TV  |  Lists

The 25 Best TV Shows on Hulu

January 11, 2013  |  9:00am

Since launching in 2007, Hulu has added hundreds of TV shows—old and new—from its partners NBC, ABC and Fox, plus dozens of other cable and web channels. Included in that deep catalog are some truly great shows, and we’ve highlighted our 25 favorite below, along with a guide to which seasons are available to stream via the Hulu Plus service (the free version is often limited to the latest episodes). From comedies to dramas, here are the 25 best TV shows on Hulu.

25. News Radio
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Creator: Paul Simms
Stars: Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Andy Dick, Maura Tierney, Vicki Lewis, Joe Rogan, Phil Hartman, Khandi Alexander, Jon Lovitz, John Ritter, Janeane Garofalo, Dennis Miller, Bebe Neuwirth
Original Network: NBC
Seasons Available: 1-3
Back when the words “smart” and “sitcom” rarely got to know each other, NewsRadio’s rapid-fire dialogue and deeply written characters stood out in a world of cheap laughs. And just look at that ensemble cast—Dave Foley, Andy Dick, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, Dennis Miller, Maura Tierney. So much talent on one show makes it hold well over time.—Josh Jackson

24. Frasier
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Creator: David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, Moose
Original Network: NBC
Seasons Available: 1-11
Frasier is arguably the best spin-off in television history. Kelsey Grammer played the character for 20 years, and made Dr. Crane the longest-running live-action character on TV. The show won more Outstanding Comedy Series awards than any other show with five, while Grammer won four Lead Actor awards. In total, the series won a record-tying 37 Emmy Awards during its run. Though it was about a psychiatrist, the heart of Frasier was Dr. Crane’s relationships with his father and brother. Like Cheers, it also produced one of the longest “will they, won’t they” relationships with Niles and Daphne. Of course, they will.—Adam Vitcavage

23. Family Guy
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Creator: Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Mike Henry
Original Network: FOX
Seasons Available: 1-9, 11
It’s the show that made Seth MacFarlane a household name, and unfortunately, the one it seems he’ll never top. This is with good reason. MacFarlane created a family that’s easy to relate to despite the fact that it includes a talking dog and an inexplicably British, bloodthirsty infant. Combine the characters’ eccentricities with jokes that (sometimes literally) won’t quit, and you’ve got one of the most important cartoons to grace the small screen.—Austin L. Ray

22. Parenthood
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Creators: Ron Howard
Jason Katims
Stars: Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Savannah Paige Rae, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder, Joy Bryant, Miles Heizer, Mae Whitman, Bonnie Bedelia, Craig T. Nelson, Tyree Brown
Original Network: NBC
Seasons Available: 4
Parenthood has always been a good drama, but this season it became a great one. The NBC series is palpably real. The Bravermans are us. Each week, the show provides insight into what it’s like to be part of an extended, loving and meddling family while giving viewers the opportunity for a nice cathartic cry. Family dramas are the hardest type of one-hour programming—they must keep viewers engaged without a weekly patient to cure, crime to solve or case to litigate. That’s why a family drama frequently will turn to the television trope of giving a lead character a disease. But what Parenthood has done with the Kristina (Monica Potter) story arc this season has been profound. The series thrives when it demonstrates the minutia of life. While Kristina has been battling breast cancer, she’s also been dealing with life’s smaller moments. Life, the show subtly points out each week, doesn’t stop for cancer. So often on TV, a disease will befall a character only to be wrapped up in one or two episodes after a few requisite maudlin moments. But Kristina is living with cancer and Potter is giving the performance of her career. She evokes empathy from the viewer while never allowing the viewer to pity Kristina. Parenthood has quietly become one of the best shows on TV.—Amy Amatangelo

21. The Guild
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Creator: Felicia Day
Stars: Felicia Day, Vincent Caso, Sandeep Parikh, Amy Okuda, Robin Thorsen, Jeff Lewis
Original Network: YouTube, Xbox Live
Seasons Available: 1-5
It’s no secret that we have a bit of a crush on Felicia Day. From her starring role in Joss Whedon’s straight-to-internet supervillain musical spectacular, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, to her nearly two million followers on Twitter, she’s an internet force to be reckoned with. She’s also a writer/co-producer/actress/etc. for a well-known and industry-defying web series called The Guild. Turns out, we might also have a crush on The Guild itself. The web series follows the sordid on- and off-line lives of a band of gaming misfits as they go from being anonymous avatars to being present in each others’ lives. The ensemble that Day and other producers scrabbled together are not only incredibly funny in their own individual rights, but they work together well—from snarky Amy Okuda as Guild dissenter Tinkerballa down to Sandeep Parikh’s obsessive, sheltered and socially-deficient gnome warlock Zaboo. Every character seems almost tailored to each actor/comedian’s strengths, which maximizes the potential for hilarity.—Whitney Baker

20. Mystery Science Theater 3000
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Creator: Joel Hodgson
Stars: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Michael J. Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Bill Corbett, Patrick Brantseg
Original Network: KTMA, The Comedy Channel, Comedy Central, Sci Fi Channel
Seasons Available: Parts of 2,4-6,10
The funniest sci-fi show of all time (apologies to both Futurama and Red Dwarf), MST3K was as good as the movies it parodied were bad—meaning it was very, very good. The movie theater on the Satellite of Love was more ruthless than a cage of Klingons when it came to savaging B-movies.—Josh Jackson

