Tag Archives: streaming

‘Black Mirror,’ ‘This Is Us,’ ‘Westworld’ among year’s best TV

In this era of so-called Peak TV, the tally of scripted series aired in 2016 is closing in on 500. No wonder it’s so hard to pick the best 2 percent of the crop. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t pleased to salute our 10 particular favorites.

Here’s our honor roll:

“The A Word” (Sundance).

Loving parents Alison and Paul tell themselves (and everyone else) that there’s nothing wrong with Joe, their 5-year-old son. But evidence mounts. And then the unavoidable truth: Joe is on the autism spectrum. This bittersweet six-episode drama (with a second season announced) deals with a child growing up in rural England whose striking differences from other kids ignite the question: What constitutes “normal” and what becomes of those who don’t meet that standard? A beautiful story, a terrific cast and a spectacular performance by young Max Vento, who plays Joe, makes “The A Word” a unique exploration of a family as loyal as it is in turmoil.

“Atlanta” (FX).

It takes a sure hand to craft a series that blends a pair of young musical strivers from a downtrodden urban neighborhood — while keeping the series touching, relatable and funny. In an age of TV comedy that takes refuge in either irony, absurdity, outrageousness or mawkishness, creator-star-writer Donald Glover has pulled off a minor miracle with this gritty little show that blazes its own path, strewn with setbacks yet powered by hope. A fresh take on the hip-hop world, “Atlanta” never strikes a false note.

“Billions” (Showtime).

Chuck Rhoades, the powerful and perverse U.S. Attorney, is in a cage match with hedge-fund titan Bobby Axelrod. The result is a delicious drama of two Alpha Males butting heads: Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti) wants to prosecute Axelrod for financial fraud, while the smooth, ever-calculating Axelrod (Damian Lewis) dares him to try. Adding to the spice is a third corner of this triangle: Rhoades’ wife and Axe’s trusted adviser (played by Maggie Siff) who, in confronting her divided loyalties, is as tough as either man. The result is a wealth of intrigue.

“Black Mirror” (Netflix).

Six new episodes on the Netflix site have supplemented seven hours of this nervous-making anthology previously aired by British television. The brainchild of British writer-producer-mischief-maker Charlie Brooker, this series defies clear definition other than to say (a) it deals with technology’s sly cultural inroads, (b) it packs the mind-expanding punch of a latter-day “Twilight Zone,” and (c) it reflects a certain, um, Brooker-esque brand of mordant humor. Every hour is different from the others while each, in its own way, is likely to leave you startled and disturbed. It should come with a warning: “Not To Be Missed, But Proceed with Caution.”

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS).

With her show teeing up for a second season in early 2017, the time is past to celebrate “Full Frontal” as an issues-and-comedy series hosted by (go figure!) a woman. So let’s just celebrate Samantha Bee, who, now even more than during her dozen years as a “Daily Show” correspondent, stays true to her name: nimble and armed with a satirical sting for her deserving targets. She’s a bold champion of women’s interests, which are largely overlooked in political humor. But guys are welcome, too. They might learn something and have a laugh, along with getting stung now and then.

“Making a Murderer” (Netflix).

To be technical, this 10-part docuseries landed on the Netflix site in mid-December 2015. But early buzz spiked into a roar in the new year. Filmed over a decade, it tells the riveting, true-life story of Steven Avery, who is first seen in 2003 returning home to Wisconsin’s rural Manitowoc County after 18 years’ imprisonment for sexual assault. After his exoneration, Avery was a free man for just two years. He was then arrested for another crime — this time, a grisly rape and murder. So was his teenage nephew. Are they guilty or being railroaded? It’s an arresting thriller of mini-victories and major setbacks in a halting but dogged pursuit of justice.

“The Night Of” (HBO).

This dark and irresistible murder mystery stars John Turturro as near-bottom-feeding lawyer John Stone who stumbles on a righteous case: Naz, a Pakistani-American college student implicated as the killer of an alluring young woman who, after a chance encounter with him one Friday night, brought him to her bedroom. Never mind if Naz did the crime (viewers don’t find out until the end) — the legal system is stacked against him at every turn, and through the lengthy, often dismaying process, Stone fights on his behalf. Though a scripted drama, “The Night Of” is part of a new breed of law-and-order storytelling that also spawned “Making a Murderer” as well as “O.J.: Made in America.”

“O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN).

