Of all the streaming services currently available, it’s entirely likely that Facebook Watch is the last one you might think to turn on when looking for something to watch. And I’m not being hyperbolic here—its reputation as a streaming platform is so bad that actual viewers making actual comments in the various comment threads running alongside actual episodes from multiple original series on this very list chimed in to ask any number of variations on the question, “Where can I watch this??? Is it on Hulu, or Netflix?”
My friends. My friends!!! The show you like, you are watching it literally right now.
On the one hand, the UX design for Facebook Watch is so exasperatingly arcane that one can hardly be blamed for not knowing that Facebook Watch exists, or for not understanding which short videos constitute a Facebook Original, and which are just clips promoting longer series on other, non-Facebook platforms. On the other hand, Facebook’s literal thing for years was ruthlessly incentivizing other media companies to pivot to video. You’d think they’d have handled their own pivot a bit better.
(On the other other hand, of course, the fact that Facebook the Soulless Data Miner has made Facebook Watch’s innovative original content so impossible to watch is almost heartening, like a signal that here, at least, might be one corner of civil society’s digital gallows that doesn’t exist primarily to milk you dry of all your personal data. Although I suppose the fact that interesting art doesn’t have much of a profit margin in an attention economy is, in itself, a distressing revelation. Phew! It’s hard to be alive.)
Whatever your read on Facebook Watch’s place in the streaming video landscape, the fact remains that with several years of original content production now under its belt, the social media streamer is finally host to some really choice original shows, many of which thrive in the social-first atmosphere of the Facebook ecosystem. Best of all, as long as you’re tenacious in your efforts to find the full episodes in the I Spy grids of each show’s full video library (which you can get to using the direct links included below), they’re all free to watch, whether you have a Facebook account or not.
That said, if you do have a Facebook account (even a ghost one will do), navigating to and within Watch is much easier: From the homepage, click Videos on Watch (in the lefthand dashboard column), then click the purple Shows link at the top of that page’s lefthand dashboard. This will filter out all the non-Facebook Original video noise and leave you with just the good stuff.
Below, we have picked out 12 of our favorite series—most of them scripted, but not all—to give you a sense of the variety of things Facebook Watch currently has to offer. The list includes long seasons and short ones, comedy and drama, scripted shows and unscripted ones. It does not, alas, include a full blurb for the very brief wandering oddball of a series, Extra Innings with Bill Murray & Brian Doyle-Murray, but really, what more could we say to sell you on it than that title? Nothing, that’s what.
Bill and Brian and baseball aside, we hope you find at least a couple series on this list worth checking out. (And if you use your time logged in to clear out your personal data while simultaneously locking every third party app you can think of out of connecting to your account, all the better.)
12. The Birch (2019-)
Genre: Horror/Teen Drama
Created by: Crypt TV
Stars: Xaria Dotson, Dempsey Bryk, Brad Beyer, Tommy Hestmark, Midori Francis, Wayne Pére, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Haskiri Velazquez
Spun off from a YouTube short of the same name, The Birch is the first of five original monster-themed series set to be produced by horror story digital start-up Crypt TV exclusively for Facebook Watch. Less campy than you might expect, the series’ first season, which premiered earlier this month, traces the terrifying stories of a handful of teens who get themselves caught up with a malevolent, murderous birch-shaped forest demon known only as “her.” With episodes that rarely run longer than fifteen minutes and monster-driven horror and gore as its primary objective, The Birch doesn’t have a ton of room for character development, but even so, it manages to give leads Xaria Dotson, Dempsey Bryk, and Midori Francis some compelling stuff to work with, forest monster or not. If horror is your jam (and if you’re already logged onto Facebook, it very likely is), this might be just the weekly breath of monstrous terror you’re looking for.
Stats: 1 season, 15 episodes (13-17 minutes); Season One ongoing
11. Five Points (2017-)
Genre: Teen Drama
Created by: Adam Giaudrone
Stars: Hayley Kiyoko, Madison Pettis, Ray Cham Jr., Spence Moore II, Nathaniel Potvin, Jake Austin Walker, Trey Curtis
First off, if you are thinking about even starting this one, make sure you check out the series’ Resources Page, which lists information about (and contacts for) RAINN, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, a Massachusetts Medical Society guide to gun safety, and the safe space/community waiting for new fans in the official Five Points Facebook group. The episodes may be short, and the real world pop culture reputations that precede Maddison Pettis and Hayley Kiyoko (whose “I Wish” music video is truly the best teen drama of the year) might be gentle, but the subjects Five Points takes on—suicide and guns in the first season, sexual predation and domestic violence in the second—are incredibly serious.
