Though Hulu has made the biggest splash with its dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale, don’t sleep on the streamer’s excellent comedy series. Or their documentaries. Or their British co-productions. Basically, Hulu has a lot of great TV. And if you bundle it with their Live TV service, well, it’s a pretty great deal.
Below, the Paste TV writers have voted on our favorite Hulu original series—although we’re being a little loose with that term. Hulu’s library of originals isn’t nearly as robust as Netflix (and includes more than a few forgettable missteps), so we’re also including continuations (like The Mindy Project) as well as international co-productions (like Harlots). Mrs. America, though produced by FX, was made especially for Hulu as part of their new partnership, so it also gets a place on the list. However, we did draw the line at simply “exclusive international streaming rights.” That excludes series like Moone Boy and National Treasure: Kiri, which you can find on our more general list of the 100 Best TV Shows on Hulu. Enjoy!
Created by / Stars: James Corden, Mathew Baynton
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The very under-the-radar The Wrong Mans finds two unsuspecting, average Britons caught up in a web of crime and conspiracy. The series hinges on the charm of stars James Corden and Matthew Baynton, who also wrote and created the show, taking viewers on a very fun, very short (two seasons totalling 10 episodes) caper that is given a surprisingly decent budget for cinematic action. The series winningly combines a number of familiar formulas, from The Odd Couple to Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, to great effect, as the two men desperately try to reclaim their normal lives after reluctantly answering a cellphone at the site of a car crash. The Wrong Mans is a silly, fun, and very charming ride that manages to hit some surprising emotional beats. —Allison Keene
Created by: Luke Davies, David Michôd
Stars: Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie, George Clooney
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As panic-stricken bombardier John Yossarian, Christopher Abbott successfully takes on an iconic Catch-22 role that was thoroughly owned by Alan Arkin. He’s convincing in this Hulu miniseries, equally so in dramatic and comedic moments (and there are plenty of both), and the direction takes good advantage of it, with ample closeups of Abbott’s large, dark, liquid-looking eyes as they perfect the thousand-yard-stare of a man for whom horror and idiocy have become the same thing. The supporting cast (including George Clooney as the parade-obsessed General Scheisskopf and Hugh Laurie as taste-for-the-finer-things Major de Coverley) is absurdist-perfecto, nailing the complicated balance of “real” emotion and farce. Production design is understated, a drab palette of khaki uniforms and dry bisque-colored Mediterranean landscapes; even the sky and the water seem subdued and desiccated, making the bizarre comedic eruptions stand out and the occasional moments of raw combat gore all the more shocking and bloody. Daniel Davis Stewart as the enterprising mess officer Milo Minderbinder and Lewis Pullman as the kerfuffled Major Major are also standout-funny. The episodes’ pacing is very balanced, so that we feel the endless repetition Yossarian feels without feeling like the show itself is spinning its wheels.
At risk of overusing the word “zeitgeist,” Catch-22 is a meaningful, enduring example of it—I wonder how many people routinely use the term “catch-22” without even knowing where it comes from? Probably a fair few. If you did have to study Heller’s novel in school, you probably learned that the term was of Heller’s own coinage, denoting a kind of paradox that paralyzes people in a bureaucratic insanity loop. The setting of the novel is the second world war; the novel was published in 1961—and the conundrum is all too eternal and has any number of disturbing exemplars in the present day. The number 22 is as arbitrary as anything the buffoons in Yossarian’s unit might come up with: Heller called it “Catch 18” and then “Catch 17;” the publishers thought “Catch 22” was more melodious sounding. Arbitrariness infiltrates every level of everything, as it turns out.—Amy Glynn
Created by: Josh Greenbaum
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This beautiful, quiet, and soulful documentary series explores the lives of those who work as mascots, examining how things are different inside and outside of their suit. From high school and college mascots to minor and major leagues, Behind the Mask highlights the hardworking people whose faces you would never recognize, but whose wonderfully cartoonish embodiments of team spirit have become iconic for fans. Garnering Hulu one of its first Emmy nominations, the series is a bittersweet tale of those who may labor unseen, but bring joy to untold numbers of people. The series does the same. —Allison Keene
Created by: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason
Stars: André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy, Sissy Spacek
Original Network: Hulu
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Castle Rock, inspired by the stories of Stephen King, is not a perfect piece of prestige TV, with plenty of silly allusions and worn concepts that are, if not quite ham, at least ham-adjacent. Bacon, maybe. Ham but a little more crisp, a little tastier, a little worse for your health. For good and for ill, that’s where much of King’s work aims, and Castle Rock is nothing if not a winning offering to its idol. Fans will find exactly what they came for, while curious newcomers and King agnostics will find themselves enveloped by the self-assured mystery’s densely woven blanket. —Jacob Oller
Created by: Howard Overman, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Eliza Coupe, Derek Wilson, Glenne Headly, Ed Begley, Jr.
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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
Created by: Julie Klausner
Stars: Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner, James Urbaniak, Andrea Martin, Cole Escola, Gabourey Sidibe
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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
Created by: Jordan Weiss
Stars: Kat Dennings, Brenda Song, Shay Mitchell, Esther Povitsky
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Some shows you just have to give yourself over to. You just can’t fight what it’s trying to do. Hulu’s Dollface asks for your cooperation almost immediately. After being summarily dumped by her boyfriend Jeremy (Connor Hines), a devastated Jules (Kat Dennings) boards a bus driven by a literal cat lady (Beth Grant). The bus is filled with other brokenhearted women and makes stops in places like “Rebound Town.”
