinoff we all deserve.
“1883″ is a prequel to “Yellowstone” starring Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill.
“Halo” Based on the video game and starring Pablo Schreiber.
“The Offer” The fictionalized story of the making of “The Godfather.”