The 10 Best Hulu Original Series

TV Lists Hulu
The 10 Best Hulu Original Series

Though Hulu lags behind Netflix in terms of its original series output—hell, who doesn’t?—it does have one thing on the streaming giant: an Emmy for Best Drama Series. (It also has a much better back catalogue, but that’s a subject for another list.) Still, The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t its only worthwhile offering, TV Academy seal of approval or no. From family comedies and remixed talk shows to pioneering teen dramas and British imports, this list, though limited to 10 entries, showcases the range of titles in the Hulu stable. And while it excludes programs that had a previous life on another U.S. network—the extraordinary Australian comedy Please Like Me, which originated on Pivot, and The Mindy Project, which started on FOX—it nonetheless showcases Hulu’s strong foundation of original programming. One suspects it’ll only continue to build: The service’s highly anticipated 9/11 drama, The Looming Tower, is set to premiere at the end of February.

10. I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman

Stars: Sarah Silverman, Mather Zickel
Premiered: 2017

The premise of I Love You, America is a recipe for disaster: Liberal comic with a notoriously sharp tongue travels the country—Chalmette, La.; Nashville, Tenn.—to meet those on the other end of the political spectrum. In execution, though, Sarah Silverman’s series, riffing on sitcoms, news satire, and late-night talk shows, is rather charming, mostly avoiding both cheap shots and easy “lessons.” Headed by Silverman at her half sly, half sincere best, animated by thoughtful conversations with guests like former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper and writer Roxane Gay, I Love You, America instead embraces the subjectivity of its title: It’s as much a portrait of Silverman’s struggle to make sense of our political moment as it is a set of dispatches from the culture wars’ front lines. Like the musical number that opens the first episode, it has no business working. But it does. —Matt Brennan

9. Harlots

Creators: Alison Newman, Moira Buffini
Stars: Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Eloise Smyth
Premiered: 2017

Class. Patriarchy. Mobility. Agency. Sex and sexuality. Repression and Puritanism. Madonna-whore complexes. Hypocrisy. Masks and veneers. Family. Ghosts from the past. The never-ending battle to stay solvent, stay relevant and stay independent in a ruthless, snakes-and-ladders universe. Harlots has it all. First aired in Britain on ITV Encore, Harlots focuses on a bitter rivalry between two brothel-keepers in Georgian-era London, where, according to the opening scene, one woman in five was a sex worker. Madam Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton) is scrappy and intensely focused on upward mobility, with an “it’s complicated” family of her own as well as her covey of whores; Across town in Golden Square is Margaret’s nemesis, Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville), a human glacier whose establishment is less a bawdy-house than a very high-end flesh-boutique. Soap opera-worthy machination and intrigue are hardly the whole story here, though. Harlots is a fascinating contemplation of a woman’s world in which there both is and isn’t freedom from the constraints of a society rife with hypocrisy and utterly tyrannized by money. —Amy Glynn

8. National Treasure

Creators: Jack Thorne
Stars: Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Tim McInnerny, Andrea Riseborough
Premiered: 2017

Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) is the slightly more out-to-pasture half of a famous comedy duo; we open on him presenting a lifetime achievement award to his former partner, Karl (Tim McInnerny). He has a troubled adult daughter, Dee (Andrea Riseborough) and an extraordinarily patient and loyal wife, Marie (Julie Walters). Things are imperfect—but under control—until Finchley finds himself accused of having raped a young woman in his on-set trailer many years prior. National Treasure, an import from Britain’s Channel 4, is a fantastic investigation into the shadows of the human psyche, with forceful and deeply layered performances—by everyone, really, but particularly Coltrane and Walters, who are both just superb. And, at four episodes, it’s marvelous binge material. Make popcorn. —Amy Glynn

7. East Los High

Creators: Carlos Portugal, Kathleen Bedoya
Stars: Vannessa Vasquez, Gabriel Chavarria, Danielle Vega, Alexandra Rodriguez, Carlito Olivero, J. D. Pardo
Premiered: 2013

As high-school melodrama, East Los High is nothing to write home about: Set in East Los Angeles, it’s a trope-a-minute treatment of everything from virginity and pregnancy to drugs, dances, and study dates, often with a crystal clear “message” to impart. As one of Hulu’s longest-running original series, and as the first English-language series on American television to feature an all-Latino cast, it’s an underappreciated forerunner to ongoing debates about diversity and inclusion in popular culture. Orange Is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, and American Crime may have received far more critical attention, and turned their own tropes to more successful dramatic ends, but East Los High deserves credit for squaring a space in TV’s fast-changing landscape for stories that highlight people and places too often absent from our screens. —Matt Brennan

6. 11.22.63

Creator: Bridget Carpenter
Stars: James Franco, Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones
Premiered: 2016

When it comes to adapting Stephen King for television, the various attempts over the past 30-odd years could politely be characterized as “iffy.” Then, along came Hulu’s 11.22.63—based on King’s celebrated 2011 novel—to majorly screw with that quality curve. Developed as an eight-episode limited series by Friday Night Lights scribe Bridget Carpenter and produced by J.J. Abrams and King himself, 11.22.63 stars James Franco as Jake Epping, a recently divorced English teacher who learns that his friend, Al (Chris Cooper), has been attempting to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy via a time portal in the back of his diner. When Al is unable to continue the mission, Jake assumes the mantle and travels back to 1960, where he must spend the next three years meticulously plotting to hinder Lee Harvey Oswald’s world-changing murder, all while the forces of time throw obstacle after obstacle in his path. The series has been whittled down from King’s 800-plus page opus, and as a result, some of the plot elements feel a tad rushed, while others seem like little more than glorified filler. That said, the emotional core of the piece is present, especially with regard to Jake’s relationship with a beautiful young librarian (Sarah Gadon). What’s more, the narrative’s final stretch is tense and suspenseful. Though calling 11.22.63 the “best Stephen King miniseries of all time“ might sound like a backhanded compliment, it’s a moving and honest-to-God enthralling bit of sci-fi wizardry. —Mark Rozeman

