Video streaming services are one of the few arms of the entertainment industry to see exponential gains during the pandemic. While Netflix still takes the lion’s share of subscribers, with 60 million in the US, the two Disney-owned competitors — Hulu and Disney Plus — are chewing into its lead. While it’s led to some confusion with how original shows will be distributed between the two, Hulu’s definitely the closest to an adult-friendly cable hodgepodge of the streamers. Here’s a guide to some of the best shows currently streaming on Hulu, including both original series and old favorites.
We’ll probably never see a series like 30 Rock again. Tina Fey struck gold with the lightning-fast sitcom on a major network that had unlimited resources and A-listers on tap for guest spots. Far more than The Office, this was a show that wouldn’t buckle if you cut out any of its four main stars. It’s aged worse than every other NBC sitcom of its time, but once you take the small step of considering that shows from other eras don’t need to reflect current value systems, it remains unrivaled. Parks and Recreation is also on Hulu for now, furthering the migration of NBC shows from Netflix to Hulu to Peacock.
If there’s one significant leg-up Hulu has to offer over Netflix, it’s imagining a world where Arrested Development ended after its run of three seasons. The dysfunctional family comedy par excellence was initially cut short, before returning for a pair of disappointing reunion seasons exclusive to Netflix. These emphasized how important it was to have everyone in the same room and to make a clean exit. It doesn’t take away from the genius of Motherboy, Gene Parmesan, chicken dances, and every other recurring bit that would eventually become it’s own vernacular.
Even years after its debut, it’s still hard to believe that Donald Glover, then best known for cringe punchline raps as Childish Gambino and co-starring on Community, had this in him. The series posed an alternative to the naval-gazing comedy auteur projects of the 2010s, by shuffling genres and drawing star-making performances from Brian Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield. This was a fully realized world that was always shapeshifting into nearly six different shows in the span of a season.
Hulu’s the dinnertime app of choice in our household since it has by far the best selection of cable comfort food. Among them are Food Network and HGTV favorites, like Guy’s Grocery Games, House Hunters, and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but Chopped is still the one. The stakes are just high enough, Alex Guarnaschelli’s just intimidating enough, and the backstories are dramatic enough to make for an engaging casual watch. Dozens of Chopped episodes have definitely not made me a better cook, but at least I know to avoid the perilous ice cream machine.
If Annihilation proved anything, it’s that Alex Garland is to be trusted with unlimited resources moving forward. He’s chosen to follow the sci-fi instant classic up with Devs, part of FX’s new partnership of original content with Hulu. His knack for the confounding and hypnotic are intact here, as the miniseries follows a computer engineer (Sonoya Mizuno) who investigates her boyfriend’s disappearance. She has reason to believe it’s linked to their mysterious employer, a large tech campus headed by Nick Offerman’s Forest. His hair is also wild in this, and enough reason to catch at least an episode.
As its cast members wage war over coronavirus, there’s never been a better time to go back to the island. Although conventional wisdom holds that the show goes off the rails a bit by the final few seasons, I’m holding strong that it only had a small handful of terrible episodes in the last season or two. Give me the peaks of its first two thirds over any network drama series of the 2000s.
Nathan For You
Nathan Fielder is the scariest documentarian working today, both in the sense that I fear for his character and everyone who gets swept up in his orbit. The cult Comedy Central hit Nathan For You functioned something like Bar Rescue for weird, often unsustainable businesses that craved the TV time. His character’s loneliness and struggle to connect is the rippling undercurrent for many of these schemes, like walking on a tightrope in the skinsuit of another person for charity or getting too close to a Best Buy employee to help a small television store. There’s no limit to the absurd lengths he’ll go, and I can’t wait to see what he does next with HBO.
It took some years, but Hulu finally released its first great original comedy series with Pen15 last year. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle plumb the depths of their most viscerally awkward middle school moments as a version of themselves, alongside a full cast of 13-year-olds. This leads to some extreme discomfort, and the surreal effect of seeing adults stumble through middle school doesn’t wear off quickly. Even when the show brings out its sweetest moments of nostalgia, there’s always something else gross enough to wash it down.
It’s pretty good.