You hear the phrase “the golden age of television” quite a bit these days and with all the amazing shows, miniseries and documentaries that are available today, it’s pretty apparent that we are witnessing a virtual explosion of quality and content.
Back in the day, original television content began and ended with the big three networks, PBS and the addition of Fox in the ’80s. But now, not only are there a myriad of cable shows, but video streaming services are also a big part of what is propelling us toward “peak television”. Of course not many people are going to sign up for every service out there; first off it can get expensive, but also, who has enough hours in the day to watch all this stuff? So which service has the best original shows that you just can’t live without? Let’s countdown the rankings of the available options with some highlights from each of their exclusive offerings.
When Hulu started around ten years ago, it was mainly a way to watch broadcast TV shows on demand. But ever since they moved from a free service to a subscription only model, they have been adding more of their own content. Having said that, their lineup is still pretty thin. They did recently launch the very well received The Handmaiden’s Tale series which adapts Margaret Atwood’s dystopian sci-fi novel, and 11.22.63 was another high profile production starring James Franco and based off of a Stephen King book. For the time being though, these are merely bonuses and the main draw of Hulu remains that it provides a way for cord cutters to ditch cable service and still be able to watch their favorite shows. You can even watch programming at the same time as some broadcasts with the Hulu with Live TV package. The recently launched HBO, Showtime and Cinemax add-on options make it more attractive than ever as a cable alternative.
Who would have guessed a website primarily dedicated to selling books would evolve into the cultural juggernaut that is Amazon? Well alright, maybe visionary Jeff Bezos could have. Their Amazon Prime service is indeed quite the interesting business model, as in addition to giving members free two day shipping on purchases and other perks, you get access to their library of movies and TV shows, many of which are self produced. Similarly to Hulu, Amazon really only has a couple big draw titles in the TV show department. Namely their flagship series, The Man in the High Castle which is a surreal vision of an alternate reality in which the Allies lost World War II. The other must see show is Sneaky Pete, which was created by and features one of the marquee names in TV at the moment; none other than Walter White himself, aka Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad. While both shows are excellent, and getting to see Cranston do his thing as a pure villain is a particular treat, Amazon has less than 50 shows currently. However, they also launched Amazon Studios in 2015 which is producing theatrical features as well, and notably released last year’s acclaimed Manchester By the Sea and the excellent Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip. As the movies start to stack up, it will be harder and harder to dismiss Amazon’s slate of features. As it stands, the free shipping remains the big driver of Amazon Prime memberships.
Not only is Netflix the pioneer of streaming video, but it is an original content behemoth. The company intends to release over 1,000 hours of original content in 2017 alone! Besides the jaw dropping volume of original content that Netflix produces, much of it is universally recognized as outstanding. From their first TV series, the political thriller House of Cards to last summer’s ’80s themed supernatural smash Stranger Things, many of the shows Netflix creates are regarded as among the best current shows available in any format. Other water cooler worthy titles include: Orange is the New Black, the Tina Fey produced Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones and many more. Netflix has a unique production strategy, as they not only partner with established production companies but also produce their own shows in-house and even gain exclusive US rights to many BBC titles. They even have picked up cancelled broadcast shows for new seasons, like Arrested Development and Full House, on a number of occasions. Of course Netflix is also in the original feature length space too, but they have yet to produce any real home runs with their most talked about movies thus far being Adam Sandler exclusives, not exactly timeless cinema, and the recent Brad Pitt vehicle War Machine. Look, you don’t need me to tell you that Netflix is quickly becoming an essential for most folks not far off from food, water and shelter. But even if you were to only use Netflix’s streaming service for their original content and ignored the myriad of third party movies and shows they offer, it would still easily be worth the $10 per month.
1. HBO Now
I know what you’re thinking, is HBO really a video streaming service? Aren’t they a cable network? Well, since launching the stand alone HBO Now in 2015, they really are both. Since HBO Now requires no other subscription, we need to consider them a direct competitor to the rest of the options on this list. You also might be wondering how I could possibly place it above Netflix’s vast array of programming in these rankings. A couple of reasons, first HBO has again and again outdone themselves with some of the best shows of all time. If you were to make a list of the absolute best shows in the entire history of television, it wouldn’t be outrageous to include The Sopranos, The Wire and Game of Thrones all in the top ten. All three are massive cultural touchstones that redefined what a TV show could achieve. The writing and acting on The Sopranos was so superlative that it set an entirely new standard. The Wire brought such a complexity and realism to its storytelling that shows like Law and Order seemed like mere soap operas in its wake. And Game of Thrones, in no small part due to the books by George R.R. Martin, built a world so intricate and nuanced that it had fans making infographics just to keep all the characters and plot lines straight. Other shows like Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show could make serious bids for inclusion in the top twenty. Similarly, some of their miniseries like Band of Brothers, Angels in America and John Adams are in the all timers discussion. Secondly, HBO has been in the game for so long, going back to early ’80s shows like Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock, that their back catalog is formidable. Even mostly forgotten shows like Carnivale and Treme would make for more than adequate lazy Sunday fodder. And I haven’t even brought up the classic comedy shows like Flight of the Conchords or Mr. Show. And returning to current shows, there’s the indispensable Last Week Tonight with John Oliver which has taken over the crown John Stewart abdicated in leaving The Daily Show. Simply put, if we are indeed in the golden age of TV, HBO is the King Midas of programming and has been churning out treasures for over 30 years now.
That wraps up the Aperion guide to the best sources of original content in the video streaming world. We hope you enjoyed it and that we can point you in the right direction the next time you are looking to get your binge watch on. If you have any thoughts or in the unlikely event you disagree, feel free to post them in the comments below and happy streaming!