Not that many, and not that good
With studios are on indefinite hiatus, we’ve moved from having too much TV to keep up with to potentially running out of new material. But even if you watched the existing TV shows 24/7, you’d never run out. Nevertheless, here comes HBO Max to feed our bottomless content hunger. There’s a lot there that you already know and love. But what about the new original content that dropped Wednesday?
Before you dig into this new streaming content, your first hurdle is figuring out if you have access to HBO Max. An incredibly low 90,000 people downloaded it on the first day. Even the much-maligned Quibi garnered 300,000 new subscribers. In contrast, Disney+ had four million new downloads on day one. Still, if you pay for HBO or share a login with someone who does, you probably do have Max. Great. Now you get to be annoyed when you find out you can’t watch HBO Max on a Roku smart TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick. This limitation will change at some point. Roku has the app ready to go; they’re just battling with AT&T over money. Bless the corporations and their endless greed.
When I logged on and started watching HBO Max on my Apple TV, I pushed myself to watch all the new shows first. As tempting as it was to go for a comfort rewatch of Friends and The Sopranos, I stuck with that new new, even if it was something I would never watch normally. After a few hours, I found I’d watched all five HBO Max shows to get a feel for what they are and who they’re for—and to determine if I’ll keep watching.
Most of the new content’s target audience is young and diverse. I’m a 35-year-old white man with no children, so shows aren’t particularly catered to me, which is a good thing. There’s more than enough for me out there already.
Here are the new shows, from what I found most appealing to least appealing:
What is it? A rom-com series featuring Anna Kendrick as Darby. A British narrator leads us through all of Darby’s formative romantic relationships. In the pilot, Darby has a promising romance with a guy who’s unfortunately moving for a job. In the next episode, she finds she’s not emotionally mature to date her ex-boss. She has a group of supportive female friends who stick around from episode to episode, but each episode focuses on a different love interest over a lengthy period of time.
Who’s it for? Anyone who liked Modern Love on Prime Video or who’ll fire up any rom-com that’s streaming, regardless of its reputation.
Will I keep watching? Yes. I’ll even rewatch the first two episodes so I can share the story with my girlfriend. It’s a solid enough dramedy for us to watch it after we get through this Sex and the City rewatch.
The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo
What is it? Elmo hosts a before-his-bedtime “late-night” show with Cookie Monster as the Ed McMahon/Andy Richter to his Johnny Carson/Conan O’Brien. It’s an overly cute 15-minute Sesame Street meets The Tonight Show setup and, much like the latter, has the A-list guests to make up for its lame host.
Who’s it for? Kids ages 3 to 10 and their parents.
Will I keep watching? Probably. I am more into all things Muppet than most child-free men, but I’ve actively disliked Elmo ever since I hit a double-digit age. Giving Elmo and Cookie Monster the spotlight is not my favorite choice, but HBO Max didn’t intend this show for me. However, I have a big enough soft spot for all things Muppet to keep watching. I watched all three episodes and will watch more, depending on the guests. I found first guest Jimmy Fallon as blandly humorless as Elmo, and the Jonas Brothers washed over me with no effect. But Lil Nas X and John Mulaney were charming. Each episode is only 15 minutes long, so I’ll stick around for the Bert and Ernie appearances and the occasional sweet joke mixed in with the corny ones.
What is it? A reality competition show that’s somewhere between RuPaul’s Drag Race and So You Think You Can Dance. It’s inherently positive and supportive for a show in which teams get voted off. A panel of judges evaluate “houses” performing ballroom “walks,” a blend of a dance and a runway strut. They grade houses on their costumes, their vogueing, and their choreography. This subculture is a little outside of my usual TV watching, but I found it uplifting and inspiring.
The only judge I recognized was Jameela Jamil from The Good Place, who is a wonderful LGBTQ ally, but maybe not the best judge. She gives critiques and then the other judges who are more into the scene totally overrule her. I honestly couldn’t tell which houses performed the best, but could tell which ones for whom the judges were struggling to find positive critiques. Mostly, I enjoyed the performers’ stories of finding acceptance in this world after many of them struggled early in life.
Who’s it for? If you love RuPaul’s Drag Race, you will like this a little bit less. The hosts are less interesting than Ru.
Will I keep watching? No. I skipped to the end of episode two to see how the show handled a team getting voted off. It was still sweet and encouraging.
What is it? Middle school-aged children compete in crafting competitions. Think of a kids’ episode of Chopped” mixed with “Lego Masters,” but with crochet and glue guns.
Who’s it for? I imagine children and preteens or craft fans of all ages. It’s cutesy, and the kids are passionate. I enjoyed their moxie and how good they are at their crafts. There’s a girl in the first episode who’s super into both horses and crafting, and if that’s your kind of vibe, this show is for you. I never liked crafting, even a quarter-century ago when I was the same age as these competitors, so this show isn’t for me.
Will I keep watching? No. But I’m glad kids are being creative, and that there’s a show for them.
Looney Tunes Cartoons
What is it? Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. Porky Pig. You know these guys. New 12-minute episodes of slapstick cartoon humor.
Who’s it for? I’m not sure. I mean, these cartoons are seemingly for children. But more likely these appeal to their parents and grandparents, who liked these cartoons when they were some of the only content available for kids. Different people than who I grew up with now voice the characters, but they sound nearly identical and appear in the classic WB animation style. If you ever liked this type of cartoon, you’ll like these nearly as much.
Will I keep watching? No. I feel like time has passed these by. These new episodes feel ancient even though they’re quick, harmless fun. This series both had the shortest episodes and felt the longest to sit through.
So there we have it. The original content doesn’t shine enough on its own to warrant a subscription, but odds are you’re getting HBO Max access with your current HBO setup. And some of the new shows are worth your time, depending on your age and interests. I’ll keep watching Love Life every Thursday and will probably keep up with Elmo if I like the guests.
The good news is the streaming compatibility should be fixed soon, so we’ll all get another big dose of content–new and old—to keep us entertained as we’re stuck at home. All HBO Max needs now is millions of customers and they’re set.
That’s all, folks!