Going through and finding the best Paramount Plus shows and movies may have taken a bit of time and effort, but it’s also given us a huge sense of nostalgia. The new version of CBS All Access is loaded to the gills with some of our favorite shows from Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV.
Oh, and its movie selection isn’t that bad either, packing a bunch of classics. The annoying thing is that it takes a while to actually find a lot of these titles. The A-Z page for movies is full of stand-up comedy specials, making it harder to find the best films on Paramount Plus.
This list will come in handy for those looking to get the most value from the new service, as it doesn’t include a lot of must-see original or exclusive programming. Sure, some folks will want to watch The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, or watch The Real World Homecoming, but the true value of the service currently lies in its backlog of content.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
To understand why Avatar: The Last Airbender is so good, you need to understand a little bit about Nickelodeon cartoons from the era in which it debuted. Up until Avatar, Nickelodeon’s original animated fare comprised funny, low-stakes sitcoms, from Doug to The Fairly OddParents. Then along came Avatar, a high-minded martial arts drama, based on East Asian history and folklore. Avatar packs a few good laughs, sure, but for the most part, it’s a serious character piece, with daring heroes, conflicted villains and a narrative where the fate of the world is at stake. The story follows Aang, a young martial artist who must master four great elemental powers in order to confront the despotic Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill, naturally.) — Marshall Honorof
Sketch comedy doesn’t always age well, but Chappelle’s Show became an instant classic because its best segments were ultimately memorable in the best way. We howled at Clayton Bigsby, the blind black white supremacist. We learned to diversify our bonds with Wu-Tang Financial. The name Rick James got new life thanks to Charlie Murphy. And the Racial Draft is still referenced to this very day. The only issue with Paramount Plus’ offerings is that it lacks the musical segments, which gave artists including De La Soul, Questlove, Kanye West, Killer Mike and Busta Rhymes a platform to expand their audiences. — Henry T. Casey
The Good Fight
In its four seasons, the spinoff of The Good Wife has truly evolved into its own, unique, genre-defying show. Where the original was a fairly straightforward legal drama, The Good Fight adds political intrigue, blunt discussions about race and cutting satire of Donald Trump. Christine Baranski centers the show as Diane Lockhart, a partner at a predominantly Black law firm and a staunch liberal married to a conservative gun enthusiast. Yeah, there’s a lot going on, but The Good Fight handles it all with such grace and humor. And you’ve got to see the bizarre but brilliant animated shorts explaining everything from NDAs to Russian troll farms. — Kelly Woo
When it comes to animated shows beloved by audiences of all ages, few were as phenomenally successful and wholesome as SpongeBob. The titular yellow rectangle just loves life, and is proof that a voice actor (Tom Kenny in this case) can truly make or break an animated series. While SpongeBob’s friendship with Patrick Star and job at the Krabby Patty were both highly relatable, neither truly would pop without the effervesce of his positivity. The ultra-negative Squidward, though, is the show’s not-so-secret weapon, as he managed to be annoyed by the lovable SpongeBob in ways that we could all understand. — Henry T. Casey
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Sashay this way to 10 seasons of glamorous gowns, amazing wigs, sassy one-liners and jaw-dropping lip sync performances from drag queens. Guiding us through it all, of course, is the one and only RuPaul herself, like a bedazzled beacon. The thing about Drag Race is that past the cosmetics and coiffures, the show is all about heart. The most memorable contestants — from Alaska to Alyssa to Latrice — combine spectacle with emotion. The most recent seasons aren’t on Paramount Plus, but you can see four seasons of Drag Race All Stars. Let the eleganza extravaganza begin! — Kelly Woo
Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery is probably not the best Star Trek show, but it might be the most accessible one for new fans. This series follows Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her adventures aboard the U.S.S. Discovery. Across the show’s three seasons, Burnham and her crew fight Klingons in a galactic war, travel to the deadly Mirror Universe, team up with Capt. Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) from the original Star Trek series, confront a villainous AI and even travel into the distant future to rebuild a broken Federation. The show’s production values are arguably the big draw here, with each episode packing enough special effects and ambitious set design to look like a big-budget sci-fi film.
