Apple TV+’s Severance.
Photo: Wilson Webb/Apple TV+
Vulture’s TV critics make their opinions of the programing on various streaming platforms known on a regular basis through their reviews. But original content, crucial as it is to a streamer’s personality, is not the only factor which goes into how consumers (and, yes, critics) interact with services. Everything from depth of library and ease of use to how it is all presented in the actual app play a role, too. Our streaming ranking didn’t include any official input from our own critics, but I was still interested to see which services they love and loathe right now. Here are their takes on the best and worst streamers out there as well as some thoughts on which are getting better and building momentum. And no, they did not consult one another when making their picks. (For more from our package on the streaming industry, check out my analysis on how HBO Max displaced Netflix and our roundup of anonymous insiders getting brutally honest about streaming’s power players.)
Best streamer: HBO Max. The HBO and broader Warner Bros. catalogue means there’s a massive amount of existing television and films to watch and rewatch. And while the original programming coming out of HBO and HBO Max isn’t all hits, the new shows tend to be of reliably high quality, in keeping with HBO tradition.
Runner-up: Hulu. If you’re trying to keep up with network shows but don’t have cable, this is the best service by far. And it has a strong track record with originals thanks in part to its partnerships with FX and other distributors. This year alone, Hulu’s given us The Drop-Out, The Bear, Under the Banner of Heaven, Conversations With Friends, and a second season of Only Murders in the Building, and we’re only halfway through 2022. Impressive.
Most improved: Apple TV+. While its back catalogue is not nearly as robust as these other three, its originals have slowly but consistently become must-watches with predictably high production values and creative vision. It’s not HBO yet. But it could be.
Worst streamer: Paramount+. This is not entirely about content — Evil, one of my current favorite shows, is a Paramount+ joint — but more about interface and ease of use. I often find myself digging through the bowels of Paramount+ to find shows I have viewed before, and that should be more easily accessible. It’s also hard to wrap one’s mind around what exactly Paramount+ offers — the most popular show to ever air on the Paramount Network, Yellowstone, isn’t streamable on Paramount+? Like, what?
Best streamer: HBO Max. Excellent library of both original HBO TV series and Warner Bros. movies, and I like how bold the homepage design is visually. Big pictures in that homepage design, good categories, and the specialty hubs (like TCM) can’t be beat.
Most momentum: Apple TV+. Severance, For All Mankind, and Pachinko are some of the best, buzziest series on TV right now, and they’re all on Apple TV+. Severance alone seems to have done more to put Apple TV+ on the map than anything else, including Best Picture Oscar winner Coda, and that’s a big deal.
Most underrated: Peacock. Much as Apple TV+ seems to be taking big swings with sci-fi and epic series, Peacock has an array of excellent comedies that more people should be watching. Bust Down, Girls5eva, Killing It, We Are Lady Parts, Rutherford Falls — they deserve more attention than the very little they’re currently getting.
Worst streamer: Prime Video. I simply have no interest in ever scrolling through Prime’s offerings on the app. The homepage design is so busy, the search function is awful, and I am not particularly compelled by much of its original programming.
Best streamer: HBO Max. It’s in a magical zone where it still has the inherited oomph of HBO curation, but it’s begun to broaden out into more wide-appeal offerings without losing the impression that most of what it does is, at the very least, interesting. It also has one of the better interfaces and deep-cut libraries. This pains me to admit because I do not like Hacks.
Runner-up: Apple TV+. I think it’s possible that Apple TV+ is mainly driven by what Tim Cook personally likes watching. I can’t prove that, but it just seems as if maybe that’s what’s happening here. Even if that’s the case, though, clearly enough people love Ted Lasso that something’s working for them. One thing I do want to note — which is maybe less visible for people who don’t have kids — is Apple has quietly been building the strongest roster of original children’s programming in streaming. There is a huge gap in shows meant for later-elementary-aged children, and Puppy Place, Ghostwriter, Wolfboy and the Everything Factory, Harriet the Spy, and Pinecone and Pony are all remarkably good.
Honorable mention: Peacock. Based on how little attention it seems able to garner, I assume Peacock is actually on the verge of collapse. It also cannot seem to get its act together for a big, sticky, exciting drama show, which it definitely needs in order to boost its sense of indispensability. (It could be Yellowstone, but apparently that is not allowed.) But some of my favorite comedies are Peacock comedies, and it’d be so nice if that continued to still be true for another couple of years.
Worst streamer: Prime Video. Prime is the worst platform. I’m sorry! Its UI sucks. Did you know that on its Apple TV app, when you type in a show title, you have to scroll down and actually click the title to make the dang thing search for you? Why can’t you search automatically like every other search function on God’s green earth! The advantage of Prime is it’s easy to use it to subscribe to other platforms. Sadly, that’s about it!