Arriving two decades after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges for the death of his ex-wife and her friend, this five-part documentary series covers those ghastly slayings and the so-called Trial of the Century in you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet detail. But it goes even further, framing Simpson’s life and career against the racial turmoil and Civil Rights struggle from which he was largely insulated by the warm embrace of celebrity and the white mainstream. Packed with never-before-seen footage, unreported details and never-heard insights, it’s a project that might have been dismissed as a true-crime rehash. Instead, it’s not only illuminating but often jaw-dropping.

“This Is Us” (NBC).

It isn’t often that a scripted TV series can be credited with being “humanistic” ‘ at least, not a show you can sit through without grinding your teeth. And yet this gentle ensemble drama is pulling it off, and viewers are loving it. Here is that rare series that is neither aspirational nor derisive in how its characters are portrayed, but instead reflects its viewers at their most goodwilled and, well, humanistic. The intersecting sets of everyday characters are depicted by a cast including Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown in a display of middle-class diversity that serves as a welcome rebuttal to this polarized age. Come to think of it, maybe “This Is Us” shows us what to aspire to, after all.

“Westworld” (HBO).

This odyssey is simultaneously set in an imagined sci-fi future and the reimagined Old West in the form of an epic theme park where lifelike robots indulge every appetite of paying guests. What measure of depravity does this unleash in the humans who treat themselves to this dude ranch gone wild? And what measure of upheaval is triggered when the robots rebel? The series’ visuals — both its western splendor and its futuristic labs _ are spellbinding and seemingly as boundless as its thematic sprawl. Its ensemble (which includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright) populates an anything-goes getaway with aplomb and shock value: Who — or what — are the heroes here?

Binge watching on Netflix no longer requires internet access

Netflix subscribers can now binge on many of their favorite shows and movies even when they don’t have an internet connection.

The long-awaited offline option announced this week gives Netflix’s 87 million subscribers offline access to videos for the first time in the streaming service’s decade-long history.

Netflix is matching a downloading feature that one of its biggest rivals, Amazon.com, has been offering to its video subscribers for the past year. It’s something that also has been available on YouTube’s popular video site, though a subscription is required in the U.S. and other countries where the site sells its “Red” premium service.

The new feature puts Netflix a step ahead of two other major rivals. Offline options aren’t available on HBO’s internet-only package, HBO Now, or Hulu, although that service has publicly said it hopes to introduce a downloading feature.

Netflix subscribers wishing to download a video on their smartphone or tablet need to update the app on their Apple or Android device.

Not all of the selections in Netflix’s video library can be downloaded, although several of the service’s most popular shows, including “Orange Is The New Black,” “House of Cards,” and “Stranger Things,” are now available to watch offline.

Downloadable movies include “Spotlight,” this year’s Oscar winner for best film. Notably missing from the downloadable menu are movies and TV shows made by Walt Disney Co. Those still require an internet connection to watch on Netflix.

The Los Gatos, California, company is promising to continue to adding more titles to its offline roster.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had long resisted calls for an offline-viewing option, much to the frustration of customers who wanted flexibility to use their subscriptions to watch a show or movie when traveling on a train, plane or car where internet connections are spotty or completely unavailable.

Earlier this year, Hastings finally indicated he might relent and introduce downloading.

The change of heart coincided with Netflix’s expansion into more than 130 countries, including many areas with shoddy or expensive internet connections that make the ability to watch video offline even more appealing.

Netflix ended September with 39 million subscribers outside of the U.S.

The offline option may accelerate the decline of Netflix’s steadily shrinking DVD-by-mail service, which offers the ability to watch video without an internet connection. Netflix’s DVD side still has one distinct advantage — access to recent theatrical releases before they are available for streaming.

Netflix’s DVD service ended September with 4.3 million subscribers, a decrease of nearly 10 million customers during the past five years.

Love, loss and royalty star in TV drama ‘The Crown’

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is known for her dedication to a demanding job. Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth as a young ruler in Netflix’s The Crown, can claim the same.

Foy accepted the central role in Netflix’s 10-part series when she was pregnant, knowing that filming would begin just a few months after her daughter’s arrival.

“I’d never had a baby before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” the actress said by phone from London. “But I’m so glad I made that decision.”

The Crown reportedly is Netflix’s costliest series to date, pegged at $100 million. The money is on the screen in lavish scenes such as Elizabeth’s coronation and location shooting in Scotland and South Africa.

A second season is already in production.

