Even though the streaming network has fallen behind Netflix and Amazon when it comes to buzz and acclaim for its original programs, ambitious Hulu originals like The Handmaid’s Tale are seriously starting to narrow the gap. From trippy time-travel tales to biting comedy and quirky documentaries, there’s plenty worth streaming. Here’s our guide to the best Hulu originals.
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The best Hulu originals
The Handmaid’s Tale is a new fiction, written without Margaret Atwood’s book as its foundation. It takes viewers out of Gilead, instead revolving around Offred taking back her real name, June, and attempting to escape with the help of Nick. While the first two episodes are a little too enthusiastic in their depiction of women being tortured or punished, the gratuity eases up after that, and the season comes into focus more when it starts exploring the journeys of other female characters. —Audra Schroeder
Samantha Morton stars in Harlots as Margaret Wells, a former prostitute-turned-madam of her own brothel in 18th century London. As she struggles to better her station in life, she meets resistance from societal pressures, religious zealots, and her biggest rival—who happens to be her own former madam. With Morton playing against type, Harlots is, as Nico Lang wrote in our review, “a breath of fresh air and a bawdy delight.”
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3) Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie
Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie is a nuanced balancing act as it tells two stories side-by-side: the long and often weighted history of Barbie and Mattel’s efforts to change Barbie’s iconic shape for the first time in its history. Barbie may be an avatar, but it’s evident that the doll has always been much more than that—for better and worse—to critics and consumers alike. —Michelle Jaworksi
Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street) star as a pair of disenchanted New York comedians struggling to make it big without strangling anyone in the process. The pair’s shenanigans put them in the path of a rogue’s gallery of hilarious guest stars, including Martin Short, Kate McKinnon, Amy Sedaris, Nathan Lane, and Tina Fey. The show returns for a third season on August 8, with Lucy Liu joining the cast as a successful but “morally corrupt” book editor.
5) The Path
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul returned to series television with this twisty thriller about a life inside a fictional cult known as Meyerism. Paul plays Eddie Lane, a Meyerist who’s now questioning his faith. That puts him at odds with both his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and the charismatic leader of the group, Calvin Roberts (Hugh Dancy).
When we last left the Meyerist Movement, followers of “the Light,” climbers of “the Ladder” (the show manages to use a lot of other metaphors which aren’t “the path”), they were being split down the middle. A power struggle between prodigal son Lane and Roberts was brewing. Season 3 of The Path continues to put this power struggle at the forefront, but not without taking some unexpected turns along the way. It’s the sharpest season to date.—Chris Osterndorf
6) Future Man
This science fiction-tinged comedy from Hulu arrives courtesy of executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The premise—a janitor named Josh Futterman (Josh Hutcherson) is recruited by two resistance fighters from the future named Tiger and Wolf (Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson) after beating a video game—is essentially lifted from The Last Starfighter. Future Man acknowledges this, and it offers copious nods to Back to the Future and Quantum Leap. But damn if it isn’t funny. —C.O.
Featuring strong performances by Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, and Tahar Rahim, Hulu’s “9/11 origin story” miniseries The Looming Tower is a solid espionage thriller given extra weight by the fact that it’s exploring what lead to one of the darkest days in American history. Most of us have grown up watching this sort of story unfold on both the small and large screen, but every moment of The Looming Tower unfolds beneath that sense of terrible foreknowledge, turning every viewer into a Cassandra and making every missed opportunity to avert Al Qaeda’s plans that much more brutal. —David Wharton
In Casual, Michaela Watkins stars as Valerie, a recent divorcee trying to reenter the dating pool while raising her teenage daughter, Laura (Tara Lynne Barr). She gets plenty of advice—not all of it good—from her bachelor brother, Alex (Tommy Dewey), who lets Valerie and Laura move in with him while they try to adjust to their new status quo. It’s a dark show, particularly the third season. Simply put, if you’re the type of person to crack jokes at a wake, this is the show for you.
Hugh Laurie took home a pair of Golden Globes for his role as the acerbic Dr. Gregory House, and Chance slots him into a similar role as a troubled medical professional. This time he’s Eldon Chance, a San Francisco-based forensic neuropsychiatrist. He gathers every bit of expertise about both the human mind and the criminal mind after he finds himself on the bad side of a patient’s violent spouse, who also happens to be a cop. The series is based on the novel by Kem Nunn.
