The streaming services of the world have provided the cinephiles and TV obsessives among us with a vast array of options that slowly, algorithmically get attuned to our tastes. Eventually, we start to see the stuff that they “know” we’ll like, taking a lot of the guesswork out of that coldly terrifying question, “What should I watch next?”
With as much content as they have to offer, it’s inevitable that some great stuff winds up getting shoved far into the background. If it weren’t for the suggestions of friends or savvy critics like myself, you might never get a chance to see some of the programs collecting digital dust in their servers.
For as much I love Hulu, they can be the worst for this. Beholden as they are to the big networks, the top tier shows and movies tend to float to the surface. And while spending some time in the company of Difficult People, The Daily Show or Last Man On Earth is not a bad way to go, it should be said that there is more out there. But even if you spend a couple of hours clicking away, you might not know what is worth your while. Allow us to guide you a little bit. Here are our choices for 10 fantastic comedy programs on Hulu that you might not have known were available.
The Comedy Shop
For students of the history of stand-up, or lovers of dated variety shows, you need look no further than this syndicated series that aired in the late ‘70s. Hosted by Borscht Belt icon Norm Crosby, The Comedy Shop served a similar purpose to The Tonight Show by giving airtime to the cream of the old school comics like Shelley Berman, Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles, while also welcoming in newer members of the fraternity such as Jay Leno, Elayne Boosler and Brad Garrett. Additional ironic laughs abound through the stilted bits featuring famous and not-as-famous singers and actors of the time.
Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays
Writer/comedian Bob Martin and actor/director Don McKellar have been collaborating for nearly two decades now on various theater and TV projects. And as great as many of those have been, their joint vision crystallized in this fantastic sitcom that aired on CBC in 2011. In it, Martin plays a therapist with visions of Dr. Phil-like success clouding his own mental health issues and impacting the treatment of his regular patient, Michael (Matt Watts), who suffers from an array of neuroses and anxieties. Being a fan of dry Canadian humor certainly helps in appreciating this show, but the strongest elements are the empathy and affection that McKellar and Martin have for these characters and their plights.
A Bit of Fry and Laurie
Yes, well before Hugh Laurie earned his well-deserved acting plaudits for House and Stephen Fry became the voice of the Harry Potter audiobooks, the two were young British comedy actors who arrived from the Footlights drama club that spawned members of Monty Python and author Douglas Adams. The pair landed their joint sketch series in 1989 and for four seasons delighted British audiences with their sardonic wit and fantastic chemistry. It’s also a rare series that doesn’t shy away from showing off the breadth of both men’s intelligence, as proven by their love of wordplay and the meta commentary about the show within each episode.
No, not the absurd sitcom from Michael Showalter, David Wain and Michael Ian Black. While hugely successful in England, this Sky 1 dramedy is virtually unknown on this side of the pond. More’s the pity, too, as Stella is positively brilliant. Initially focusing in on the ups and downs and emotional trials of a single mom living in Wales, the show has continued to zoom out over the course of its five seasons to include storylines featuring Stella’s friends and family members. The result is a rich portrait of working class folk striving to bring a little peace and joy into their lives in spite of the outside world’s indifference and their own frequently poor decision making. It’s yet another acting and writing success for Ruth Jones, who previously helped create the beloved series Gavin & Stacey (with future late night hero James Corden) and co-starred in Steve Coogan’s brilliant Saxondale.
My Breakfast With Blassie
The 1981 film My Dinner With Andre has been the subject of many parodies in the years since its release. The only one that matters, though, is this project conceived by Andy Kaufman. The hourlong film finds the provocative comic sitting down for a morning meal with Classy Freddie Blassie, a former professional wrestling champion, and having a freewheeling conversation. Kaufman, of course, couldn’t let it simply lie there. As their breakfast goes on, the comic starts getting into increasingly tense confrontations with his fellow diners, while fuming about his fame and his wrestling skills. Pair this with some episodes of The Eric Andre Show for an evening of discomforting laughs.
What inane talent shows are to America, quiz shows are to the U.K. Their TV schedule is rife with them, especially ones that let their comic actors and stand-ups make pithy remarks about the news, history or music trivia. One of their finest creations in this field is QI (or Quite Interesting). On each episode, a panel of funny people respond to a series of questions based on strange facts culled from history. Watching folks like Noel Fielding, David Mitchell, Jo Brand and Jessica Hynes try to both find the proper answer while also making light of the whole affair is the show’s principal charm, but it’s also an unapologetically smart program that will leave your head swimming with new information and a hunger for more.
This is potentially the most well-known show in this feature, but somehow I feel like plenty of people are still unaware of this fantastic short-lived workplace comedy. Created in part by former Veronica Mars producer Rob Thomas and actor Paul Rudd, the show followed the staff of a low-rent catering company to a variety of events in and around L.A, like weddings, an orgy, and Steve Guttenberg’s birthday. This set up provided perfect fodder to poke fun at the fevered egos of Hollywood celebs and wannabe famous people, as well as laying the foundation for the hilarious and sometimes touching interpersonal dynamics of the folks doling out the hors d’oeuvres and drinks. If nothing else, know that Party Down boasted one of the deepest benches on TV, with future stars Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch and Martin Starr all serving as regular cast members.
Review With Myles Barlow
The American version of this show, in which a critic attempts to review events from regular life as a strange form of public service, has taken many dark turns during its two seasons on Comedy Central (an abbreviated final season is set to air in the very near future). If you think that Review is hard to watch at times, it will feel like a breeze after you sit down with a few episodes of the original show, Review With Myles Barlow. This Australian export goes into far more brutal and harrowing territory. Look no further than the episode where host Barlow (Phil Lloyd) hastens the death of a family member so he can review the experience of loss, or his long, disturbing night trying to solicit sex from a prostitute on behalf of a viewer request. I promise you this is a comedy. It’s simply not one for the easily offended or easily rattled.
Steve Martin Comedy Specials
At the height of his fame as a comic, Steve Martin produced a stand-up special for HBO as well as a batch of hour-long sketch shows for NBC that further cemented his legacy as one of America’s most beloved entertainers. While all of them and some of his other TV work were compiled into a must-have DVD set in 2012, a few of the specials have landed on Hulu. If you’re unfamiliar with this side of his career, start off with Homage To Steve, which combines Martin’s Oscar-nominated short film The Absent-Minded Waiter with his 1979 performance to a raucous crowd at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. From there, move to his winning Best Show Ever that he made in 1981 with a lot of help from his buddies at Saturday Night Live and Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and All Commercials, his special from a year earlier that was, yes, an hour’s worth of commercial parodies.
Andy Barker P.I.
In the years following his departure from Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 2000, Andy Richter was given a number of opportunities to frontline a sitcom. While none of them managed to connect with audiences, all of them are nothing less than wonderful. The best of the bunch is also the last: this 2007 fish out of water sitcom (created by O’Brien with writer Jonathan Groff) that found our schlubby hero playing an accountant who is mistaken for a private investigator. Barker’s efforts to juggle this new career and his old one, despite his complete incompetence, provided much fodder for laughs and some healthy pokes at the tropes of crime procedural dramas. One of the great short-lived TV shows of recent memory, Barker also was a wonderful showcase for the greatness of actor Tony Hale in-between Arrested Development and Veep.
Robert Ham is a regular contributor to Paste and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, out now via Regan Arts. Follow him on Twitter.