The Crown opens in the bleakness of post-World War II Britain, with a respite provided by Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (played with sexy swagger by Matt Smith of Doctor Who).

The scene in which they exchange vows is a charmer, with a nervous-looking Elizabeth coaxed along by teasing smiles from Philip. There’s no film of the ceremony, Foy said, but a preserved radio broadcast inspired the scene’s direction.

“She did sound fragile and very, very little and sort of, not unsure, but she definitely didn’t belt out her vows,” Foy said. Given Elizabeth’s youth, her longtime love for Philip and “the idea of forever and everybody you know is watching you,” it was natural for her to be overwhelmed, she added.

The bride’s expectation of playing helpmate to her new husband and his naval career is ended by the death of her father, King George VI, at 56. Elizabeth was 25 when the royal responsibility she believed to be decades away passed to her.

The drama follows her early years as a monarch in a changing world, along with those in her orbit including her free-spirited sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), and political leaders Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).

Writer and executive producer Peter Morgan didn’t come to the topic cold: He wrote the 2006 film The Queen, which dramatized the battering that Elizabeth and the royal family’s image took after Princess Diana’s death. It earned an Oscar for star Helen Mirren and a nomination for Morgan. Last year, Mirren received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in Morgan’s play The Audience.

For The Crown, Morgan’s prose rests on the findings of researchers who spent more than two years reading archives, biographies and cabinet meeting minutes, as well as Morgan’s own conversations with people “connected to the Royal Household,” as Netflix coyly put it.

At a news conference, he acknowledged the careful dance between members of the royal family and the production.

“I think that they’re very, very aware of it,” he said, and “countless approaches” were made “through untraceable back channels.”

“And in a way that protects both sides: I want my independence and I’m sure they want their independence,” he said. He believes the family understands the project was done with “some degree of respect,” Morgan said.

“These are people who are used to slander, cartoons, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. And whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, I think it is also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history,” Morgan said.

For Foy, portraying someone with such a crafted public image was a challenge. But ultimately, she said, the goal was the same as with any part: striving for authenticity and humanity in depicting Elizabeth’s loss of a parent, a universal experience, as she takes on “the biggest job that anyone can do.”

“That’s all you hope for when you do a drama,” Foy said. “If you’re portraying anything that anybody has been through, you don’t want people to watch it and not recognize it or feel betrayed by the portrayal of it. That’s true if you’re a queen or not.”

Deadly season for lesbian, bisexual TV characters

A record number of gay characters are featured on broadcast series, but small-screen shows overall can be deadly for the female ones, according to a study released this fall.

More than 25 lesbian and bisexual female characters died on scripted broadcast, cable and streaming series this year, the media advocacy group GLAAD found in its report on small-screen diversity.

While TV remains far ahead of film in gay representations, the medium “failed queer women this year” by continuing the “harmful ‘bury your gays’ trope,” the report said.

The violent deaths included characters Poussey Washington (played by Samira Wiley on “Orange is the New Black”) and Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack on “Wentworth”).

It’s part of a decade-long pattern in which gay or transgender characters are killed to further a straight character’s story line, GLAAD said, sending what it called the “dangerous” message that gay people are disposable.

For its annual report titled “Where We Are on TV,” researchers tallied the LGBTQ characters seen or set to be portrayed in the period from June 2016 to May 2017. Counts were based on series airing or announced and for which casting has been confirmed.

The study, which in 2005 began examining other aspects of diversity on TV, found record percentages of people of color and people with disabilities depicted on broadcast shows.

Among the detailed findings:

  • Broadcast TV includes the highest percentage of regularly appearing gay characters — 4.8 percent — since Gay rights organization GLAAD began its count 21 years ago.

Among nearly 900 series regular characters on ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC, 43 characters are LGBTQ, up from 35 last season.

