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A Pandemic Bonus: Catch These Shows While They’re Still Free

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Like those people in aprons at the big-box store passing out little squares of cheese, a number of streaming services have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by giving out free television samples. The series they’re putting in front of their paywalls are a loss leader, a handful of candy to get you to subscribe. And therefore their availability is temporary: HBO’s free series will require a subscription again in just over a week, and others, while technically open-ended, won’t be around forever. Here’s a look at the best series on offer and how long you have to watch them free. (And in most cases without registering for a free trial and surrendering your credit-card information.)

No other network’s quarantine come-on has been as generous: HBO has unlocked premium shows like “The Wire,” “Silicon Valley,” “Veep,” “Barry,” “Six Feet Under” and the endlessly entertaining “Succession.” First among equals, though, is “The Sopranos,” the series that single-handedly remapped the possibilities for TV drama when it appeared in 1999. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco gave two of the most powerful performances in the medium’s history as a New Jersey mobster and his wife. (HBO Now, through April 30.)

With the baseball season going and possibly gone, PBS offers Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns’s 18-plus-hour documentary history (the length of about six major-league games) as an armchair alternative. Released at a time when the sport’s future didn’t seem entirely secure — the 1994 World Series was canceled, because of a player strike, four days before the show’s premiere — it’s an exercise in both artisanal nostalgia and poetic boosterism. Donald Hall, the author of “Fathers Playing Catch With Sons,” says, “I think we have some hope that baseball might look like baseball a hundred years from now,” a prediction that’s looking a little premature. (PBS.org, open-ended.)

Amazon has made some of its original and acquired “family” content, aimed at children of various ages, available without a Prime Video membership (though you’ll still need an Amazon login). It’s a wide range of shows, from the live-action suburban idyll “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” to “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter,” the first Studio Ghibli TV series. Our choice is “Lost in Oz,” a bright and energetic computer-animated update of the “Wizard of Oz.” (Amazon Prime Video, open-ended.)

The original series under the YouTube Premium label were already available free with ads, but now some of them are temporarily sans commercials. “Cobra Kai,” the amusing sequel series to “Karate Kid,” has received more than its share of attention, so here’s a vote for the moody, Canadian-made sci-fi drama “Impulse.” Maddie Hasson stars as a 16-year-old who begins to teleport, involuntarily and with no idea where she’s going, when she’s under stress; her first trip is triggered by a sexual assault. (YouTube, open-ended.)

This one’s a bit of a cheat: IFC is making some of its comedy series, like “Baroness von Sketch Show” and “Spoils Before Dying,” available free but with commercials; the breaks appear to be short and to mostly include promos for other IFC shows. The lineup includes five episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” from its first national season in 1989, so you can watch Joel Hodgson and assorted robots make snarky comments about “The Crawling Eye” and “Women of the Prehistoric Planet” and ponder the radical prescience of the show’s fan-driven worldview. (IFC.com, through April 30.)


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