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With paid TV-streaming services piling up faster and faster, it’s time to weigh in on Paramount+, which officially launched this past March under that flashy new title (apparently taking a cue from Apple TV+ and Disney+).
The service has been around since 2015 under the name CBS All Access and boasted the first new Star Trek series since Enterprise ended its run in 2005. Subscribers to that service were automatically transferred to this one.
How much does Paramount+ cost?
The service costs $5.99 a month ($59.99 if paid annually) for its ad-supported plan, or $9.99 a month ($99.99 annually) for its ad-free plan. This will change in June. A new $5-per-month ad-supported price plan will be introduced, but it will not include access to CBS live TV. Viewers who are already grandfathered in can keep the $6 plan or change to the $5 plan. New users will not be able to choose it, and if a user switches from the $6 plan to the $5 plan, there’s no switching back.
I started with the ad-based plan but ran into big trouble when it came to rewinding a film to re-watch a scene. Once re-wound, and upon pressing play, the service would load up an ad, and immediately and fatally crash, necessitating unplugging the TV for a hard reboot. Once this happened, the film would never play again; it crashed four more times.
Paramount+’s homescreen loads up, much like Disney+’s, with its six “brands,” each with its own button. These are: CBS, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Smithsonian Channel. The top menu offers further sorting options, including: Shows, Movies, Live TV, Brands (same as the buttons), News, and Search. Promoted shows are in a slideshow, and scrolling down brings us to Originals, Keep Watching titles, Recommended, and so on.
At first glance, Paramount+ comes packed with a ton of content, but it’s arguable as to how much of it is quality content. Around a third consists of documentaries, and not Oscar-winners like Free Solo, which is available on Disney+. These are mostly made-for-TV documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel, including titles like Cher and the Loneliest Elephant, as well as no less than three about 9/11 and three about Princess Diana.
On the plus side, there are some excellent docs in the mix, including the excellent recent 17 Blocks and Something Beautiful Left Behind, as well as this year’s powerful Oscar-nominated short doc Hunger Ward. The awesome 1996 bug movie Microcosmos is also here.
A large chunk of content is taken up by comedy specials, comedy roasts, and reality TV, which, depending on your taste, will either seem like an embarrassment of riches or so much clutter.
In episodic, scripted TV, the service offers a wide variety, ranging from classic shows to shows that we might prefer to forget ever existed. Every Star Trek series is here, including the 1970s animated series that featured the voices of most of the original cast, as well as Discovery, which singlehandedly kept CBS All Access afloat when it dropped in 2017, and Picard and the animated Lower Decks, both of which launched in 2020. You’ll also find the complete original The Twilight Zone, the original Twin Peaks, and viewers can see Kelsey Grammer portraying Frasier Crane in 20 years worth of Cheers and Frasier episodes. Anyone jonesing to see reruns of The Love Boat? That’s here, too.
So far, all of Paramount+’s original content was developed under its CBS All Access identity. Aside from the three new Star Treks, titles like Clarice (a spinoff of The Silence of the Lambs), The Stand (adapted from Stephen King’s mammoth novel), The Good Fight (a spinoff of The Good Wife), Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone, and the dark comedy Why Women Kill, as well as more reality TV.
Movies available on Paramount+
In movies, the service offers a strong selection, notably the Godfather films (including Francis Ford Coppola’s recent, new-and-improved The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, but not the original theatrical cut of The Godfather Part III), the Indiana Jones films, the first three Mission: Impossible films, Chinatown, The Elephant Man, the original The Nutty Professor, Roman Holiday, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, and a handful of Steven Spielberg films (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and The Adventures of Tintin).
But there are many glaring absences, perhaps due to streaming rights. In addition to the more recent three Mission: Impossible movies, there’s also no Rosemary’s Baby, A Quiet Place, Ghost, Beverly Hills Cop, The Untouchables, Forrest Gump, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 48 Hrs., The Hunt for Red October, Three Days of the Condor, Top Gun, etc. Only three of the 13 Star Trek films are currently available: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales), Star Trek: First Contact (one of the best), and Star Trek: Nemesis (the final Next Generation movie, and a dud). And if you’re a cinema history buff, get ready for disappointment; there are only a dozen films from before 1960.
In terms of kids’ content, the service does pretty well, given that it has a large Nickelodeon library, and shows like SpongeBob SquarePants, Peppa Pig, and Paw Patrol. It also has the option to set up a kid-friendly account that filters out content for either older or younger kids. Unfortunately, all this does is load up the Nickelodeon and Smithsonian content, and not much else. You can tap a more intricate parental control setup for greater sorting power.
The search engine mostly works well, but it’s only for titles and not for cast or crew. The service offers several Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies, but searching for those names yields no results (except for a Bruce Lee documentary). The problem is that Chan and Lee movies often have several different titles, and it’s not always easy to know what to search for. Likewise, to find news or sports (the service will be offering lots of soccer), a user will need to know precisely which terms to search for. Additionally, words must be spelled out completely. “Star Trek Nem” will not bring up Star Trek: Nemesis.
Another downside is that some of the service’s signature titles such as Clarice, Coyote, The Stand, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years ended up with less-than-stellar reviews and/or audience responses, which further shrinks the amount of must-see TV on the service.
Paramount+ has big plans for a few original shows, as well as tons of spinoffs, sequels, and reboots—including a show based on Flashdance and a new Frasier—and big-screen movies like the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick arriving on the service just 45 days after its theatrical premiere. As it stands, Paramount+ is a wobbly dark horse in the increasingly crowded streaming TV market.