Paramount Plus also has all the other big live-action Star Trek shows: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Picard. — Marshall Honorof
Rocko’s Modern Life
Looking back, Rocko’s Modern Life is a long series of “how did they get that past the censors?” realizations. This satirical children’s sitcom follows the adventures of Rocko, an Australian wallaby who’s settled in suburban America. There, he navigates the usual host of small-town problems, from taking out the trash on garbage day, to buying the perfect new TV, to dealing with crooked games at a carnival. Believe it or not, each one of these trivial inconveniences sustains an entire episode. That’s because Rocko’s Modern Life is packed to the gills with bizarre sight gags, innuendo-filled one-liners and clever commentary on just how strange suburban life seems when we take a step back from it. — Marshall Honorof
Hey Arnold! is a rare kind of late ‘90s cartoon. Unlike the suburban-set series of this era, Arnold’s antics capture growing up among a motley crew in the big city. And with that comes a tone of family sadness you don’t always see find behind white fences — between Football Head’s vanished parents, Helga Pataki’s aggressively detached ones and the broken paths that lead the ensemble to a shared boarding house, the show largely follows how the characters cope. Thematic innuendos, endless mishaps and plays at urban folklore provide comic relief that gets funnier the more you watch, making Hey Arnold! a series I often return over 20 years later. — Kate Kozuch
There are many reasons why Cheers remains an essential comedy even 27 years after it ended. It’s funny, obviously — and sometimes far sharper than you might remember. The characters are engaging, and you really do care about what happens to them. But its real genius lies in the way it wraps you in a warm, comforting blanket of nostalgia. Truly, the bar where everyone knows your name is also the bar that everyone wishes they had round the corner from them. Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has left millions of people unable to even leave their homes for months, but right now I’d give anything to pull up a stool next to Cliff and Norm and listen to Sam crack jokes (sexist ones at times) while Woody looks nonplussed. I can’t do that, but I can rewatch the whole show from start to finish — and that’ll do for now. — Marc McLaren
The Legend of Korra
The Legend of Korra is better than Avatar: The Last Airbender. There, I said it, because someone had to. This sequel series to Avatar picks up decades later, and follows the adventures of Korra, a young Avatar who feels immense pressure to live up to Aang’s sterling legacy. Instead of one long, globetrotting adventure, Korra faces down a different threat each season — and, rather than simply wanting to rule the world, each one of Korra’s foes has an ideological ambition. (The anarchist Zaheer, played by the incomparable Henry Rollins, is a particularly effective villain.) With a steampunk aesthetic, an affable cast of characters and a willingness to shake up the status quo, The Legend of Korra is a daring show — and a fun one. – Marshall Honorof
The Twilight Zone
Sit back and relax with one of the best shows that aims to completely unnerve you with tales of the unbelievable and supernatural. If you think Black Mirror is too focused on the dangers of technology but love its twisted sense of humor, then take a trip back in time with the iconic and stern host Rod Serling. Must-watch episodes include The Invaders, a classic tale of frightening aliens, and The Lonely, where a convict falls for a lifelike robot. It’s not an exclusive to Paramount Plus, though, as it’s also on Netflix. — Henry T. Casey
The phrase “sick, sad world” may seem evergreen, but at the time of its original airing, MTV’s Daria felt like the novel breath of fresh air that animation needed. The series, spinning off from Beavis and Butt-Head, focuses on the Morgendorffer family who just moved to the affluent suburbs from the backwater Texas county where The Great Cornholio was terrorizing the neighbors. While parents Jake and Helen get their own fair share of screen time, the show is definitely focused on the malaise of high-schooler Daria — which is often inspired by her sister Quinn. Filled with dry banter, and moments that highlight the hypocrisies of high school, Daria was ahead of its time and definitely one of the best Paramount Plus shows that we’re eager to rewatch. And while we would have liked to include the series it spun off of, Paramount Plus doesn’t have the brilliant music video commentary scenes for Beavis & Butt-Head. — Henry T. Casey
Paramount Plus combines what used to be CBS All Access with even more content from the deep ViacomCBS vault. For $5.99 per month, get access to Survivor and Big Brother episodes, as well as originals like Star Trek: Picard and The Good Fight. And more great stuff is on the way, including Frasier and Criminal Minds revivals. View Deal