That said, these are subjects that many teens want (or need) to watch play out in a safe space like Facebook Watch, and the whodunnit framing introduced by the shifting perspective format (the “five points” of view of the title) helps keep the each season’s story from getting too overwhelming to watch through to the end. Too, the literal framing shift in the second season, from the traditional horizontal orientation of most television shows to the vertical orientation that better reflects how video chats/Instagram stories play out on mobile screens, sets Five Points apart as a Facebook show, which doesn’t have to be for you (or me) to be interesting.
Stats: 2 seasons, 20 episodes (10-17 minutes); Season Three renewal pending
10. The Real Bros of Simi Valley (2018-)
Created by: Jimmy Tatro
Stars: Jimmy Tatro, Tanner Petulla, Nick Colletti, Cody Ko, Colleen Donovan, Maddy Whitby, Peter Gilroy, Monette Moio, Monica Joy Sherer, Eric Walbridge, Christian Pierce
YouTuber Jimmy Tatro’s Shorty Award-nominated The Real Bros of Simi Valley is a very silly show about a group of very silly bros taking reality-show stock of their lives ten years after graduating high school that just happens to co-star a few of the very lovely ladies of the (possibly) late, (definitely) great Betch, which we’ll never stop wanting to shine a light on. (And also which, as an all-female sketch comedy show, is an almost perfect inverse of the all-male vibe central to Tatro’s scripted Real Bros reality show parody.) Like a couple of other titles on this list, The Real Bros of Simi Valley got its start elsewhere—in this case, as one might expect, on YouTube (Season One is available here)—but it’s been on Facebook Watch that its profile (and also season length) has really grown. Yes, The Real Bros of Simi Valley is eminently doofy, but you know what, it takes real skill to act as doofy as these real bros make themselves out to be; and sometimes, that much effort for so ridiculous a comedic reward is all we want to watch.
Stats: 2 seasons, 14 episodes (13-17 minutes); Season Three renewal pending
9. The Real World: Atlanta (2019)
Created by: Mary-Ellis Bunim, Jonathan Murray (MTV Studios)
The real real world has seen enormous social and cultural shifts since MTV’s The Real World first broke television ground on the Gen-X-oriented network back in 1992. With this move from broadcast television to a social network-hosted digital streamer, and with this newest streaming season’s centering of non-white, non-cis, non-hetero, non-mainstream-hewing castmates, the franchise proves that it knows well enough how to shift with it. Alas, though Season 33 is set in Atlanta, no Paste Magazine staffers were the ones to stop getting polite to start getting real, but that shouldn’t stop reality television lovers both new and old from tuning in to see how the Real World brand weathers so many major cultural and platform-identity transitions. (And if you’re feeling bold, Facebook Watch also currently hosts two international seasons, The Real World: Bangkok and The Real World: Ciudad de México. People getting real all over the world!)
Stats: 1 season (Season 33), 12 episodes (30 minutes); Season 34 renewal pending
8. Loosely Exactly Nicole (2017-)
Created by: Christian Lander, Christine Zander
Stars: Nicole Byer, Jacob Wysocki, Jen D’Angelo, Kevin Bigley as Derrick, Brandon Scott, Allyn Rachel, French Stewart, Sasheer Zamata, Ayden Mayeri, B.J. Britt
One of several Facebook Watch Originals that got its start on another network, the ex-MTV Nicole Byer vehicle Loosely Exactly Nicole is a breezy blast that shares a not insignificant amount of comedic DNA with another, more recent Paste streaming favorite, Liza on Demand. Like fictional Liza, fictional Nicole lives with a fun, cheeky roommate (Jacob Wysocki) while she tries to navigate the weird modern wilds of L.A. on her path to creative and professional fulfillment. Like fictional Liza, fictional Nicole stumbles as often (or even more often) than she succeeds on her path to said fulfillment. Most importantly, though, like real Liza, real Nicole is just a ton of fun to watch when given full rein to do her own thing. If you fell in love with Byer when she guested as the chronically upbeat mail person that confounded Team Cockroach in Season Three of The Good Place, then Loosely Exactly Nicole is (loosely) exactly what you should add to your streaming comedy queue.
