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Taylor Swift, '3 Body Problem,' 'Shogun' highlight a blockbuster March for streaming

By Mike Murphy

From 'Road House' to March Madness, here's what's worth streaming this month

Big names, big budgets and big events are on tap for March's streaming calendar.

However you look at it - from Kate Winslet's steely glare to Jake Gyllenhaal's ripped abs; from Netflix's $160 million series "3 Body Problem" to Apple's $200 million movie "Napoleon"; or from "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" to March Madness - it's a blockbuster month.

But streaming price have soared of late, making things a bit more challenging for consumers who don't want to miss out on the best stuff. That's where a strategy of churning - that is, adding and dropping services month to month - comes in. It takes some planning, but pays off in monthly savings. Keep in mind that a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of the month.

Also read: Amid 'streamflation,' consumers are spending more on TV streaming than ever

Each month, this column offers tips on how to maximize your streaming and your budget - rating the major services as "play," "pause" or "stop," similar to investment analysts' traditional ratings of buy, hold or sell - and picks the best shows to help you make your monthly decisions.

Here's a look at what's coming to the various streaming services in March 2024, and what's really worth the monthly subscription fee:

Netflix ($6.99 a month for basic with ads, $15.49 standard with no ads, $22.99 premium with no ads)

A hugely expensive, sprawling and fantastical story spanning continents and generations, based on a beloved book series and helmed by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss - what could go wrong?

Fans of "3 Body Problem" (March 21), based on Liu Cixin's acclaimed sci-fi trilogy, surely will hope for a better ending, at least, than Benioff & Weiss's last big hit - "Game of Thrones." The good news: These books are already written, so there's a clear end to the story (which turned out to be the downfall of "Game of Thrones"). The bad news: The books span galaxies and centuries - there's A LOT to cover. Summarizing the expansive plot is pointless, but suffice to say Earth makes contact with aliens and things don't go well. While offering thought-provoking and chilling examinations of existential crisis, the books are light on character development (there's much room for Benioff & Weiss to work their magic there), and the first one - which this season is based upon - is the densest and arguably the weakest of the three. It's wildly ambitious storytelling on an epic scale - each of its eight episodes reportedly cost about $20 million, making it one of Netflix's most expensive series ever. I have no idea how they're going to pull it off. But the same was said about "Game of Thrones."

Netflix (NFLX) also has Season 7 of the delightful food/travel show "Somebody Feed Phil" (March 1), with stops in Kyoto, Iceland, Dubai and more; more real-estate drama with Season 2 of "Buying Beverly Hills" (March 22); and director Guy Ritchie's "The Gentlemen" (March 7), a series sequel to his movie of the same name tells the story of a man (Theo James) who inherits an estate in the English countryside, only to discover it's part of a huge cannabis empire as he gets sucked into the world of gangsters.

On the movie side, there's "Spaceman" (March 1), a sci-fi drama starring Adam Sandler as an astronaut struggling with his marriage back on Earth who makes a new best friend in a space spider named Hanus (voice of Paul Dano); Lindsay Lohan has the Ireland-set rom-com "Irish Wish" (March 15); Regina King stars as trailblazing Rep. Shirley Chisholm in the biopic "Shirley" (March 21); and there's a French-language remake of "The Wages of Fear" (March 29), the classic 1953 suspense film about a group of men transporting an explosive cargo across dangerous terrain.

Sports-wise, there's a new season of the golf docuseries "Full Swing" (March 6), which includes last year's Ryder Cup and the shocking merger of the PGA and LIV Golf, and the live exhibition "The Tennis Slam" (March 3), pitting the legendary Rafael Nadal against Carlos Alcaraz, currently ranked No. 2 in the world.

Netflix is also adding the first five seasons of ABC's "Roseanne" sequel "The Conners" (March 27), and all six seasons of the History Channel's bloody historical drama "Vikings" (March 30)

And heads up: The "John Wick" movies are leaving at the end of the month, along with all six seasons of "Community" and a bunch of DC movies, including "Wonder Woman," "The Suicide Squad" and "Justice League."

Catch up: After languishing on Peacock for two seasons, the musical comedy "Girls5Eva" is moving to Netflix on March 14, along with a new, six-episode third season. A nonstop joke machine in the vein of "30 Rock" (Tina Fey produced it), the show's about a one-hit-wonder girl group from the '90s who reunite for one last chance at stardom, starring Sara Bareilles, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Busy Phillips and Paula Pell. It's very funny, an easy binge and deserves a wider audience.