The best Paramount Plus movies
Francis Ford Coppola’s mafioso masterpiece set the bar for crime movies with its family-first story. Built around a career-defining performance from Marlon Brando (as Don Vito Corleone), this beautifully-shot film is more than worth its 2-hour, 55-minute run-time. The Godfather’s main plot, though, is tracking the ascent of young Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) who has no interest in the family business at first. Paramount Plus is also home to both of the sequels, and will also be the home to “The Offer,” an original series that details how the iconic film was made. — Henry T. Casey
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Yes, we know. You’ve already seen the first Indiana Jones movie a dozen times. It doesn’t matter. Just watch it again anyway. Find an excuse. Maybe your kids haven’t seen it yet? Maybe you’ve forgotten whether this is the one where he’s scared of the snakes or the one with the mine-cart chase, or the one with Sean Connery. Or the really bad one. As we said, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is The Greatest Movie Ever. Fact. Harrison Ford has never been cooler, it’s an absolute riot of one-liners and brilliant set-pieces and it even has the best musical score. Just stop looking for excuses and watch it again. — Marc McLaren
The first Mission: Impossible may feature seemingly arcane technology, such as an IRC chat room, but it’s a truly timeless action movie. While M:I is led by Tom Cruise at his best, a fantastic supporting cast including Jean Reno, Vanessa Redgrave and Ving Rhames make this espionage/heist thriller ultimately rewatchable. Paramount Plus also has the next two films in the series, but feel free to skip M:I2, though, as the sequel forces its romance storyline that will make you roll your eyes faster than Agent Hunt can rappel down from the ceiling. — Henry T. Casey
What once seemed like an impossible-to-adapt graphic novel became one of the best examples of neo noir, as Robert Rodriguez brought Frank Miller’s Sin City to life. And while the cast is made up of a murderer’s row of stars (including Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen and Bruce Willis), the backdrop of the city itself should be considered one of the film’s co-stars. And Rodriguez filmed accordingly, shooting the city without the stars, and then processing the scenery in black and white to match the original graphic novels. The cast was later added digitally, in post-production. — Henry T. Casey
Star Trek: First Contact is easily the best Star Trek movie based on the Next Generation crew — and arguably one of the top two or three Trek movies overall. The ruthless Borg Collective travels back in time to cripple Earth before humanity can reach the stars. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) pursues them, but quickly loses control of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E to the devious Borg Queen (Alice Krige). With intense action sequences and a much darker aesthetic than other TNG films, First Contact feels like a fresh way to view the franchise. But the real draw here is seeing Picard slowly unravel as the Borg try to strip him of every Starfleet ideal he holds dear. — Marshall Honorof
Danny Boyle’s ’90s masterpiece really shouldn’t work. After all, this is a film about heroin addicts in a bleak Scottish housing estate, based on a book written in an at-times almost-unintelligible dialect. But somehow, Boyle conjured up a feast of entertainment that manages to be devastatingly sad, joyously life-affirming, utterly hilarious and frequently terrifying. Often all at once. Part of its magic is in the way it leaps from scene to scene with abandon, never staying long enough to let you settle; for every brutal depiction of an overdose, there’s a euphoric clubbing scene to lighten the mood. The casting is spot on, too, with Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and a cast of then-unknowns bringing Irvine Welsh’s cult characters brilliantly to life. Oh, and great soundtrack too. — Marc McLaren
Zodiac takes an already-terrifying tale and douses it with director David Fincher’s signature haunting atmospheric touches. Everyone who lived through the late 1960s and early 1970s knows the story of the serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area, but not from this angle. Driven by a cast of A-list stars including Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., this instant classic drew in everyone from true crime addicts to those just looking to see more of their favorite stars. Clearly not for the faint of heart, the film doesn’t shy away from the blood-stained clothing left at the scenes of the crimes. — Henry T. Casey