Stats: 2 seasons, 20 episodes (17-20 minutes); Season Three renewal pending
7. Limetown (2019-)
Created by: Zack Akers, Skip Bronkie (based on their podcast of the same name)
Stars: Jessica Biel, Stanley Tucci, Marlee Matlin, Kelly Jenrette, John Beasley, Louis Ferreira, Sherri Saum, Rekha Sharma, Vera Frederickson, Mingzhu Ye, Sheryl Lee
One of the buzzier new offerings from Facebook Watch this year, Jessica Biel’s Limetown takes Zack Azkers and Skip Bronkie’s hit sci-fi mystery podcast of the same name and transforms it into a slow-burning half-hour drama series. Adapting anything from one medium to another is always a trick, but as Paste TV editor Allison Keene notes in her review, early episodes create enough mysteriously cascading cliffhangers layered with a dark enough score to make for an easy binge, even if its obsession with the darkness of the crime story at its center occasionally works to the detriment of other narrative or character development. With half the first season yet to drop, though, anything could happen—get in now and be there to see (or at the very least, hear) how Biel’s version of Limetown’s story ends.
Stats: 1 season, 10 episodes (30 minutes); Season One ongoing
6. Queen America (2018-)
Genre: Dark Comedy
Created by: Megan Oppenheimer
Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Belle Shouse, Teagle F. Bougere, Rana Roy, Isabella Amara, Molly Price, Megan West, Tom Ellis, Victoria Justice, Judith Light
As Paste’s Ellen Johnson noted in her review of the Tulsa-set beauty pageant series, one of Queen America’s bigger draws is that it is a staunchly female-driven project not just in front of the camera but also behind it, as series creator Megan Oppenheimer is joined by director Alethea Jones and writer Liz Elverenli on all ten of the first season’s episodes. As Paste’s LaToya Ferguson also noted, Queen America’s absolute biggest draw is series lead Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose overwhelming grace and command is trailed only barely by that of late-arriving guest star Judith Light. (“Light also has the best introductory scene in the episodes made available to critics,” Ferguson explains, “playing off Zeta-Jones in a way that feels like the first drink of water in the desert.”) Beauty pageants might not be your thing, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving Queen America a try.
Stats: 1 season, 10 episodes (25-31 minutes); Season Two renewal pending
5. Red Table Talk (2018-)
Created by: Jada Pinkett Smith, Ellen Rakieten, Miguel Melendez
Stars: Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, Adrienne Banfield-Norris
All about setting up a safe, supportive space in which to foster intimate, revealing conversations, Red Table Talk is a compulsively watchable mix between a celebrity family reality series and daytime talk show. Co-hosted by the multi-generational triumvirate of Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith (daughter) and Adrienne Banfield-Norris (mom), each episode features one or more guests coming to the Smith family home to sit down at the eponymous Red Table to hash out really big, often really challenging ideas. How big, and how challenging? Well, recent Season Two episodes have covered topics as far-ranging as transracial adoption, polyamorous relationships, white privilege (featuring Chelsea Handler), and the challenges faced by an evangelical pastor when she came out as a transgender woman—and that’s just from the last couple months. Of course, with each episode clocking in around half an hour, these conversations, as complicated as their subjects are, can’t get too deep. Judging from the reactions in the comments scroll alongside each episode, though, the limited but compassionate depth to which Red Table Talk does go is just what many people need to start being open to thinking about such prickly subjects at all, and—especially on Facebook—that’s not nothing.
Stats: 2 seasons, 42+ episodes (~30 minutes); Season Two ongoing, renewal pending
4. Strangers (2017-)
Created by: Mia Lidofsky
Stars: Zoë Chao, Meredith Hagner
A “coming-of-age story about finding yourself,” Mia Lidofsky’s Strangers is a warm, more lyrically earnest foil to the broader goofball “finding yourself” comedy of Loosely Exactly Nicole. Following queer best friends Isobel (Zoë Chao) and Cam (Meredith Hagner, Search Party) as they stumble their way into selfhood first in Los Angeles (Season One) then in New York (Season Two), the series made an early name for itself at Sundance, but despite both that buzz and the shift from fifteen-minute mini-episodes in the first season to a traditional half-hour format in season two, it is still woefully overlooked outside the queer television bubble. Well, take this as your cue to break through that bubble! Season Two ends on a big, romantic gesture of a cliffhanger; more eyes watching the women in the middle of that grand gesture stare lovingly into each other’s eyes certainly can’t hurt the show’s chances for renewal.