5. Difficult People

Creator: Julie Klausner
Stars: Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner, James Urbaniak, Andrea Martin, Cole Escola, Gabourey Sidibe
Premiered: 2015

Nestled at the intersection of jaded Jewish comedies (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm), backstage comedies (The Larry Sanders Show, 30 Rock), and comedies about comedians (too many to name), Difficult People is, on the face of it, so familiar it might appear uninspired. As Julie (Julie Klausner) and her best friend, Billy (Billy Eichner), struggle to break into the New York scene, they’re beset by indignities large and small: bombed auditions, feckless agents, mercenary producers, SantaCon. What distinguishes Difficult People is Klausner and Eichner’s fluent, acerbic approach to a nebulous substratum of pop culture, situated at the center of a voluminous Venn diagram that includes gossip rags, E!’s red carpet coverage, reality shows, Broadway, old Hollywood, and what Netflix categorizes as “dramas with a strong female lead.” The series is the deepest of cuts from a small slice of the zeitgeist, but this precision is the key to its caustic charm. Sadly canceled at the end of its third season, it has the feeling of a time capsule in the process of being assembled: If I watch this again in five years, or ten, will it all be Greek to me? —Matt Brennan

4. Future Man

Creators: Howard Overman, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Eliza Coupe, Derek Wilson, Glenne Headly, Ed Begley, Jr.
Premiered: 2017

The cure for herpes creates a dystopian divide between humans and mutant beings. Yeah, that’s the setting for one of the strangest, most compelling pieces of sci-fi comedy on television in recent memory. Future Man comes from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, both of whom are masters at genre tweaking. This genre gets tweaked a bit more than most—things get wet and wild almost immediately with some botched time travel, some plot points lifted from The Last Starfighter, and a talking house owned by James Cameron. Yes, that James Cameron. The silliness wouldn’t hold together unless it was seriously acted and the show has a killer cast, unlocking Josh Hutcherson’s potential as a comedy straight man and introducing newcomer Derek Wilson as a fish-out-of-water force. The gags are R-rated, sharp and quick inside the sci-fi pastiche, which makes the absurd dedication to plotting and nuanced characters so entertaining. —Jacob Oller

3. The Path

the path 75.jpg
Creator: Jesse Goldberg
Stars: Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Emma Greenwell, Rockmond Dunbar, Hugh Dancy
Premiered: 2016

Let’s face it: Cults make for great TV. And the next sect to invade the small screen is the mysterious Meyerists of Hulu’s The Path, starring Hugh Dancy, Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan. Created by Jessica Goldberg, the original series follows a family at the center of the movement as they struggle with faith, power and each other. Aaron Paul returns to live-action TV after his indelible role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. On The Path, Paul plays Eddie Lane, a Meyerist adherent who’s going through a crisis of faith after discovering something disturbing while on a spiritual retreat. When he returns home, his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan from the first season of True Detective), one of the Movement’s strongest supporters, senses her husband’s troubles and believes he’s “transgressed.” Hugh Dancy, fresh from playing Will Graham on Hannibal, is the Meyerists’ charismatic leader, Cal Roberts. There’s a real depth to these characters and their intertwined storylines. The series combines drama with elements of mysticism, mystery and romance. —Christine N. Ziemba

2. Casual

Casual 75.jpg
Creator: Zander Lehmann
Stars: Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey, Tara Lynne Barr, Nyasha Hatendi, Julie Berman
Premiered: 2015

Girls, Togetherness,Love, Flaked—did we really need another indie dramedy involving white privileged folks attempting to navigate their disastrous love lives? Well, Hulu’s first foray into the overcrowded sub-genre has gradually revealed itself to be a sharper, snarkier and smarter watch than most of its fellow angsty 20/30-something counterparts. Indeed, while Casual’s first season stuck to the tried and tested formula of non-committal relationships implied by its title, its second wisely shifted its gaze to the often-neglected area of platonic friendships. Still baring all the hallmarks of executive producer Jason Reitman’s trademark cynicism, it was an about-turn which allowed the talented leading trio to expand upon their neatly-defined roles of newly-divorced shrink (Michaela Watkins), womanizing brother (Tommy Dewey) and sexually adventurous teenage daughter (Tara Lynne Barr). Yes, it’s still very much ‘rich people have problems, too,’ but Casual achieves the tricky feat of making you actually care about them. —Jon O’Brien

1. The Handmaid’s Tale

Creator: Bruce Miller
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley
Premiered: 2017

With precise compositions and a rich sense of color, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions the intersectional, drawing the interlocking influences of gender, sexuality and status into its portrait of a puritanical dystopia not far from our own: “Blessed are the meek,” Offred (Elisabeth Moss) says in scornful voiceover, referring to the extremists’ empty dictum. “They always left out the part about inheriting the Earth.” Indeed, as she navigates Gilead’s stony euphemisms and loud silences, whether playing Scrabble with the powerful Commander Waterford (Jospeh Fiennes), flirting with his driver (Max Minghella), or (unsuccessfully) avoiding the ire of Waterford’s wife (Yvonne Strahovski), patriarchal dominion becomes the series’ unifying principle, the poison that soaks through the body politic “under His eye.” In this sense, the first great political drama of our authoritarian age is also, as with Atwood’s now three-decade-old novel, a kind of instant classic: Forever of our time. —Matt Brennan

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin