It's been almost a decade since Hulu launched as the go-to place for catching up on TV you missed the night before. That remains true today, but Hulu has since branched out into original content and Live TV.
Owned in part by Disney, Comcast, Fox, and Time Warner (with Disney set to absorb Fox's 30 percent), the service is mainly about offering next-day streaming of the networks owned by those entities: ABC, NBC, and Fox, plus a slew of cable channel shows and exclusive access to hit shows like Seinfeld and South Park.
But like all streaming video services, Hulu learned that reruns are no way to make a name for yourself. It started dabbling in relatively affordable original scripted content in 2012 with the mocumentary Battleground. It has since kicked things up a notch, recently winning the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series (see which series below), the first time the award ever went to a streaming service.
Hulu's upcoming slate of originals is starting to rival Netflix in numbers. The quality remains to be seen, but the options look good, including Catch-22, the horror-fantasy Locke & Key based on the graphic novels, an adaptation of Stephen King's Castle Rock, and a revival of Animaniacs.
Until they arrive, these are the 10 best original options on Hulu.
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. It went over well enough in the US that Hulu commissioned a second season.
9 Future Man
Fans of the sci-fi films of the 1980s know the plot of The Last Starfighter, for it's one we all dreamed would come true for us: master a video game well enough, and aliens will ask you to use those skills to kill invading armies of space bugs. Except in this case it's people from the future.
Future Man pays homage to that premise, and lots of others that came before it—like Back to the Future—and even some unrelated hits, such as Breaking Bad. With producers like Seth Rogen, this show doesn't take itself seriously, and neither should you. Season 2 is on its way.
8 The Looming Tower
Prestige drama is quickly becoming a Hulu specialty, and this 10-episode mini-series is definitely something special, if you can handle the subject matter. That's because The Looming Tower is based on the book by Lawrence Wright, which dramatizes just how the infighting between the FBI and CIA in the 1990s essentially allowed Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden to become enough of a threat to cause the 9/11 attacks. Time called it one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time. Stars like Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, and the amazing Tahar Rahim as a Muslim FBI agent who goes undercover make this one we should all watch so history doesn't repeat itself. Producers include Wright, Dan Futterman (he wrote Capote and Foxcatcher), and Alex Gibney (director of Going Clear and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room).
7 The Path
Three seasons in and going strong, The Path stars Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), and Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), and covers a family that's a member of a "movement" (AKA a cult) called Meyerism. It's sort of the opposite of Scientology, in that the founder preached that members should avoid publicity. The show is about what happens when the father in that family (Paul) starts to question his faith.
6 I Love You, America
Comedian Sarah Silverman doesn't do comedy like most others, so it would be silly to think she'd do a talk show like anyone else. I Love You, America —currently just 10 episodes—has a monologue and a guest, but that's where the similarities to Carson and Letterman end. There's a "white guy at a desk" but they only throw the camera to him when things get uncomfortable—like when Sarah talks to nude people in her studio audience. The remote segments are particularly well done, like her dinner with Trump voters in the bayou or sending Tig Notaro off to learn how to be an auctioneer. Famous guest include Patton Oswalt and a pre-scandal Sen. Al Franken; most of her guests are musicians, activists, and authors—people with something to say.
5 The Wrong Mans
There was a time when James Corden was not an English guy hosting an American late-night talk show and awards shows. He was an English guy acting and singing in the UK on shows like Gavin & Stacey, Doctor Who, and The Wrong Mans, a co-production of Hulu and the BBC from 2013 and 2014. It's one of the best Hulu Originals and considering how quickly you can watch it, it's almost like a long, funny movie. What's it about? Two shlubs who work at a local government office get sucked into a conspiracy that threatens their lives. Corden also co-created and co-wrote a lot of the episodes with co-star Mathew Baynton
4 Marvel's Runaways
Everyone wants a slice of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Hulu got theirs with a unique series based on a unique Marvel comic book. Runaways the comic 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 both the kids and the villainous parents since (SPOILER!) it takes the full 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.
Everyone knows an adaptation of a Stephen King property tends to go one of two ways: down the crapper, or elevated even beyond the source material. 11.22.63 isn't all that elevated, but that's because the book was already one of King's best; extensively, meticulously researched beyond the confines of the time-travel tale within.
If anything, the TV show (produced by JJ Abrams and run by exec producer Bridget Carpenter) dumbs things down to a large extent, skipping entire swathes of the book to squeeze the story into eight episodes. At the same time, it expands on the love story that's at the heart of it all. It's not really about the time travel, though there are many clever conceits to what King does with it.
11.22.63 is about a man named Jake Epping (James Franco) who goes back in time to save Kennedy from being shot on that very date. It's about how Jake deals with the past, falling in love there, the struggle he has to fix time, and what happens after he does and goes back to the present.
In Casual's 2015 debut, Hulu got its first taste of what it's like to do prestige TV, when Jason Reitman's show earned critical accolades and even a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Series—Comedy or Musical. Stars Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey play grown siblings Valerie and Alex, both broken by their past relationships and odd-ball parents, so they're pretty dependent on each other. It's Tara Lynne Barr as Valerie's independent teenage daughter Laura that anchors them more than anything—until she too has her own problems (ah, teenagers).
The show's take on modern dating and relationships is funny, frustrating (as it should be) and abounds with dark-comedy undertones without going too far into the maudlin. There are three seasons available now; the fourth and sadly final season arrives on July 31.
1 The Handmaid's Tale
Many services become synonymous with one show. For Hulu, that program has become The Handmaid's Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, and exec produced for TV by Bruce Miller. Winner of those awards we mentioned above, like the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series (plus seven more Emmys, and a couple Golden Globes, plus awards and nominations from just about every possible outfit in Hollywood), this is true prestige TV with the queen of peak TV in the lead: Elizabeth Moss.
In the dystopian US of The Handmaid's Tale, fertile women like Moss' Offred are forced to be concubines to the country's fundamentalist dictators. The TV show goes beyond what the book—and the pretty terrible 1990 movie—could do. The second season, which arrives on April 25, will go even further, pushing the story well past what the original novel covered. This isn't just the best show on Hulu. It is 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.