19. All In the Family
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Creators: Norman Lear, Johnny Speight
Stars: Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, Danielle Brisebois
Original Network: CBS
Seasons Available: 1-2
This American staple derives from a British show called Till Death Do Us Part that aired on BBC1 and ITV off and on from the ‘60s through the ‘90s and focused on the Garnett family from the East End. The leader of the family, Alf Garnett, held anti-socialist views. The American version, produced by Norman Lear, continued in the same controversial vein by tackling topics like racism, women’s liberation issues and the Vietnam war. It ran on CBS from 1972-1979.—Nathan Spicer

18. Strangers With Candy
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Creators: Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, Mitch Rouse
Stars: Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, Greg Hollimon, Deborah Rush, Larc Spies, Orlando Pabotoy, Maria Thayer, Sarah Thyre
Original Network: Comedy Central
Seasons Available: 1-3
Strangers with Candy’s Jerri Blank—a 46-year old crack-whore-turned-high-school-freshman, prone to layers of makeup, disturbingly sculpted hair and crocheted vests—is one of television’s most revoltingly loveable anti-heroines. Jerri’s overbite, high-rise pants, and tendency toward inappropriate sexual advances require an actress in possession of excessive valor and gusto: enter the New York-born, North Carolina-raised Amy Sedaris, sister of David, baker of cupcakes and cheeseballs, and beloved comedic foil—she boasted the rubbery mug, incomparable commitment and high, squeaky voice necessary to spark Jerri Blank into hideous fruition.—Amanda Petrusich

17. Angel
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Creators: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt
Stars: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Glenn Quinn, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker
Original Networks: The WB, UPN
Seasons Available: 1-5
While watching Buffy straight through for the first time, I took a break after the fourth season to watch its spin-off, Angel. I’ve loved it every bit as much as Joss Whedon’s first series, especially all the half-demon as illegal alien motifs. If Boreanaz was a little too irritatingly brooding in Buffy, he’s given more depth as the lead. Joss Whedon may have moved on to big-screen blockbusters, but his TV shows found that overlap of “smart” and “entertaining” every time.—Josh Jackson

16. New Girl
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Creator: Elizabeth Meriwether
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Hannah Simone, Lamorne Morris
Original Network: FOX
Seasons Available: 2
In 2012, New Girl went from adorkable show led by quirky Zooey Deschanel to one of the current great ensemble comedies on television. This year, it found its voice, making the guys of New Girl—Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson and Lamorne Morris—as much a focal point as Deschanel’s Jess, with great success. Finding humor in late-20s uncertainty, New Girl breathes new life into the sitcom in a way that hasn’t been seen since How I Met Your Mother, but without the romantic entanglement between friends that so many sitcoms before it have forced onto its stars.—Ross Bonaime

15. 30 Rock
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Creator: Tina Fey
Stars: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander
Original Network: NBC
Seasons Available: 7
The spiritual successor to Arrested Development, 30 Rock succeeded where its competition failed by largely ignoring the actual process of creating a TV show and instead focusing on the life of one individual in charge of the process, played by show creator Tina Fey. 30 Rock never loses track of its focus and creates a surprisingly deep character for its circus to spin around. But Fey’s not the only one that makes the series. Consistently spot-on performances by Tracy Morgan—whether frequenting strip clubs or a werewolf bar mitzvah—and Alec Baldwin’s evil plans for microwave-television programming create a perfect level of chaos for the show’s writers to unravel every week. 30 Rock doesn’t have complex themes or a deep message, but that stuff would get in the way of its goal: having one of the most consistently funny shows on TV. Suffice to say, it succeeded.—Sean Gandert

14. Firefly
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Creator: Joss Whedon
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Original Network: Fox
Seasons Available: 1
Leave it to Joss Whedon to dream up a space show without aliens. The smart writing he brought to Buffy turned the universe into one big frontier, where those who didn’t conform to authoritarian rule were forced to eke out their livings among outlying planets where the long arm of the law can’t follow. Watch the way-too-short-lived series in full before finishing with Serenity.—Josh Jackson

13. Friday Night Lights
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Creator: Peter Berg
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett
Original Network: NBC
Seasons Available: 4-5
Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meat-heads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show manages to convince week after week that, yes, football somehow really is life.—Rachael Maddux

12. Portlandia
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Creators: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein
Stars: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein
Original Network: IFC
Seasons Available: 3
IFC’s short-run comedy series Portlandia is a show about hipsters that translates well-beyond Portland’s city limits. (Hey, Silver Lake and Brooklyn: We mean you, too.) Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) have struck gold poking fun at the culture of coffee shops, indie book and record stores and that too-cool-for school attitude.—Christine N. Ziemba

11. Downton Abbey
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Creator: Julian Fellowes
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes, Rob James-Collier, Rose Leslie, Phyllis Logan, Sophie McShera
Original Network: PBS
Seasons Available: 1-2
Downton Abbey is never short on drama and general strife, and Season Two of this popular British export saw Downton and its inhabitants torn apart (and, in a few instances, brought together) by war, ravaged by a nasty Spanish flu outbreak and struggling to maintain the stiff upper lip expected of them. The ensemble series is extraordinarily well-acted (as evidenced by Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Jim Carter and Brendan Coyle all receiving Emmy nominations this year), and there’s perhaps no easier way to describe this year’s plot twists than “fucking nuts”—a term we strongly feel the saucy Dowager Countess would approve of. Amnesia? Yup. Temporary paralysis? Got it. Murder conviction? Oh, big-time. In less capable hands, season two’s story would’ve likely flown off the rails and veered into the completely ridiculous, but the talented cast of Downton Abbey handled it with aplomb, making for some of most compelling television in recent memory.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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