  • Streamed shows included 65 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, up six from last season. Lesbians, including characters on “One Mississippi” and “Orange is the New Black,” account for the majority of characters, 43 percent, a far higher share than on broadcast or cable.
  • Cable series held steady with 142 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, with a 5 percent increase in the number of gay men but a 2 percent drop in the number of lesbian characters depicted.
  • The number of transgender characters in regular or recurring appearances on all platforms has more than doubled from last season, from seven to 16.
  • Characters with a disability represented 1.7 percent of all regularly seen broadcast characters, up from 0.9 percent last season. Each platform has at least one LGBTQ character that’s HIV-positive, with only one such character a regular (Oliver on “How to Get Away with Murder”).
  • African-Americans will be 20 percent (180) of regularly seen characters on prime-time broadcast shows this season, the highest share yet found by GLAAD. But black women are underrepresented at 38 percent of the total, or 69 characters.
  • The percentage of regularly appearing Asian-Pacific Islanders on broadcast TV hit 6 percent, the highest tally found by GLAAD and slightly more than the group’s U.S. population percentage. Contributing to the increase are the Asian-American family shows “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken.”
  • Latino characters rose a point to 8 percent, equaling the highest representation found two seasons ago by GLAAD. That differs sharply from the 17 percent Latino representation in the U.S. population as measured by the Census Bureau, the report said.

FilmStruck aims to bring the art house into your living room

Does this sound familiar? You want to stream a movie and end up spending most of your time clicking through a disorganized sea of options, most of which aren’t especially good, anyhow.

FilmStruck, a new subscription streaming service by Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, hopes to fill what’s been a giant void in the supposedly glorious age of streaming.

The plentiful options on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (where Criterion was previously housed) have been terrific for all kinds of watching, just not great cinema.

FilmStuck doesn’t hope to compete with those giants, which are busy building their own original series and films while concentrating less on offering robust libraries. Instead, TCM and Criterion want to bring the art house, and all the passion of movie love, into the 21st century and your living room.

“We feel like it’s a vacuum that needs a caretaker who cares,” says Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM and FilmStruck. “There’s a real need out there in the marketplace for film fans.”

Executives for both TCM and Criterion call their union “a lovefest,” and the match is indeed a fitting one. TCM, the 22-year-old cable network of commercial-less Hollywood classics, and Criterion, the 32-year-old purveyor of pristine, supplement-stuffed DVD sets, have both weathered continued change in media and emerged all the stronger for their steadfast dedication to movies.

While networks like AMC (“American Movie Classics”) and IFC (“Independent Film Channel”) have turned their focus to TV series, TCM and Criterion have kept the faith, and earned devoted followings because of it. The partnership came together because of their already close ties and mutual respect. When word got to Turner Classic that Criterion would be exiting its home at Hulu, talks about creating a new streaming platform began.

“We had a great set-up at Hulu, especially given the time we started there,” says Peter Becker, president of Criterion Collection. “But that service was never built from the ground up to be for movie lovers, to highlight special editions, to be curated, to highlight all kinds of stuff. There was very little opportunity to speak to our audience in our own voice.”

FilmStruck will be available for $6.99 a month via filmstruck.com, the Amazon Fire, Apple TV and iOS and Android devices. It features films from the vaults of major studios but the focus of its about 500 rotating films is more independent, international and contemporary. It’s more Kubrick and Kurosawa than Doris Day and John Wayne.

TCM’s head of programming Charles Tabesh will program FilmStruck, including a rotating selection of Criterion titles. But on Nov. 11, Criterion will debut its own channel on FilmStruck featuring all of its films, about 1,200 titles that encompass a large swath of film’s acknowledged masterpieces. That will run $10.99 monthly or $99 for a year.

What distinguishes FilmStruck, though, isn’t just the quality of its films but its expansive, rethought streaming experience. There’s a long list of searchable titles, but FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel are first and foremost curated experiences. Films are organized into series, retrospectives and essentials.

“This is what art-house theaters have been doing around the country for the last fifty years,” says Becker. “Why would we not build on all the curatorial energy and ideas that has been expended over all this time?”

There will be a Friday night double feature. Another weekly night will match a short with a feature. Filmmakers will be profiled in documentaries, as will art house theaters across the country.

Cinephiles may also drool over the array of special features — the sort that populate Criterion Blu-rays — that dot the service. You can listen to Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola expound on “The Thief of Bagdad” or watch the Coen brothers with Barry Sonnenfeld deconstruct their “Blood Simple” with the kind of telestrators usually wielded by NFL commentators.

“We find that this is a very satisfying night at the movies,” says Becker.

The streaming landscape is increasingly crowded, not just by Amazon and Netflix but by the likes of Fandor, Mubi, IndieFlix and Warner Archive. Standing out _ and convincing viewers to add another monthly bill _ will be FilmStruck’s biggest challenge.

Dorian says their research suggests 15 million could be willing to pay for FilmStruck. It’s a bold gambit for Turner Classic, which has been, as Dorian says with a knowing smile, “very judicious in its changes over the years.”

“We get to try new stuff that we haven’t tried in decades,” says Dorian. “I hope we’re agile and nimble. Working in software has been a total education.”

It’s a leap for Criterion, too, which will for the first time have its own digital playground. The DVDs, Becker says, remain the best image quality for their films, “but there’s now a whole generation of people who haven’t ever bought a disc.”

The entire enterprise has the spirit of a mission: Show the digital world what’s so great about movies. At the FilmStruck launch party in Manhattan, scenes from classic films like Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” were set up. Director George Romero could be seen playing chess with Death.

“There’s never been a better time for art-house film culture, with apologies to the ‘60s,” says Becker. “It’s a crazy time to be a film lover.”

Cast a wide net among channels when sampling new fall shows

The fall TV season always marks a reset of sorts, signaling an influx of new shows and a respite from reruns.

That’s the way it’s been since TV began, back when there were only three or four networks and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Well, almost.

But despite this time-honored ritual of rebirth, series’ comings and goings have evolved into a seamless affair that flows year-round, boosted by the ever-escalating number of video outlets.

Dubbed “Peak TV,” this latter-day embarrassment of riches is noted by FX network’s president with a mixture of wonder and dismay.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association recently, John Landgraf forecast that a new peak of some 500 different scripted series would be introduced by TV outlets in 2017.

Of these, he said, “only” about 150 would be offered by the six major English-language broadcasters (ABC, CW, CBS, Fox and NBC, plus PBS).

The rest would emerge on cable and streaming services.

“I do this for a living, I think I have a pretty good memory, and I certainly can’t come close to keeping track of it all,” sighed Landgraf, adding, “While there’s more great television than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent.”

Not to mention more trouble even stumbling on shows that viewers might consider great but instead get lost in the shuffle.

For instance, how many viewers will happen upon StartUp, one of the most distinctive and addictive dramas on any lineup? Starring Martin Freeman and Adam Brody in a steamy Miami mashup of techies and drug lords, it premieres Sept. 6 on Crackle, the streaming network known, if at all, for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

On MTV, where “gym, tan, laundry” was once the mantra thanks to Jersey Shore, a much smarter situation awaits on Mary + Jane (premiering Sept. 5), a devilish comedy about two gal pals who run a marijuana delivery service in Los Angeles.

And on Hulu, where you may typically binge on Forensic Files reruns, you might be happy to discover Hugh Laurie in the psychological drama Chance (Oct. 19) as a physician perilously different from his role as life-saving Dr. House.

These new arrivals might well escape your notice in the fall onslaught.

But word of other new shows is impossible to miss.

In particular, NBC leveraged its sprawling, much-watched Rio Games to beat the drum for fall newcomers like This Is Us and Timeless.

Both those series are sure to be heavily sampled by the audience. But while many viewers may embrace This Is Us (Sept. 20) as a tenderhearted and touching dramedy about divergent characters who have a lot in common, other viewers may dismiss the show as saccharine and labored.

And while some viewers may see Timeless (Oct. 3) as thrilling and eye-popping, others may dismiss this time-travel romp as clunky in concept and a misappropriation of lavish computer-generated imagery.

While ABC’s sitcom Speechless (Sept. 21) can congratulate itself for its special-needs focus — the family’s teenage son has cerebral palsy (as does the actor who plays him) — some viewers nonetheless may find it cartoonish and, well, not very funny.

While Michael Weatherly is certifiably a fan-fave from his years on NCIS, his much-awaited new CBS drama, Bull (Sept. 20), seems over-reliant on his fast-talking, glib portrayal. For some viewers, his performance as a charming trial consultant gaming the legal system may quickly wear thin.

And while Notorious (Sept. 22) will plant its flag in the Shonda Rimes-ruled landscape of ABC’s Thursday lineup, this dismal poppycock (a hunky defense attorney joins forces with a hot TV producer to promote their respective professional interests) may succeed primarily by exposing how hard it is to pull off what Rimes does so well.

None of this is to suggest that the commercial broadcast networks aren’t a party to TV’s current Golden Age.

Television, almost anywhere you look, is enjoying a renaissance.

But for the most part, broadcast TV has been overtaken by its cable and streaming competition while being forced to chase conflicting goals — to please a necessarily mass audience while taking enough creative risks to not get left in the dust by its more nimble rivals.

Millions of viewers are satisfied with the results.

Now, as ever, broadcast TV serves as a home for the expected, a 22-episodes-a-season respite where the viewer can feel comfortable, not challenged.

