How to get the best out of free offers from HBO, the Headspace meditation app and SiriusXM subscription radio
As we wrap up yet another bewildering week of sheltering in place, we can find solace in small blessings. Like sidewalk-chalk hearts. And noise-canceling headphones. And carbs.
Let us also add our thanks to the honchos at HBO, SiriusXM and Headspace, who have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by offering some of their entertaining and comforting subscription wares for free. Here is a look at how to take advantage of your shut-in swag.
What: Free HBO
How it works: For the first time ever, HBO is making almost 500 hours of its premium-cable programming available to stream for free, with no subscription required. The free service runs through the end of April. If you want to watch on your laptop or other device, download the HBO Now app or go to hbonow.com on your computer. Look for the row of titles labeled “Stream for Free.” The free programming is also available on the Roku Channel through May 15, but the 20 free Warner Bros. movies go away on April 30.
What’s there (and not there): Not surprisingly, this special offer does not include such blockbusters as “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” or “Big Little Lies.” But why waste time quibbling when you can dive into every season of classics like “The Sopranos,” “Veep,” “Six Feet Under,” “True Blood” and “Barry”? You also get free access to 10 documentaries and documentary series, including the riveting “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” about Elizabeth Holmes and the horrific downfall of her Theranos medical-technology fake empire.
Must-watch tips: If “The Wire” has always been on your Someday Watch List, that day is now, my friend. And if the prospect of five seasons is too daunting, treat yourself to its towering first season at the very least. Television does not get any better than this. The sublime tech-nerd comedy “Silicon Valley” will have you doing ice-cream spit takes, and there might not be a better distraction than the rich-people shenanigans captured in the soapy, black-humored “Succession.”
Pro tip: As they did in non-virus times, Netflix, Showtime, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services are offering free 30-day trials. Make sure to set a calendar reminder to avoid the auto-pay blues should you decide not to become a paid subscriber.
What: Free Headspace
How it works: To help anxious humans cope during this stressful time, the Headspace meditation app has created “Weathering the Storm,” a collection of free content to help you decompress, stretch and sleep. After downloading the app to your iOS or Android device, you will be asked to provide an email address and create a password. Ignore the request to start a free trial and look for the “Explore” icon at the bottom of the screen. Click there, and you will find the “Weathering the Storm” category. You will not be asked to provide credit card information. At the moment, this free content has no expiration date.
What you get: This collection features two 10-day meditation courses, one covering the basics and one devoted to navigating change; five short meditations on pandemic-appropriate topics; two sleep-aiding meditations; and two of Headspace’s signature cheerful animated videos. People on iOS systems also get two short video workouts dedicated to stress-releasing stretching.
Why it’s worth a try: According to my Headspace app, I have spent 196 hours meditating since I joined five years ago. Most of it has been in 10-minute increments, and those little slivers of time have added up to an ability to roll with life’s punches that I didn’t have before. This approachable app makes concepts like visualization easy to grasp, and resident meditation expert (and Headspace co-founder) Andy Puddicombe is like a security blanket in human form. Start with the charming “Remembering the Blue Sky” animation, and just keep breathing.
What: Free SiriusXM Premier Streaming
How it works: Now through May 15, the SiriusXM streaming radio service is offering free in-home access to more than 300 channels covering every era and genre of music imaginable, as well as news, faith-based content, comedy, sports, Howard Stern, and the return of the Billy Joel and Dave Matthews Band channels. Download the SiriusXM app or go to SiriusXM.com/streamfree and click on “Start Streaming.” Ignore the “Free Preview” button and the request to set up an account with a credit card. You don’t need to do either.
Listen up: I can’t vouch for any of the talk, sports or entertainment stations, but as a longtime subscriber and music fiend, I will happily put in a worshipful word these rock-the-house channels: Little Steven’s Underground Garage (a joyfully eclectic mix of soul, punk, pop and rock); the Bridge (‘70s comfort from Steely Dan, Seals & Crofts, Fleetwood Mac); Sirius XMU (indie-rock from Beach House, TV on the Radio, Clairo); 1st Wave (for your 91X flashback needs); and the many mellow and/or happy channels under the “Working From Home” banner. If Taylor Swift can’t make us feel better, maybe Beethoven will. And we’ll always have Wham!
Gamble of the Week: “Run” (10:35 p.m. Sunday, HBO)
You will need to be a proper HBO subscriber to see this new romantic comedy-thriller starring the always-remarkable Merritt Wever (“Unbelievable,” “Marriage Story”) and Domhnall Gleeson (the “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” franchises), but the rewards are plentiful. There is the thrill of remembering airline travel. And crowds. And hugging. Also the high-wire jolt of the story, in which two ex-lovers make good on a pact to drop everything and reunite if one of them texts “RUN” and the other responds with the same all-caps SOS.
Wever and Gleeson have frighteningly good chemistry as two people who need too much, lie too easily and have agendas where their luggage should be. I watched just the first two episodes, so I don’t know if this combustible concept will soar or implode. But with Phoebe Waller-Bridge of “Fleabag” as the executive producer, you know there will be some killer sparks either way.