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The Hidden Gems of Paramount+

What we found deep in the new streamer's catalog.
  • Look who else found their way to Mount Paramount.
    Look who else found their way to Mount Paramount.

    Last week's launch of the new ViacomCBS streaming TV platform Paramount+ included a handful originals, including most notably a new reunion season of the original cast of MTV's The Real World. There's plenty more on the way, too, including new Star Trek series, Frasier and Rugrats reboots, plus new seasons of Drag Race: All Stars and The Challenge. But beyond these original series, much of the sell on Paramount+ is its deep catalog of 30,000 TV episodes and movies from across the streamer's corporate "family" of brands. Most of us saw the Super Bowl commercials that brought together the likes of Stephen Colbert, Patrick Stewart and Beavis & Butt-Head, and they're all represented in the service itself — but we dug into the far corners of the streaming site to find some hidden gems that you may not have realized were part of the package. Each of these are vault titles from various Viacom properties like MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, and they're all very much worth your time.

    VH1 Storytellers

    In 1996, VH1 premiered a concert series where popular acts performed their hits and told the stories that inspired the songs. It was an incredibly simple premise that yielded some great concerts, especially in the early going. As is the case with a lot of the Paramount+ hidden gems, the catalog is far from comprehensive, with only a handful of episodes from the likes of Alanis Morissette, Lenny Kravitz, John Mellencamp, and Pearl Jam. But the episode that made me screech in my tracks was the Stevie Nicks episode from 1998, where she tells, among other things, a fantastic story about Prince walking into the studio and laying down the keyboard track for "Stand Back."

    MTV Unplugged

    Of course, Storytellers was merely following the lead of MTV's hugely influential Unplugged concert series, where rock and hip-hop acts would show up, go acoustic, and often get a whole new album out of their old hits. Again, there are only a handful of episodes available, featuring many of the same artists from the streamer's Storytellers catalogue, including Alanis, Lenny Kravitz, John Mellencamp, and Pearl Jam. Good thing that the Pearl Jam episode is one of the greatest pieces of '90s music programming MTV ever produced. And that's not even getting into Nirvana's Unplugged, which is also available, and which captured Kurt Cobain's aching genius on camera shortly before he took his life.

    Comedy Central Presents

    Comedy Central comes to Paramount+ with a deep bench of programming from its vaults, including a whole bunch of old Comedy Central Presents specials dating back to 1999. You can watch very early specials from Patton Oswalt, Retta, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Zach Galifianakis, and Lewis Black. There's a lot of comedy bro-downing happening in the Comedy Central corner of the platform, so it definitely helps to know what you're looking for.

    Are You Afraid of the Dark?

    '90s kids who were too young and/or scared to properly get into Stephen King or the horror section of Blockbuster Video got to experience some ookie-spookies of their own back in the day with Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark?, an anthology of scary stories pitched to the TeenNick demographic. Paramount+ has the first five seasons of the series (in addition to the 2019 reboot, which is listed separately), and don't worry — if you're looking for the episode that starred Ryan Gosling, it's helpfully labeled as such.

    Double Dare

    Speaking of formative TV experiences, Paramount+ is also streaming over 200 episodes from the original run of the landmark Nickelodeon game show Double Dare. The show brought together teams of kids to (kind of) answer trivia questions and compete in cheaply produced physical challenges (that's more like it), for a series of very '80s kid-focused prizes like BMX bikes and VCRs. The obstacle course at the end of every episode was the absolute pinnacle of childhood athletic achievement, and even today it is terrifically stressful watching the kids attempt to complete it while host Marc Summers tries to shout encouragement/herd them from point to point.

    MTV True Life

    MTV's long-running docuseries premiered in 1998 and was initially intended top be a peek inside the daily life of disparate lifestyles and circumstances among those in the MTV generation. Somewhere along the way it became more of a catalogue to sexual kinks, but honestly, that's fine too. Paramount+ is offering a limited selection of episodes, including "True Life: I Am Being Slut Shamed," "True Life: My Parents Are in Porn," and the ever-important "True Life: I Am a Gay for Pay Porn Star."

    Next

    The single most chaotic dating show that ever aired on American television — and that is truly saying something in a world that produced more than one dating show based on hidden gay identities — was MTV's Next, which placed a bachelor or bachelorette on a big date with five singles, all of whom are looking for a relationship, and all of whom are competing with each other to the absolute pettiest common denominator. One single starts the date, and the second they reveal something about themselves that the bachelor/ette doesn't like, they get chopped, and it's on to the next one. And it's all happening as each contestant is required to be at a 15-out-of-10 on the loudness scale at all times. Paramount+ only has select episodes available, so try to savor them, and no, they don't have any of the all-gay episodes, the pinnacle of the artform as we knew it.

    The City

    This spinoff of The Hills, which followed Lauren Conrad's fashion bestie Whitney Port to New York City so she could live her dream of working for Diane von Fürstenberg, was pretty unheralded at the time. But now that The Hills creator Adam DiVello is riding high again with Netflix's Selling Sunset, perhaps it's time to revisit Whitney and the beautiful dumb-dumbs she befriended in the city. Whitney was always the most likeable one on The Hills anyway.

    Clone High

    One of the most unheralded great programs MTV ever produced was Clone High, an animated comedy from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (pre-pre-pre 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie) that ran for one perfect season in 2002. The premise is both simple and insane, as a mad scientist created clones from the greatest figures in world history that are now grown to their teenage years and having very Dawson's Creek-y adventures. The joke density and level of humor here as teen versions of Abe Lincoln, Cleopatra, JFK, Gandhi, and Joan of Arc go through the usual teenage shenanigans — makeovers, keg parties, film festivals (just go with it) — is better than any of its early-Aughts peers, and since MTV is working on a reboot, there's no time like the present to acquaint (or re-acquaint) yourself with the show.

    Family Ties

    If WandaVision's exploration of '80s sitcoms — including a pitch-perfect recreation of the Family Ties opening theme — got you primed to revisit the 1980s family comedy about a pair of former hippies who settled down, had a family, and ended up raising teen Reaganite Michael J. Fox, Paramount+ has exactly what you need. All seven seasons are available to stream.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Paramount+, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Clone High, Double Dare, Family Ties