Meanwhile, surprises and creative daring greet viewers who look elsewhere — and result, sometimes, in explosive success (consider HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead, neither of which would have ever gained admittance by broadcast gatekeepers).

Granted, mining shows from the mountain of Peak TV can be a daunting task, especially since on niche media platforms, as with mainstream broadcast, there’s plenty of fool’s gold cluttering the view.

But if this fall season is any indication, TV’s current Golden Age is aglow — and this gold rush clearly leads toward cable and streaming.

While viewing numbers are down, streaming is up for Olympics

While NBC’s prime-time television ratings are down, fans are streaming the Olympics on other devices.

The network said it had surpassed 2 billion minutes of live streamed action from the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Not only does that comfortably surpass the 818 million streamed minutes for the London Games, it beats by 500 million the number for all previous Olympics combined.

Within the first three days of the Olympics, 80 percent of people who watched the games said they used at least one other device to follow what was going on. That was up from 61 percent for the Sochi Winter Olympics two years ago, NBC said.

An estimated 24.3 million people watched Monday night’s prime-time telecast on NBC, the level rising by 5 percent to 25.5 million when streaming and cable coverage is added in. For the same Monday night in London four years ago, there were 26.6 million viewers.

And the Olympics appear to be big in Utah this year. NBC said that for nine of the 11 prime-time nights of Olympics action, Salt Lake City was the market with the best ratings in the country.

 

VIRTUAL REALITY

NBC and Samsung have been touting their virtual-reality coverage, but the quality of the video has been such that Olympians look like video-game characters on Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

Meanwhile, 360-degree still images from Getty Images haven’t gotten as much attention, but have been stunning. NBC’s VR video relies on cameras at fixed locations off to the sides of the fields of play. With no camera operator, there’s no control over the shots. Getty gave a 360-degree camera to each of its photographers, and they’ve been able to capture the flexibility and strength of Simone Biles on the vault, and Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro diving into the crowd after winning his tennis gold medal. The images are available for free on the 360 Photos app on the Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets.

Free episodes to disappear from Hulu

Hulu is dropping free TV episode as it works on an online television service to rival cable TV.

Free episodes — typically the most recent four or five episodes from a show’s current season — will be gone from the site within a few weeks. Instead, Hulu is making free episodes available through Yahoo.

While Hulu started as a free site, supported by advertising, free video has become increasingly more difficult to find as Hulu tries to lure viewers into a subscription — $8 a month for a plan with ads, and $12 without. In recent months, visitors to Hulu.com have been presented with prominent links to subscribe, with links to free video buried in a menu after signing in.

And free episodes haven’t been available on Hulu’s mobile apps or streaming-TV devices, just on Hulu.com from a traditional computer. Now, they won’t be on Hulu.com at all.

Devotees of Hulu’s free on-demand videos will be able to find them by visiting the new Yahoo View site from a computer. The Yahoo site will not have free episodes of CW shows such as “Arrow” and “The Flash,” as Hulu has been offering, because CW has a broader deal with Netflix instead. Yahoo says it will have the past five episodes of ABC, NBC and Fox shows available. The Fox shows will appear eight days after their TV airing, as is the practice at Hulu.com now. Yahoo will also have some older CBS shows.

The episodes on Yahoo are not currently available on a phone, although Yahoo is working on a mobile web version and an app. Yahoo says the mobile version will be free, but it may not have all the same video as the desktop computer site because of content licensing restrictions.

Hulu says relatively few people watch the free videos. It now has about 12 million subscribers who pay for original shows, the entire current seasons of some network shows and access to Hulu’s library on mobile and streaming-TV devices like Roku.

Hulu also plans to launch a live online TV service next year. It would show broadcast and cable channels in real time, without making viewers wait until the next day for episodes. In a move that could make that service more appealing, Time Warner Inc. recently took a 10 percent stake in Hulu, joining the TV and movie conglomerates — Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox and Comcast’s NBCUniversal — that already owned it. Time Warner plans to contribute some of its channels, including TNT and TBS, to the new service.

Several other companies already offer live, paid TV over the internet, including Sony and Dish. DirecTV plans a service for later this year as well.

Yahoo also has broader ambitions for View. It wants to add video from other Yahoo properties and from other networks and studios. However, its previous attempt at an online video hub, Yahoo Screen, shut down in January, despite having new episodes of the cult comedy “Community” after its cancellation by NBC.

Verizon, which is buying Yahoo to help the phone company grow a digital advertising business , makes TV episodes and short videos available on its go90 mobile app. Phil Lynch, the head of media and content partnerships at Yahoo, says that as the deal gets closer to closing early next year, it “makes sense that we have integration discussions.”

Summer streaming all about movies, miniseries and catching up with the year’s best shows

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Will Arnett plays the title character in the third season of “BoJack Horseman.”

NETFLIX

When your Orange is the New Black binge is over (so, probably three days ago) there’s a long wait for new stuff on Netflix (unless you’re a fan of Marco Polo…). But the wait should be worth it. Animated cult favorite Bojack Horseman is set to return July 22, with Will Arnett’s washed-up anthropomorphic horse character considering his legacy amid a turbulent Oscar campaign. In August, Baz Luhrman’s latest project, the ’70s-era musical drama The Get Down, about the rise of hip hop in the Bronx, will debut its first six episodes on August 12.

Tired of internet streaming being all about TV? Good – you’re on the same page as Netflix, which is positioning itself to bulk up its film library this summer with some new deals. It’s already acquired the original Jurassic Park trilogy and Oscar-winner Spotlight. The summer will see the addition of the Back to the Future trilogy (July 1) and The Big Short (July 6), among many others. And in September, Netflix’s exclusive partnership with Disney will begin, bringing all the latest films produced by the company — now including Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies — to the service.

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“Difficult People” stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner.

HULU

Hulu’s bread-and-butter is still next-day streaming of what’s on TV during the regular season, so the best recommendation for the summer months is just to catch up on all the things you’ve missed while watching your other streaming services. Our picks would be Broad City, the last (and admittedly least) season of The Good Wife, the no-longer-final season of Nashville and ABC’s full slate of family comedies that are way better than Modern Family (i.e., Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, Black-ish), but follow your instincts.

That said, Hulu’s original content arm is making a big play. It’s already dropped a new season of Casual, the comedy it casually (see what I did there?) launched last October about a newly divorced mother living with her brother and teenage daughter. In July, it’ll add a new season of Difficult People, the hilarious, offbeat comedy starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as struggling and jaded comedians (July 12), and East Los High, the teen drama set in east LA now in its fourth season.

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Last year’s breakout hit “Mr. Robot” has arrived on Amazon Prime.

AMAZON PRIME

Summertime is Amazon pilots time, but grownups only have two options to vote on this season (the rest are for kids’ shows). Which of the two you’re more drawn to may depend more on which facet of Peak TV you’re more irritated by. If you’re done with aggressively gorgeous period dramas, check out The Interestings, which follows a group of ambitious friends who meet at an arts camp in the ‘70s, are chasing their dreams in the ‘80s and have for better or worse settled into adulthood in the ‘90s, featuring Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as the primary friend alongside Jessica Paré (Mad Men) and David Krumholtz (Numb3rs). On the other hand, if you want something that isn’t trying to be drama and comedy simultaneously, try The Last Tycoon, a Matt Bomer-driven depiction of 1930s Hollywood, inspired by an unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald work.

Amazon Prime has also snagged the first season of one of summer’s hottest shows: Mr. Robot, only a few weeks away from its July 13 season two premiere on USA Network. The drama follows Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a hacker with social anxiety disorder and depression who is recruited to join anarchist “Mr. Robot” and his team of hacktivists.

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Bill Simmons hosts the weekly show “Any Given Wednesday” as part of his new deal with HBO.

HBO GO

True Detective may be dead in the water, but HBO isn’t willing to give up on gritty, enigmatic crime miniseries so soon. July 10 marks the premiere of their new venture: The Night Of, an eight-part series that follows the investigation of a murder in New York City. Originally, the show was a passion project of the late James Gandolfini, who loosely adapted it from British show Criminal Justice and planned to star as the central attorney. John Turturro will now play the role, chasing the answer to whether or not a young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) murdered a female stranger on the Upper West Side.

This summer’s also marking the premiere of HBO’s new series Any Given Wednesday, a talk show helmed by ousted Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons. Like that ESPN-hosted longform journalism site, the new show (now with a few episodes already in the bank online) will feature interviews and discussions about pop culture and technology as well as Simmons’ core focus on sports.

