Free entertainment to help you survive coronavirus social distancing
HBO, Battlestar Galactica, MasterClass, Marvel comics, Cards Against Humanity and lots more, including movies, books, concerts, guitar lessons and exercise classes.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Hang in there, everyone. Even though the coronavirus situation is showing signs of progress, we need to stay safe and stay home a little while longer. Fortunately, there's plenty of free entertainment to make that proposition easier. Nearly every day I learn of some new offering to help keep you occupied while you wait it out. Games, movies, comics, virtual tours, live theater, guitar lessons -- all that and more, and all you need for most of it is a computer, phone, tablet or TV.
I'm updating this post regularly, so bookmark it and check back often for new additions. In the meantime: Stay safe, stay healthy and stay home.
Free MasterClass instruction
MasterClass offers online classes in a wide range of subjects, taught by leaders in their fields. We're talking Gordon Ramsey on cooking, Martin Scorsese on filmmaking, Penn & Teller on magic and so on. For another few weeks, MasterClass Live will offer one free streaming class per week. Bestselling author Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) recently talked about writing thrillers and how to build suspenseful stories.
Tune in Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET., to see what's next.
Tired of bite-size phone games? This is the perfect time to reconnect with (or discover) computer games, which can deliver richer, deeper experiences. If nothing else, you'll love playing on a bigger screen. Here's what you can get absolutely free right now:
GOG is giving away a whopping 27 PC games, including classics dating back to 1979 (!) and a playable prologue of the brand-new city-building sim Builders of Egypt. All titles are DRM-free and compatible with Windows; some are also available for Mac or Linux.
Got ink in the printer? And some paper? Then you've got everything you need to enjoy some pretty darn cool games.
Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition is a more PG-rated version of the hugely popular card game, and it's currently free to download. You'll need a decent amount of paper and ink -- the two versions span 21 and 47 pages, depending on the card size you choose. Consider raising your game, so to speak, by printing on card stock. (Take note that to get the game, you'll have to click through a couple pages of "agreements," including one that some may find politically offensive.)
Game seller Asmodee is now offering print-and-play versions of six popular games, including the escape-room adventure Unlock! and visual-storytelling game Dixit. Just download the rules and gameplay PDFs and then get printing.
Just want to veg out in front of the TV? Don't blame you one bit. While I think Hulu for $6 a month is arguably the single best streaming deal you can get, here are some other options that won't cost you a dime:
Free HBO. You can now stream hundreds of hours' worth of programming, including every season of Barry (yes!), Silicon Valley and Veep. There are also some family-friendly movies, like The Lego Movie 2 and Pokemon Detective Pikachu.
Next, check out this list of 10 totally free movie streaming services. Over at Pluto, for example, you can find an entire channel of James Bond movies, while Kanopy is home to notable films like Captain Fantastic, Midsommar and The Great Buster: A Celebration.
IMDb TV has added the first five seasons of Schitt's Creek to its lineup. Previously you had to subscribe to Netflix if you wanted to watch that increasingly beloved show. While you're there, check out Friday Night Lights and The Middle in their entirety.
I wouldn't call this the feel-good show we need right now, but if you don't have an HBO subscription and want to check out a notable series, the Roku Channel is currently offering Westworld season 1 for free. It's also available via the Apple TV app, even if you don't have an Apple TV Plus subscription.
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: I don't hold this "middle child" Trek series in such high regard as most Trekkies (I always preferred Voyager; don't @ me), but I was definitely interested in seeing the new documentary, What We Left Behind, when it debuted last year. You can rent it for $2 to $3 from nearly anywhere, but it's now streaming free on IMDb TV and Tubi. It's one of the weirder documentaries I've seen, but worth a watch if you're a fan.
It's still unknown whether we'll get a delayed 2020 baseball season or none at all. But if you need your baseball fix (and watching some sports -- any sports -- sounds pretty great right now), here's good news: MLB.tv is offering free streaming of 2018 and 2019 games when you log into or create an account.
OK, maybe it's not entertainment, but it's definitely good for you. With many gyms now closed indefinitely, many services have stepped up with free home-workout options.
Echelon is offering a free 90-day trial of the FitPass app, which, like Peloton's (below), offers a wide variety of live and on-demand classes. You'll find cardio and core workouts, pilates, Zumba and so on. The app is available for Android and iOS. If you choose to continue after the trial, FitPass costs $20 per month.