Stats: 2 seasons, 17 episodes (12-27 minutes); Season Three renewal pending
3. Sacred Lies (2018-)
Genre: Mystery/Teen Drama
Created by: Raelle Tucker
Stars: Elena Kampouris, Kevin Carroll, Kiana Madeira, Toby Huss, Ryan Robbins
As I wrote in my original review, if you’re a person who’s spent any real time treading the increasingly murky and complex YA waters over the last decade, Sacred Lies, will, in both subject and execution, feel entirely familiar. If not, the stylistically spare, inherently unromantic darkness of Raelle Tucker’s digital series, adapted from a Stephanie Oakes novel of the same name, might be more than a little disorienting—and that’s before taking the raw viscerality of Elena Kampouris’ handless Minnow Bly and the raw horror of Toby Huss’ Montanan survivalist cult into consideration. The series has already been renewed for a second season (premiere date TBD), but people who can’t take open endings when such dark subjects are involved don’t need to wait to start watching until then—the ten episodes currently available wrap up both Minnow’s and Dr. Wilson’s (Kevin Carroll) stories in a satisfying way.
Stats: 1 seasons, 10 episodes (28-34 minutes); renewed for Season Two
2. Sorry for Your Loss (2018-)
Created by: Kit Steinkellner
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Kelly Marie Tran, Jovan Adepo, Mamoudou Athie, Janet McTeer, Zack Robidas
It’s no secret that Kit Steinkellner’s Sorry for Your Loss is a deeply beloved favorite here in the PasteTV trenches. Thoughtful, raw, heartbreaking, hopeful, and cathartic all at once, Sorry for Your Loss is compelling not just because of Steinkellner’s quietly powerful writing and the small cast’s consistently devastating performances, but because of the innovative ways in which the story of the grief that follows Matt’s (Mamoudou Athie) death is unspooled episode to episode; no two episodic story arcs ever really structured the same. Thus far, Season Two has been as much about the desert of grief Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo, who I spoke with here) is crossing as it has been about his widow, Leigh (Elizabeth Olsen), but where Steinkellner takes them all from here is anyone’s guess. All we know is, wherever the story goes, it will be beautiful, and we will be watching.
Stats: 2 seasons, 20 episodes (~30 minutes); Season Two ongoing, renewal pending
1. SKAM Austin (2018-)
Genre: Teen Drama
Created by: Julie Andem, Sara Heyward
Stars: Julie Rocha, Till Simon, Kennedy Hermansen, Austin Terry, Shelby Surdam, La’Keisha Slade, Valeria Vera, Aaliyah Muhammad, Pedro Castenada, Giovanni Niubo, Sophia Hopkins
As heartbreakingly excellent as Sorry for Your Loss is, it isn’t inherently a Facebook show—it could, if it had to, find a comfortable home on any number of other networks. The wallop that the equally excellent and differently heartbreaking SKAM Austin packs, on the other hand, derives directly from its Facebook (and Instagram) roots. SKAM Austin, as I noted in my review of this American adaptation of Andem’s original Norwegian public television series when it first hit Facebook’s digital airwaves in 2018, is less a series than it is an “obsession-inducing transmedia experience” that uses the subtle teen-speak nuances native to both Instagram and Facebook to follow the lives of a cadre of fictional Austin teens in excruciatingly real real-time, clips of their quotidian dramas posting daily as the production team maintains live, interactive accounts belonging to each character for fans to follow in between official “episode” drops. Sure, the plot of Megan and Grace and Kelsey and Jo and Shay and Zoya and Marlon and Daniel and Tyler’s overlapping stories might be able to live on in a purely linear form on another platform, but for good or ill, it is literally impossible to imagine the immersive entirety of the SKAM Austin experience existing anywhere else but within the Facebook ecosystem. And if that isn’t the maddeningly unsolvable problem of Facebook in 2019, I don’t know what is. Anyway, here’s a love letter to Season Two. May an equally beautiful Season Three (and a more robust American democracy) find us eventually.
Stats: 2 seasons, 18 episodes (18-50 minutes); Season Three renewal pending
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.