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ lead spring streaming recommendations

HBO GO

If you’re a subscriber to HBO GO or HBO NOW, you know what’s coming. Winter — I mean Game of Thrones season 6. The April 24 premiere finds Cersei humbled, Sansa on the run, Arya blinded, Dany captured and Jon Snow dead — or, as Billy Crystal might say, “mostly dead.” Which is a step up from every other GoT character you’ve loved and lost.

HBO is hoping, though, that your mind’s not too blown after the premiere to catch the two comedies also premiering April 24. The socially inept techies of Silicon Valley will be launching their third season, in which lead character Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) fights to regain control of his startup after being forced out as its CEO. Similarly struggling is Veep’s President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who will open the fifth season facing a tie electoral vote that puts her re-election prospects in the hands of byzantine government bureaucracy — exactly what the show’s so good at skewering.

SHOWTIME

Showtime feels like the little brother of the big premium cable networks, always playing second fiddle to HBO. But its partnership with Hulu is a step ahead of HBO’s similar team-up with Amazon Prime. HBO is only releasing its older shows on the streaming library, but Showtime is being featured as a premium add-on for Hulu, so you can watch any show or movie for less than the cost of a stand-alone subscription — $9 a month versus $11.

Showtime has a pretty extensive TV and film library that we won’t get into — other than to say their biggest hits Homeland, Dexter, Shameless and Weeds are all available. In the next few months, two of their more underrated shows will see season premieres.

First is House of Lies (that show you keep mixing up with House of Cards), on April 10. Instead of a scowling Kevin Spacey and a devious Robin Wright, you get a smarmy Don Cheadle and an ambitious Kristin Bell, working as management consultants trying to secure deals at any cost. Then there’s Penny Dreadful, premiering May 1. The Victorian-era horror drama, in the vein of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, features characters from literature’s most terrifying works — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Portrait of Dorian Grey — facing demons and monsters both physical and mental.

NETFLIX

TV has so many antiheroes that an anti-antihero can be an alarmingly refreshing concept. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, arguably the buzziest show launched by Netflix last year, will return to the streaming service April 15 with the same bright, sunshiney energy that made its tale of a former “Mole Woman” escaping her bunker and thriving in New York City so compelling. This season is actually the first that creator Tina Fey has developed for Netflix (the show was originally meant for NBC), but she’s promised that the show and lead actor Ellie Kemper won’t be breaking out the profanity or nudity just because they can.

One strong independent funny woman not enough? All you have to do is hold on until May 20, when comedian Maria Bamford will explode onto your screens in Lady Dynamite. If this semi-fictionalized tale of “a woman who loses — then finds — her s**t” is as weird, unorthodox, in-your-face and wonderful as Bamford’s work in stand-up and on shows like Arrested Development, we’re in for a hell of a ride.

HULU

Hulu has some big TV coups this month, thanks to a landmark deal with Warner Bros. Television. The biggest get? Mid ‘00s teen drama classic The O.C., available on streaming for the first time since it went off the air in 2007 after only four seasons. Also arriving is fellow CW hit Smallville — perhaps the perfect salve to victims of Batman v Superman — as well as more recent shows like Blindspot and Lucifer.

There’s some nice original programming too, to sweeten the deal. Aaron Paul-vehicle The Path, about members of a religious cult in New Hampshire, has already premiered (to mixed reviews, admittedly, but those critics who liked it are fittingly fanatical). April also marks the return of The Mindy Project after a long winter hiatus. Mindy Kaling’s sitcom got increasingly realistic after making the jump from Fox to Hulu, and the midseason premiere will double down on that shift, with OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri and her son Leo on their own after she leaves her fiancé Danny Castellano.

AMAZON PRIME

If you haven’t joined Clone Club, sweet Jesus please join Clone Club. This year’s secular Easter miracle was the release of Orphan Black’s third season (FINALLY) on March 27. The new season of this edgy, grounded sci-fi series about women who discover they’re clones caught up in a global conspiracy shows up on BBC America April 14, so if cord-cutters can catch up before then, they’ll have a few days to enjoy knowing as much as their snooty cable-owning friends.

Prefer your bundles of joy not carbon copies created in a lab and studied as part of an ongoing experiment? Then you might like the second season of Catastrophe, the Rob Delaney/Sharon Hogan Anglophile romcom about a bi-continental couple whose one-night stand leads to an impromptu relationship. The comedy of Season 1 came from Rob and Sharon trying to date while pregnant; Season 2 jumps ahead in time to find Sharon pregnant again and the two as dysfunctional as ever.