Who needs Netflix? I’ve got a PBS Passport

Streaming content is getting awfully pricey. It used to be that if you had HBO or Showtime you felt set. But now there are so many streaming options you feel like you need to belong to many of them to get the content you need.

I mean, how can you miss Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Time to pony up $9.99 per month for Paramount+. And that’s just the beginning. Can I survive without Netflix? How can I survive without Discovery Plus? (I can, but my wife can’t.) Or BritBox? No one streaming service has it all though and most of us aren’t rich enough to subscribe to all of them.

I’ve been trying to keep my streaming bills relatively low. I still have Netflix but at $15.49/month now it’s getting too pricey. I may give it the heave ho after I finish Stranger Things: Season 4 but maybe I’ll hang around for the next season of The Crown. I just don’t need that much entertainment. Considering how much I watch on Netflix (not a whole lot) and how the quality of a lot of their shows seems at least strained if not wholly lacking, it doesn’t seem worth paying for. What I really don’t want though are commercials. And now Netflix is talking about adding commercials for a lower monthly price to keep from bleeding customers.

I often wish I could just stream commercial free for free. That’s doesn’t appear to be an option unless I want to do something illegal, like download pirated videos.

But there are some free or low cost options out there. For me, lately my favorite service is PBS Passport, which I get through donating to New England Public Media.

You don’t need to pay to stream PBS content. Just download the app or watch it on their website. But you only get the recent stuff for free. If you want their full streaming library, they (or rather, your local PBS/NPR station) wants a donation. As a practical matter though, the PBS Passport is something of a steal. With it you get full access to their whole platform for cheap, for as little as a $60/year donation, at least with my local provider, New England Public Media. With it, you can get it all. In addition, you can support arguably great TV, like Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theater).

Don’t laugh because you think PBS is lame! If you haven’t checked out PBS, you’re missing some great stuff. Downton Abbey was originally on Masterpiece and can be found on their service. You can see lots of mostly British dramas on Masterpiece or related shows, most of which are exceptionally well done.

I remember back in the 1970s I could watch I Claudius on PBS, which is where I first encountered this actor named Patrick Stewart, not to mention Derek Jacobi. That’s about the same time Upstairs, Downstairs was broadcast, also on PBS. PBS broadcasted some arguably revolutionary stuff. Not only could you get Sesame Street, but Monty Python’s Flying Circus too. My mom strongly disapproved of the show but we were too old for her to forbid us from watching it. Besides, it must be good for us as it was public TV!

I can’t find these really old shows like Upstairs, Downstairs on their service. Arguably there’s a lot of dreck on PBS too, but some of us like this “dreck”. It’s actually pretty addicting and it has shows you can watch for free that are as good as any on Discovery Plus. I love documentaries. Frontline is always topical and on top of the latest stories with a deep and thoughtful dive into a topic. Nova is the premier science show on TV. You can learn to find your roots on Find Your Roots. The PBS News Hour gives you real, unbiased and in-depth news, which is hard to find elsewhere. For those of us who appreciate the arts, Great Performances is typically great, but if not into classical music or theater you can watch Austin City Limits or a bunch of related shows too.

But PBS’s Masterpiece collection is where I usually end up. Most lately I’ve been watching Poldark. There’s five seasons (so far) of content there to enjoy. Pretty much anything in a Masterpiece series is worth watching, and Poldark sure is.

Before Poldark though I was watching Sanditon, based on Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel. Masterpiece has mostly British produced shows, so it’s a bit like watching BritBox. Just before watching Sanditon, I had been watching Bridgerton on Netflix. It didn’t take more than two episodes of Sanditon before I realized it was just as good as Bridgerton, classily done but with not quite as high a budget. Unlike Bridgerton, you can see horse poop in the streets in Sanditon.

Moreover, Sanditon covers the same time period: the 1810s or so, and it’s principally a romance too. But Sanditon has more of a plot and is more authentic to the time. It also gets into some adult topics you wouldn’t expect from Jane Austen like incest and slavery. Bridgerton gives us a London that never actually existed where somehow Queen Charlotte is a lady of color and a prominent duke is Black. In Sanditon, we also get a prominent Black character, but she’s the only one in town (at least in the first season) and an heiress to boot. Sanditon is much more authentic to the time and the characters are arguably at least as interesting as those in Bridgerton. Yet hardly anyone is watching Sanditon and everyone is watching Bridgerton. It makes no sense.

There are a couple of streaming services that you can often get for free courtesy of your public library. If you live in Massachusetts (I do) you can get a virtual Boston Public Library card and use it to stream Hoopla for free, which has lots of shows and movies you can watch. No, it’s not Netflix and its selection is more literate and artsy, but, hey, it’s free! I can also access similar content through my local public library, which offers Kanopy. It’s funded by my tax dollars. Typically, like a book, you have to virtually check out the video and can’t watch another one until you check it back in. But you can’t beat the price and convenience.

For me though a PBS Passport more than suffices. So maybe it’s time to watch the latest episode of Call the Midwife (also on PBS, and an amazingly well acted show) and spend $60 a year for a PBS Passport instead of $15.49 a month for Netflix. All this and you get to keep public broadcasting on the air too. You’ll probably quickly find you don’t miss all those other streaming services, and it’s quite a bargain.