Filmed in a mockumentary style reminiscent of The Office or Parks & Recreation, Battleground is a workplace comedy set within the cutthroat world of politics. Created by actor J.D. Walsh, Battleground follows a group of campaign staffers trying to help a dark horse Democratic candidate win a U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin. One of Hulu’s first original scripted series, Battleground tends to be overshadowed by more recent projects, but it’s funny, smart, and charming.
Stephen King adaptations have long been a hit-or-miss proposition, but Hulu mostly got it right with this miniseries based on his 2011 time travel novel. James Franco stars as an English teacher who travels back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Once settled in the past, however, things become a lot more complicated—and not just when it comes to saving the president.
12) Becoming Bond
How the hell did Australian model (and former used car salesman) George Lazenby land the role of superspy James Bond? And who did Lazenby think he was to walk away from a multi-picture deal and the fame and money that came with it? Hulu’s original documentary Becoming Bond attempts to answer both those questions, serving up a rollicking portrait of a cocksure, charming bloke determined to go his own way, even if his choices make no sense to the rest of the world.
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For its first dance with late night, Hulu takes the Netflix-Chelsea Handler approach with weekly episodes, but that’s about where the comparisons to Handler or other late-night shows end. I Love You, America’s set feels like a throwback to a late-’90s MTV show, and Silverman has a “white guy at a desk” to throw to in case America needs comfort. That silly, “Oh you old so-and-so” vibe fits into the show’s nostalgic feel, but a joke about white guys and comfort lands at a time when it has much more weight. Perhaps Silverman will grind that down on a future show. It’s an uneven approach and Silverman explains this, a few times. But I Love You, America tries balancing personal exploration—Silverman tells the audience she’s trying to change her “cunty” behavior by being open to more viewpoints—with bubble-popping. —A.S.
It’s 1974 and 19-year-old Nebraska native Andy Klavin has come to Hollywood to chase dreams. And he’s landed closer to them than most, securing a gofer job on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. There’s…Johnny! incorporates tons of real footage from The Tonight Show, weaving storylines in, around, and behind actual events (including an extortion plot that actually happened). It presents an unquestionably rose-colored vision of what it must have been like to work at The Tonight Show during its heyday, but that’s OK. This is a fawning fable, not latter-day deconstruction. —D.W.
Too Funny to Fail continues a streak of outstanding niche original documentaries from Hulu this year. Too Funny to Fail dives deep into the conception, execution, and failure of The Dana Carvey Show, a one-season wonder that featured the talents of Louis C.K., Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, and both Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. The documentary also examines the origins and assembly of individual sketches—both those that worked and those that didn’t. —D.W.
Ron Howard directed this 2016 documentary look at the Fab Five during the height of their touring years in the mid-‘60s. That period includes some of the Beatles’ most memorable shows, taking the band from their early days playing gigs at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, all the way up to their 1966 concert in San Francisco. Eight Days a Week was produced in full cooperation with the surviving Beatles and their spouses, and the documentary even includes a half-hour of footage from the band’s 1965 concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. All of that 35mm footage has been digitally restored and remastered up to 4K resolution.
17) Behind the Mask
Not to be confused with the 2006 mockumentary horror film, this Behind the Mask documentary examines a group of sports heroes who never seem to get their due: the mascots. Behind the Mask introduces viewers to seven different sports mascots, operating at all levels of the field, from enthusiastic high school amateurs, all the way up to the major leagues. Following the mascots’ lives both in and out of their colorful costumes, the show earned Hulu a nomination at the Sports Emmy Awards in 2014.
18) Castle Rock
Castle Rock co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason play the location up as a town “that has been visited by nightmares for centuries,” and that’s definitely touched on in Stephen King’s adaption’s pilot episode. The prison looms over Castle Rock and draws Henry Deaver (Moonlight’s Andre Holland) back from Texas, where he’s been representing death-row inmates. He meets Bill Skarsgård’s pale, unnamed prisoner, who has been discovered in Shawshank’s bowels, and takes him on as a client. Castle Rock does rely more on the supernatural and ephemeral than straightforward horror, though there are stretches where you’re just waiting for the jump-scare. —A.S.
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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