Another only has shows about wedding cakes and wedding dresses. Enjoy it now, because it feels like channel surfing before the days of content burnout, and it won’t ever try to gaslight you into thinking that an iCarly reboot is worth watching. To turn it on and be immediately greeted with some sort of content in progress — maybe it’s Pawn Stars, maybe it’s Urban Legends 2 — really feels like cable. But there’s a joy to happening upon them mid-episode and riding them out. I didn’t want to pay for cable or even one of those live TV cord-cutting alternatives that end up being just as expensive as cable, and I didn’t want to sign up for any more streaming services due to the Cheesecake Dilemma. That’s the part that feels like it comes with a catch. There are plenty of comforting obscurities that lend themselves to background viewing, too. But to just happen across it? I feared the TV. Related

Happy Days (and a Whole Bunch of Other TV Oldies) Are Here Again on Pluto

Which Free Streaming Services Should You Be Using? (Is The Queen’s Gambit actually any good, or is it just new and expensive?) Pluto TV, on the other hand, has an entire channel devoted to Naruto. It’s ad-supported, but commercials only add to the verisimilitude of the cable-adjacent experience. Why would a streaming service named after the cutest planet provide a platform for such malice? There are close to 20 separate classic TV channels, including one that plays wall-to-wall Carol Burnett Show, and a TV Land feed where I’ve personally been watching Designing Women all day to educate myself about the Complete Unabridged Works of Jean Smart. It wouldn’t matter if it was all free, or if you didn’t need to reset a password every few months, if the content was ass. Another time, I tuned in to one of the movie channels just in time for the Milaga Cooler scene from Elaine May’s A New Leaf. If you’re a cord-cutter in the real, no-live-TV-streaming-substitute sense, Pluto will fill a hole in your screen-time-tired heart that you didn’t even know was there. At the rate other streamers release new, buzzy series, you can feel constantly pressured to keep up with a bunch of original programming that’s really only a 6 out of 10 at best. And where other streaming services have a dearth of programming from earlier than the 21st century, Pluto benefits from Paramount’s library of classic films. I missed the days when it was my friend and not my enemy, when I had unlimited access to free cable by dint of being a dumb child living at my parents’ house. I should’ve known that because there’s a streaming service for everything, there’d be a streaming service that offered exactly what I was looking for. No log-ins, no password sharing, no newsletters spamming your inbox making recommendations you didn’t ask for. Now that ViacomCBS has its shiny new Cheesecake Dilemma–adjacent streamer Paramount+, I fear this scrappy and strange free option may get lost in the shuffle. Why would the warm nostalgic tide pool that is Pluto TV harsh our streaming experience like this? There aren’t DVR or pause functions, but this just adds to the pre-TiVo nostalgia. This isn’t just a free substitute for cable, it’s possibly an improvement: There are four separate niche MTV channels on here, and all of them have music videos and a much-needed lack of Ridiculousness. On any given day, the Comedy Central channel will be running episodes of Kroll Show, Nathan for You, and Key & Peele; IFC will have Portlandia and Comedy Bang! For those moments when you find there’s truly nothing on TV, Pluto also has an On Demand tab, and while you browse, you can keep watching whatever it is you were watching. So, because quarantine was a time for betterment, I found a used flat-screen smart TV on Craigslist and set it up in my bedroom like a real muckety-muck. It’s, quite simply, the most frictionless experience in streaming today — a no-commitment affair. There’s an entire channel dedicated just to Tiny House Nation. But reader, this content is anything but. Could you seek out any one of these shows individually on another streaming service? I had been meaning to watch it, and suddenly there it was. Considering how many barriers are set up for online experiences these days, to access streaming video content without a log-in feels like a FastPass. How come, ViacomCBS? Why more streamers don’t have window-in-window we don’t know. There’s zero pressure to keep up with a constant rollout of new prestige series; Pluto’s just vibes. To actively search for and hit play on season two of ANTM is a chore. I ended up rarely turning on the TV. The first thing you’ll notice upon downloading it to your smart TV or opening it in your browser is its single best feature: It doesn’t require you to make an account. I worry about the future of Pluto TV. If there’s any downside to Pluto, it’s that you can find far-right outlets Newsmax, Blaze, and OAN among its news offerings. ( If music videos don’t speak to your own personal MTV nostalgia, there’s also an entire Jersey Shore channel). That’s a gift. (Unless you are, in which case, let’s start some sort of fan club.)

Launched in 2014 and snapped up by ViacomCBS in 2019, Pluto is a streaming service that mimics the experience of channel surfing. Pluto’s ads strike a middle ground between the repetition you find on Hulu or YouTube (the algorithm seems convinced that I own a multitude of homes and cars in need of insurance) and local spots that aren’t far off from what you’d expect on cable, including plenty of campaign spots for the New York City mayoral race. More than you’d think. Streamliner

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Photo-Illustration: Photo-Illustration by Vulture; Photos by CW, CBS and HGTV

During the pandemic, I finally bought a television. Sure. On the Black Cinema channel, I’ve watched everything from I Am Not Your Negro to Eddie Murphy’s Raw. It’s also free. Thing is, so many of the major streaming services operate on Cheesecake Factory logic: They offer vast menus of mostly mediocre options, and it all leads to decision paralysis. Do you know how many reality shows are made about backcountry fishing? Bang!; and one of the reality stations will be running a top-tier America’s Next Top Model season, one episode after the other. And I, for one, welcome those ad breaks during my Survivor: Cook Islands marathons. It’s not that I didn’t watch things constantly prior to this — “I don’t own a TV” went from just a snobbish thing to say to a diagnosable marker for sociopathy years ago — but co-workers who review content for a living declared it unthinkable that I watched everything on my 13-inch laptop screen. Pluto TV’s 200-odd channels are divided by genre, with sections including News, Sports, Movies, Reality, Comedy, and Home/DIY, which makes for easy navigation. Maybe you did too. It’s called Pluto TV, and it’s the best streaming service you’re not using. And because it’s owned by ViacomCBS, the bench of content runs deep. There’s a Paramount movies channel, a cult movies channel, a classic movies channel, a ’70s Cinema channel, and dedicated channels for every genre you can think of. Channel surfing, versus an algorithm feed, leads to joyful, spontaneous discovery that makes you feel like a more participatory viewer. Tags: