In the past, some major TV networks have increased the visibility of their shows by making select episodes available on YouTube. Free television episodes on YouTube are typically series pilots or season premieres, but sometimes they can be stand-alone episodes or lower-profile projects posted online to build some buzz. Although many of these free entertainment offerings tend to disappear from YouTube after a while, there are still plenty of quality episodes from major networks and streaming platforms to binge on without spending a dime.
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There’s also a treasure trove of classic (or simply nostalgic) TV episodes uploaded by fans or specialized channels like Shout! Factory and Retro Rerun. Even more interestingly, some popular TV shows got their start as web series on YouTube, giving fans an intriguing look at how some of their favorite shows began.
Here are some of Digital Trends’ favorite freebies you can find on YouTube.
Family Guy: Season 9, episode 6
This episode, in which Brian enlists Stewie as his manager and finally sees one of his books hit the bestseller list, is one of many Family Guy episodes available on YouTube. Just search the platform, and you’re bound to find a number of classics from one of the longest-running shows on television.
Insecure as F**k: Season 1, episode 1
HBO’s Insecure centers on show creator Issa Rae and the constellation of friends, lovers, and coworkers that orbits her. Inspired by Rae’s New York Times best-selling novel The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, this HBO comedy mines absurdity from the most normal occurrences, like a simple girls’ night out.
Cobra Kai: Season 1, episode 1 — Ace Degenerate
Cobra Kai is usually locked behind YouTube Premium’s paywall — at least, it is for now — but the video giant has made the first episode of its best-received original series available for free. Set 34 years after The Karate Kid, Cobra Kai recasts that film’s villain, Johnny Lawrence, as a down-and-out handyman who reopens his old dojo, making it a haven for misfit teens — and reigniting his old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso in the process. Both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio are excellent as older versions of the characters they originated in 1984, the new kids are great, and the ’80s and early-’90s nostalgia is a fun throwback to the days when it felt like karate could solve any problem.
The Prisoner: Season 1, episode 1 — Arrival
Forget television. The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan’s trippy, paranoid sci-fi thriller, is one of the very best pieces of genre fiction ever produced in any medium. In the show, McGoohan plays Number Six, a retired secret agent who wakes up one day in The Village, a dystopian seaside resort. While Number Six tries to escape, the Village’s mysterious leaders do everything that they can to bend him to their will, setting off a battle of wills that’s just as epic as anything you’d find in an old-school James Bond flick, except way, way smarter.
Vice on HBO: Season 4, episode 14 — State of Surveillance
There may not be a better person to explain how much our everyday technology is used to spy on us than the man who exposed the United States’ immense surveillance efforts, Edward Snowden. In this episode of Vice on HBO, Snowden walks Vice CEO Shane Smith through numerous ways that simple devices such as your cell phone can be used to record your every movement.
Do You Want to See a Dead Body?
The new episodes of this Funny or Die saga are, unfortunately, not free as they’re a part of YouTube Red. However, the originals are still on YouTube. In the series, Rob Huebel stars as a schlubbier version of himself who ambushes celebrities and hangs with them until…he shows them a dead body! It gets dark and weird, but Huebel’s earnestly awful attempts to lead a good adventure make it fun. Guests include John Cho, Judy Greer, Craig Robinson, Adam Scott, and many more.
ReBoot: The Series
Created in 1994, ReBoot is the first computer-animated television series in history. Yes, even before Pixar’s Toy Story, Canadian network YTV was using computer animation to ask some probing questions about an emerging digital world. Bob is a guardian from the Super Computer, tasked to defend the digital city of Mainframe from evil computer viruses that seek to control the city and infect the entire ‘net. He’s helped along the way by his friends Dot and Enzo and his dog Frisket. It pales in comparison to Toy Story, of course, but ReBoot‘s four seasons are a fascinating look at the dawn of the computer age.
If you’re looking for a show that will both entertain and make you cringe, Eighty-Sixed may be just the one for you. Cazzie David stars in and co-writes the show, unapologetically dubbed “Curb your Enthusiasm” for millennials. While that might be a bit of a stretch, the show unapologetically charges forward through both funny and embarrassing topics.
A series that mirrors this web series, with similar plot lines, characters, and events, is expected to debut on television. Producers will slightly adjust it for TV audiences; it will be called Half Empty, and Cazzie David will also serve as the primary writer. It’s an excellent show for viewers who don’t want to invest a lot of attention in each episode. It’s funny, subtle, and each episode will be short, which is perfect for the folks who like to binge-watch.
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
YouTube’s family-friendly game show is one that everyone can enjoy. It’s a reboot of the original Fox television show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Originally, Jeff Foxworthy hosted that show for TV; for the new YouTube version, John Cena is expected to serve as host and announcer.
This new version of the show will be even more kid-friendly than the original. However, it could still be a fun watch for any family member and will likely teach you something in the process.
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