Coronavirus: Free musicals, movies, shows, comic books and audiobooks to enjoy while you're self-quarantining
USA TODAY TV Critic Kelly Lawler breaks down her must-see TV shows of the spring and talks about how the coronavirus is affecting production. USA TODAY
The coronavirus risk has quickly changed the daily routine for millions of Americans staying inside to avoid catching or spreading the dangerous illness.
Before the walls start to look like they're closing in, it makes sense to find ways to while away the time.
Plenty of subscription streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, are available to those willing to pay. Some offer free trials. But in this wonderful digital age, there are plenty of free, undiscovered opportunities, too.
Here are some options, many available through Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, internet-connected TVs and other devices:
Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals
Starting Friday on the newly launched "The Shows Must Go On!" YouTube channel, viewers will be able to stream Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals for free to get their Broadway fix. Up first this week is a 2000 adaptation of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" starring Donny Osmond, Maria Friedman, Richard Attenborough and Joan Collins. And on April 10, the channel will start streaming a 2012 arena production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" starring Tim Minchin, Melanie C and Chris Moyles.
Each show will be available online weekly Friday at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT for a 48-hour period. Alongside the full-length shows, clips of famous performances and behind-the-scenes footage will also be uploaded regularly to the channel.
Now through May 4, Marvel Comics' digital subscription service is offering free access for everyone to classic comic-book story lines in its mythology. (Comics can be read on the Unlimited app for iOS or Android, under "Free comics.")
The curated tales included in this superhero bonanza (some of which have been adapted for the big screen) include "Civil War," "Avengers vs. X-Men," "X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga," "Avengers: Kree/Skrull War" and "Captain America: Winter Soldier."
CBS All Access
No less an eminence than Sir Patrick Stewart, who plays the title character in CBS All Access' "Star Trek: Picard," announced the streaming service is expanding its free-trial offer, just in time forthe "Picard" Season 1 finale.
The CBS All Access deal provides one month free on either its commercial-free service ($9.99 per month thereafter) or the one with limited commercials ($5.99 per month thereafter). A previous trial offer was one week free and available only for the limited-commercial service. Subscribers who use the code GIFT have until April 23 to sign up.
Showtime, AcornTV, Sundance Now, UMC and Shudder
Showtime Friday became the latest subscription cable channel to extend its free trial offer for people looking for more to do at home. Viewers who sign up before May 3 can watch the network's content online or on the app. A news release said "many" of Showtime's cable and streaming partners will also offer the extended trial period.
Additionally, AMC-owned networks, which offer original fare along with extensive libraries, are extending their free-trial periods from seven days to 30. Interested subscribers should use the code FREE30 for AcornTV, SUNDANCENOW30 for Sundance Now, UMCFREE30 for UMC and SHUTIN for Shudder.
Sundance Now offers an international selection of true crime stories, thrillers and dramatic series, including "Playing for Keeps," a murder mystery centered on an Australian football team with new episodes each Thursday, and such past shows as "The Little Drummer Girl," "Law & Order: U.K.," "Deutschland 83" and "86."
The lineup for Acorn TV, whose international menu features a special focus on British TV, includes such murder mysteries as "Midsomer Murders," "Agatha Raisin" and the upcoming "Deadwater Fell" (April 6) with David Tennant and Cush Jumbo; crime dramas "No Offence" and "Line of Duty"; and dramedies "Doc Martin," "After Henry" and "Men Behaving Badly."
UMC (Urban Movie Channel), created by BET founder Robert L. Johnson and dedicated to black and urban audiences, offers TV sitcoms, including UPN's "All of Us" and OWN's "Black Love," and such films as Eddie Murphy's "Harlem Nights. The upcoming docuseries "Behind Her Faith" features Aisha Hinds and Niecy Nash.
But if you love horror, Shudder offers a ton of scary movies and freaky thrillers. There are classics of the genre like "Night of the Living Dead," the original "Halloween" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but also newer offerings like Rob Zombie's "3 From Hell" and the revamped anthology series "Creepshow."
Amazon offers free kids TV
Amazon is making kids shows available for free, even to non-susbcribers of its Prime Video streaming service.
Available titles to keep the little ones busy include the Amazon original series "Just Add Magic," "Pete the Cat" and "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie," along with shows licensed from PBS (and also available on the PBS app) such as "Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood," "Odd Squad" and "Arthur."
If you don't mind ads, Pluto TV, owned by ViacomCBS, provides free programming from a variety of programming genres and networks, including longtime Viacom brands MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. There are channels for "American Gladiators" and "Baywatch," along with a heaping helping of network and cable news programs.
Tubi, an ad-supported service acquired this week by Fox, offers more than 20,000 movies and TV shows. Genres include action, comedy, drama, horror, documentary and family-oriented shows, along with plenty of TV programming from A&E ("Duck Dynasty"), "Highway to Heaven" and other uplifting programs from Dove Channel.
Walmart's online video store – think Blockbuster for the digital era – offers newer movies like "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" to rent or buy.
But Vudu also has a substantial free section that changes monthly. This month, you can watch "Point Break," "Superbad" and the four "Lethal Weapon" films, plus multiple TV seasons of "Blue Mountain State," "Leverage" and "Blue's Clues."
Like Netflix and Amazon, Vudu's also gotten into the original series game, with free seasons of "Mr. Mom," based on the 1980s Michael Keaton comedy, and the family-friendly "Adventure Force 5."
Xumo viewers get free live and on-demand streaming entertainment – up to 190 channels – along with some commercials. The service offers "channels" from The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, USA TODAY, Funny or Die and History. "Roseanne," "Hell's Kitchen" and "Unsolved Mysteries" are among the available programs.
IMDb, the Amazon-owned website you click on to find the name of the mayor in "Jaws," also has a free programming source, IMDb TV, available through the IMDb website, Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Fire TV.
So-called "recent" movies include "Blade Runner 2049," "Two for the Money" and "Legally Blonde," while TV shows include "Everwood," "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and "The Middle."
Free programming is available through comedy-oriented Sony Crackle; Kanopy, which offers such high-end movies as "Lady Bird," "Chinatown" and "Rashomon" for those with a library card or university ID; and Roku and YouTube.
Amazon’s audiobook service Audible has made hundreds of titles available for free. The collection is curated to appeal most to younger listeners home from school and in need of entertaining, though adult listeners can find plenty of classics, including Lewis Carroll's “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,” narrated by Scarlett Johansson, and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” narrated by Rachel McAdams. Books are available in a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese and Italian, at stories.audible.com.
Bummed that the "Black Widow" movie was postponed? You can read the Avenger's comic-book adventures at Comixology, Amazon's digital comics service. The free trial for Comixology Unlimited, which gives readers access to 25,000 comics, graphic novels and manga, has been extended to 60 days. That gives you plenty of time to read Black Widow, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Iron Man stories, plus Comixology's original series. You can also catch up on stuff that's been turned into movies and TV shows like "The Walking Dead," "Locke & Key" and "Umbrella Academy."
Contributing: Barbara VanDenburgh