Hulu’s slate of originals almost rivals Netflix or Amazon in quality, but not in quantity. Thankfully a lot of what’s come to Hulu of late is already great, and there’s more to come. Until then, here’s the best of what you can stream only on Hulu.
1. Castle Rock
Hulu sticks with what works. What works is Stephen King. Hulu’s adaptation of his 11.22.63 was a big success, so creating an ongoing show set in King’s fictional horror mecca, the setting of Castle Rock, Maine, was a smart move. The horror of the first two seasons crossed over not only into Shawshank, but into Misery. This is can’t-miss TV for King fans.
The show’s take on modern dating and relationships is funny, frustrating, and abounds with dark-comedy undertones without going too far into the maudlin. The fourth and sadly final season showed a not-to-far-in-the-future look at what dating would be like for the characters—and us.
3. The First
A Hulu joint production with Channel 4 in the UK, The First is the tale of a first mission, that of men to Mars, in the future decade of the 2030s. Sean Penn brings great gravitas to the roll of the mission leader hoping to actually lead after the initial launch without him goes tragically awry. The future depicted is both grave and beautiful. It’s all brought to you by Beau Willimon, the former showrunner at Netflix‘s House of Cards. Sadly, the 8-episode first season will not be getting a follow-up.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
In the dystopian US of The Handmaid’s Tale, called Gilead, fertile women like Moss’ June are forced to be concubines to the new country’s fundamentalist dictators. The TV show goes beyond what the book—and the pretty terrible 1990 movie—could do. Subsequent seasons went even further, pushing the story well past what the original novel covered. This isn’t just the best show on Hulu. It is arguably the best show on any streaming service and perhaps on TV, period. If you binge it all and feel bereft, check out Shows to Watch If You Love The Handmaid’s Tale.
Hulu’s done a good job acquiring shows from across the pond, and Harlots is an excellent example. This show, which aired on ITV Encore in the UK, focuses on a brothel in 1763 London, and stars Jessica Brown Findlay from Downton Abbey and Samantha Morton from Sweet and Lowdown and Minority Report. But this costume drama doesn’t turn its characters into whore-house caricatures or exploit them, nor does it depict their lives as utter misery. These are well-rounded sex workers from 250 years ago, but sex only gets them so far. Three seasons are available.
6. Marvel’s Runaways
Everyone wants a slice of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Hulu got theirs with a series based on a unique Marvel comic book. Runaways is about a group of kids who find out their parents are super villains and literally run away so they can fight them. Runaways the TV series takes a much more nuanced look at the kids and the villainous parents than the comic book it takes the full first season before the kids run away. In the meantime, there’s teenage angst, super powers, parental angst, a tamed dinosaur named Old Lace, and the return of actor Julian McMahon to a Marvel property after playing Doctor Doom several years ago. The third and final season is now available.
7. The Path
The Path stars Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, and Hugh Dancy as a family that’s joined a “movement” called Meyerism. It’s sort of the opposite of Scientology, in that the founder urges members to avoid publicity. The show is about what happens when the father of the family (Paul) starts to question his faith. Hulu pulled the plug after the recent third season, but that means there are 36 episodes online for your streaming pleasure.
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle created the show PEN15 and play versions of themselves at age 13, going into middle school in the year 2000. The other actors playing their peers area actual 13, while those two are in their 30s. It’s weird, but it works. Hilariously, and painfully for anyone who’s already navigated those waters can attest. It works so well that the series is making it on many a “Best of 2019” list, it’s had special coverage in The New York Times, plus it’s got Emmy nominations. Look for things to get even more awkward in the upcoming season 2.
In the typical Hollywood production, fat characters are depicted as desperately trying to lose weight to get the guy, fit into that dress, or otherwise mold themselves into a wispy vision of perfection deemed acceptable by magazines, fashion designers, and society at large. Shrill is not that story. The Hulu adaptation of writer Lindy West’s best-selling memoir, this series follows Annie (SNL’s Aidy Bryant) as she tries to change her life — but not her body. Season one is streaming; season two arrives Jan. 24.
It’s already hard to be a millennial in the US, now try being a Muslim millennial. But that’s exactly what stand-up comic Ramy Youssef is, and what he portrays in his show, Ramy. He’s growing up as a second-generation Egyptian-American, trying to get by and be a good person. The show has a 97 percent fresh rating with critics at Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to being a soulful but entirely original and quite funny take on being a Muslim in post-9/11 New Jersey. Season 2 is coming in 2020. Check out the trailer here