Navigating through an HBO Max free trial

The new HBO Max series "Legendary" translates the rites of the ballroom scene to a flashy television competition.
(Barbara Nitke/HBO Max)

Up until a few months ago, I had all the channels — real, actual cable TV with seemingly endless options.

But in an effort to save money, I recently cut the cord and now rely on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

So when HBO Max debuted at the end of May, I wondered whether I should add yet another service to my rotation. Even though the transition from cable to streaming hasn’t been so bad, the one thing I do miss is HBO. But do I miss it enough to pay an extra $14.99 a month?

The only way to find is to sign up for the free, seven-day trial.

Day One (Friday)

Issa Rae in a scene from HBO's comedy series, "Insecure."
Issa Rae in a scene from HBO’s comedy series, “Insecure.”

I take the plunge on a Friday night and the first thing I do is go straight to “Insecure,” the HBO comedy that I had to abandon two episodes into the latest season.

“Insecure” is a coming-of-age series by Issa Rae that follows a group of Black friends navigating their professional and love lives in Los Angeles. Each week I’d feel so left out when my social media would be abuzz about Issa and Molly’s fractured friendship, or about Issa’s highly-anticipated reunion with her ex, Lawrence.

So I settle in for the night and burn through the rest of the season.

Day Two (Saturday)

It’s been a rough week and the way I cope with particularly bad days is to watch old musicals.

This is another reason that I want to explore HBO Max — it includes a collection of Turner Classic Movies, complete with so many Golden Age musicals in which to get lost.

Because I haven’t seen a lot of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I search for their names and the 1937 film, “Shall We Dance” pops up. Overall it’s a cute story about Astaire, a ballet dancer, trying to win over Rogers, who plays a cabaret star. I like it, but the plot is a bit too scattered and far-fetched for me.

Maybe I’m more of a Gene Kelly person?

So I search his name and up pops “An American in Paris,” another ballet-themed musical with music by George Gerswin. I already love the modern Broadway version, and it turns out that I equally love the 1951 film, which is so full of colors and dream ballets to boost my mood.

I am most definitely #TeamGene.

Day Three (Sunday)

On Twitter, someone tells me that HBO Max also has Criterion Collection films like “Belle du Jour” and “The Red Balloon.” Watching loads of movies and TV isn’t bad if it’s considered artistic, right?

So I queue up Pedro Almodovar’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” a problematic movie about an actress who falls in love with her kidnapper, played by a young Antonio Banderas. Despite the plot, the movie is visually stunning with plenty of dark humor, like all great Almodovar movies.

 From left: Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry in a scene from "Friends."
(Danny Field / Warner Bros.)

Later that night, I can’t sleep. So I decide to watch something soothing, something that HBO Max is probably most known for: “Friends.”

The company paid more than $425 million for the exclusive rights to the air the iconic 1990s series, plus it was going to air a reunion special, which has been postponed due to coronavirus.

Back when “Friends” originally aired (and before DVRs) I worked on Thursday nights, so I missed most of the last two seasons. It’s a weird place to start, with Rachel and Joey in a romance and Monica and Chandler trying to have a baby. But, it’s what I want: comforting sleep vibes.

Day Four (Monday)

I’m still not sure I’m keeping HBO Max. Then I decide to watch one of its original shows, “Legendary.”

Oh my god.

This show is everything: culture, outlandish fashion, dance, drama and a feisty judging panel.

It’s a reality competition set in the LGBTQ+ ballroom community (made famous by Madonna’s “Vogue” and the FX show “Pose”). Each week, members of each house battle in a variety of competitions like catwalk, posing and vogueing.

In between battles, you see clips of the various personalities sharing (often tragic) stories about their lives before finding ballroom, a community that helps queer and trans people of color find a safe space. You also learn a lot about the history of ballroom, which began in Harlem more than 50 years ago.

What I don’t realize is that “Legendary” is a weekly elimination show and is still airing new episodes at the time of my trial. This is how HBO Max gets me. I need to see who wins Legendary House.

Day Five (Tuesday)

My 12-year-old daughter is a huge fan of Studio Ghibli Japanese animated films like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Ponyo,” which are now also on HBO Max.

This is the first time Studio Ghibli films have been licensed to an American streaming platform, so now she can watch other classics like “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” — imaginative tales of spirits and wizards that used to frighten her when she was younger.

So I set her up with her own HBO Max profile, and she’s able to search for shows based on her age and interests. I’m also able to set restrictions based on ratings for TV and films like TV-PG and PG-13.

Me? Oh, I continue to binge “Legendary.”

Day Six (Wednesday)

I have streaming fatigue, so I just watch a few episodes of “Friends” before drifting to sleep.
Warning: Unlike Netflix, which checks in on you if you’ve been watching too long, HBO Max doesn’t. It plays all night, or until you shut it off.

Day Seven (Thursday)

Anna Kendrick in "Love Life."
(HBO Max)

It’s the last day, so I go for another HBO Max original, “Love Life,” a romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick.

Kendrick plays Darby, a New York City artist on a journey to find her true love. Each episode centers around a different person that Darby dates, or needs to resolve issues with, until she meets “the one.”

“Love Life” is surprisingly sweet and sophisticated, with a great supporting cast. I only get through three episodes before deciding whether to keep or cancel HBO Max.

I’m invested in Darby. I’m also obsessed with “Legendary.” A few days ago on the landing page, the Joan Crawford classic “Mildred Pierce” pops up and I make a note to come back to it.

So, it looks like after only a week, I’m hooked. I keep HBO Max and so far, it’s provided a good balance of original and classics to keep me coming back.