Peloton is offering a free 90-day trial of the Peloton app. Available for Android, iOS and Amazon Fire TV, it provides unlimited access to a wealth of live and on-demand classes: treadmill and outdoor running, strength training, high-intensity interval training, yoga, meditation and so on. If you choose to continue after the trial, the subscription costs $13 a month.
This might be the perfect time to take up yoga, one of the greatest stress-relievers ever. You can find countless free beginner classes -- and plenty for more experienced yogis as well -- on YouTube. I recommend starting with Yoga With Adriene, which has literally hundreds of videos for all skill levels (and all categories, like Yoga for Bedtime and Yoga for Wrist Pain). While you're at it, you can search YouTube for meditation classes -- also not exactly entertaining, but a useful way to pass the time and keep stress at bay.
Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy reading magazines: Cook's Illustrated, Family Handyman, Men's Health, Reader's Digest, Wired and so on. I'm not a paid subscriber to any of them; instead, I use RBDigital, a service offered by my public library, to read all those titles on my phone and tablet. The selection varies, so you may not have access to all the same titles I do, but you should definitely investigate using RBDigital to get free magazines from your library.
Meanwhile, DiscountMags just started offering free digital single issues of dozens of magazines. These aren't subscriptions; you can pick and choose as many individual titles as you want. Once you redeem them, you'll use the Zinio app to read.
Free ebooks and audiobooks
Speaking of libraries, yours can probably hook you up with a selection of free ebooks and audiobooks as well. Right now, for example, I'm using an app called Libby (formerly OverDrive) to read a novel by Richard Russo, and before that I used it to listen to Martin Short's thoroughly entertaining autobiography I Must Say (read by the author). You may have to wait a bit before the title you want becomes available, so add a bunch to your queue so you always have something ready to go.
Meanwhile, good news for parents: Amazon is now offering a bunch of Sesame Street ebooks for free. As you might expect, they're all Kindle editions, so you'll need a Fire tablet or any any device capable of running the Kindle app.
How about a little culture in the mix? Google's Arts & Culture collection can take you on virtual tours of hundreds of museums around the world, from Japan's Nagoya City Art Museum to Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. Within each you may find one or more "stories" you can browse. You can sort the collection alphabetically or view them on a map. One particularly great example: Posters from History's Greatest Illusionists at the American Museum of Magic.
Free theater, opera and concerts
Like so many industries, live theater is taking a beating right now. However, as the old saying (and a new YouTube channel, see below) goes, the show must go on. Hence, these streaming options:
YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On is streaming a different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical each week. Each show is available starting on Friday and will run for just 48 hours. There's no sign-up required. Now showing: By Jeeves.
Tired of the same old Pandora playlists and the ads that frequently interrupt them? Several services are offering free premium subscriptions.
90-day Amazon Music HD subscription: Wait, Amazon Music has an HD option? I honestly had no idea. And what does "HD" mean? In this case higher bit rates, otherwise known as better sound quality. Spotify maxes out at a bit rate of 320 kilobits per second, while Amazon HD delivers up to 850Kbps for its 50-million song library -- and up to a whopping 3,730Kbps for millions of songs in "Ultra HD" format. This extended trial is available only for new Amazon Music subscribers. After that, you'll get billed at the regular rate of $14.99 a month (or $12.99 if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber) unless you cancel.
3-month Deezer HiFi subscription: Speaking of hi-fi music, Deezer promises CD-quality lossless streaming -- and right now you can get a hi-fi subscription free for three months. That's a $60 value. As with Amazon Music, you'll continue getting billed after that unless you cancel.
There are books available in different languages as well, including French, German and Spanish. For the moment it looks like a browser is required for this; the streams don't seem to be available within Audible's apps. There's also no login or even registration required, and I was able to listen on my phone via my mobile browser.
Free audiobooks for adults
Audible is now offering a bunch of Audible Originals for free as well, most of them rated four stars or higher. Here's the list:
This has "Rick Broida" written all over it: I own a guitar and had every intention of learning to play, but for various reasons just never got going. Now, with ample extra time on my hands and Fender's three-month subscription freebie, I can take lessons online. The site offers classes for acoustic and electric guitars and ukulele. Note that although a credit card is not required, this promotion is limited to the first 1 million sign-ups.
What else can we do with all this stay-at-home down-time? Some suggestions: bake bread, learn how to draw, organize the junk drawer, start a new hobby, revisit an old hobby, break out the board games. In other words, use this time to unwind, disconnect and hopefully find some calm.