Red card: Sadly, last month's sight-unseen endorsement of Season 3 of the soccer docuseries "Sunderland 'Til I Die" is hereby revoked. The three-episode season is shallow, disjointed and lacks a narrative, a disappointing and jarring departure from the excellent first two seasons. It felt like the producers saw the success of FX's very similar-themed "Welcome to Wrexham" and haphazardly slapped together an epilogue. They would have been better off leaving well enough alone.

Who's Netflix for? Fans of buzzworthy original shows and movies.

Play, pause or stop? Play. When you get Netflix, you're paying for bulk, and once again, there's something here for everyone.

Max ($9.99 a month with ads, $15.99 with no ads, or $19.99 'Ultimate' with no ads)

Max's big splash for the month is the new HBO limited series "The Regime" (March 3), a six-episode political satire starring Kate Winslet as the dictator of a fictional, authoritarian European nation as she and her regime start to unravel. Hopes are high, especially as the show's showrunner is Will Tracy, whose writing credits include "Succession," the culinary satire "The Menu" and "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." However, early reviews say that while Winslet is as great as usual, the show falls short of its potential.

Max also has the drama series "The Girls on the Bus" (March 14), about four female journalists following the presidential campaign trail; the new standup comedy special "Ramy Yousef: More Feelings" (March 16); the comedy docuseries "Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show" (March 29); and the streaming premiere of "Wonka" (March 8), starring Timothée Chalamet. That's along with new weekly episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Tokyo Vice" and "Last Week Tonight."

On the sports side, Max has March Madness - aka the NCAA men's basketball tournament - or at least the games also airing on TBS, TNT and truTV, starting March 19 (Paramount+ will stream the CBS games), as well as a full slate of NBA and NHL games.

Also of note, more than 130 classic Looney Tunes episodes (including "Duck Amuk" and "What's Opera, Doc?) will be rejoining the service after getting yanked in 2022; however, 130 currently streaming Looney Tunes episodes will leave at the same time, because apparently we just can't have very many nice things. Does that make sense? Only to Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) CEO David Zaslav's bottom line, apparently.

Confession time: It's time to admit what I've really been doing with my Max subscription for the past six months: slow-bingeing the early 2000s teen drama "The O.C." It's not even a guilty pleasure at this point, just pleasure, plain and simple. So far I've gotten through the first two seasons (27(!) and 24 episodes, respectively), skipped the terrible third season and am now diving into the fourth and final one. You know what? It's still fun, featuring an amazing soundtrack with needle-drops that still bring goosebumps all these years later (sorry, "True Detective: Night Country," you may not use Mazzy Star's "Into Dust," it's already been taken). It's an excellent brain sorbet for stressful times, and for anyone following my footsteps, pair a binge with Alan Sepinwall's new-ish book "Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History," which is a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at how the show was made.

Who's Max for? HBO fans and movie lovers. And now, unscripted-TV fans too, with its slew of Discovery shows.

Play, pause or stop? Play. "Curb," "Tokyo Vice" and "Last Week Tonight" are all top-notch, and "The Regime" looks worth a try at least. There's also the recently concluded "True Detective: Night Country," which proved to be surprisingly divisive, but it's worth a binge (for the record, I very much liked it, despite some flaws).

Hulu ($7.99 a month with ads, or $17.99 with no ads)

Hulu is pretty light on new shows in March. The best of the bunch seem to be a trio of documentaries: "Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told" (March 21), about the legacy of the legendary Atlanta street parties in the '80s and '90s; "Spermworld" (March 30), about sperm donors and prospective parents; and "The Stones and Brian Jones" (March 14), about the Rolling Stones' founding member, along with the miniseries "We Were The Lucky Ones" (March 28), an adaptation of Georgia Hunter's bestselling novel, inspired by a true story about a Jewish family separated at the start of World War II and their struggle to survive and reunite.

There are also a handful of new Fox and ABC shows, like "The Cleaning Lady" (March 6), "The Masked Singer" and "Animal Control" (both March 7), and "Grey's Anatomy" and "9-1-1" (both March 15).

(MORE TO FOLLOW) Dow Jones Newswires

03-03-24 1650ET

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