From the start, you have to decide whether you’re going to be in or out on the comedy’s frequent flights of fancy. In the third episode, Jules (a homebody), gets pulled into a game of “Should She Go Out,” hosted by the cat lady (naturally) where behind one door is the “baby shower of the former co-worker’s second kid.” That joke speaks to my very core because I’ve been there, and if you are a woman in these pivotal years, you’ve probably been there too. I easily decided to go all-in on the series, because Dollface—created by 26-year-old Jordan Weiss—does a fantastic job of balancing the show’s fever-dream segments with real human pathos.
Most of all, Dollface leans into Dennings’ innate charms. She’s a great everywoman trying to navigate the tricky landscape of female friendships in your twenties. She wants to rekindle those friendships, she just doesn’t know how. This is the journey the series wants to take you on, so long as you are willing to give yourself over to it. And you should—bus-driving cat lady and all. —Amy Amatangelo
Created by: Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider
Stars: Tymberlee Hill, Angela Kinsey, Dannah Phirman, Andrea Savage, Danielle Schneider, Casey Wilson, Kristen Schaal
Watch on Hulu
If you enjoyed the incredibly silly Burning Love web series, Hotwives is absolutely a must-watch. A satire of Bravo’s undying Real Housewives franchise, The Hotwives (of Orlando, and in a second season, Las Vegas) are really almost indisguistablable from their real-life counterparts. Brash, loud, ridiculous, and ready and willing to fight anyone and anything while they work on their entrepreneurial interests (like high heels for dogs), both Hotwives seasons feature an outstanding array of comedic actresses. Though the series, which debuted in 2014, has largely been overlooked as Hulu has moved into more serious and “prestige TV” fare for its original series, The Hotwives deserves your attention for its outrageous plotlines that are—either sadly or hilariously—ripped from Housewife headlines. —Allison Keene
Created by: Liz Tigelaar
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Joshua Jackson, Rosemarie DeWitt
Watch on Hulu
“You didn’t make good choices. You had good choices! Options that being rich and white and entitled gave you.”
That’s Mia (Kerry Washington) screaming to Elena (Reese Witherspoon) during the emotionally charged fourth episode of the new Hulu series Little Fires Everywhere.
The line sums up the crux of a series that explores the complicated themes of race, wealth, and motherhood with a delicate aplomb. Based on the Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel of the same name, the eight-episode series follows the sequence of events that occur when Mia moves to the storied community of Shaker Heights, Ohio with her teenage daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) in 1997.
Elena’s friend Linda (Rosemarie DeWitt) has struggled with infertility for years and has finally adopted a baby with her husband Mark (Geoff Stults). Their lives have been wrecked by miscarriages and still births. Their adopted daughter Mirabelle is the answer to years of prayer and heartache. Meanwhile, Mia’s co-worker Bebe (Huang Lu) decides to fight for custody of the baby she abandoned. The mother-focused stories continue, and eventually come to a boil: these proverbial “little fires everywhere” become harder and harder to extinguish as the series progresses.
The series is set in the 1990s but its themes, particularly those surrounding what defines motherhood, are timeless. The conversation around race and privilege are perhaps even more relevant today than the era in which the show is set.
Washington is fantastic as Mia. Her hard, angry exterior barely conceals her vulnerability. She’s a fiercely protective mother who may not always make the best choices but always wants what is right. Witherspoon has perfected the entitled character who is blind to her own entitlement, living a life that is so controlled and carefully cultivated that she may have even lost sight of what she truly wants in life. Together, these elements ignite to form a show well worth watching.—Amy Amatangelo
Created by: Rob Thomas
Stars: Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Teddy Dunn, Jason Dohring, Sydney Tamiia Poitier
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Equal parts witty and riveting, Veronica Mars follows the title character, who is an ostracized high-school student moonlighting as a private eye for her classmates. Kristen Bell uncannily portrays someone who is simultaneously smart, vulnerable, tough and injured. The series, which received a fan-funded movie revival in 2014 and a recent Hulu revival, is thematically compelling, stylistically coherent, and fully realized TV show (despite the controversy of the revival’s conclusion). The first season followed Veronica as she solved the murder of her best friend Lilly (Amanda Seyfried) and uncover who assaulted her at a party. The eventual reveal of the murderer was shocking but the show proved it was much more than a one-trick pony. Subsequent seasons introduced new mysteries and corruption all while delivering some of the most fantastic dialogue on television (“Love stinks. You can dress it up in sequins and shoulder pads, but one way or another, you’re just gonna end up alone at the spring dance strapped in uncomfortable underwear.”) For UPN, the series represented a foray into critically acclaimed television. The show was then and remains one of the best TV series of all time. And marshmallows, we pause here to give a special shout out to Jason Dohring, who brought a nuanced combination of cockiness and hurt to bad boy Logan Echolls. —James South and Shaina Pearlman
Created by: Nick Antosca, Michelle Dean
Stars: Patricia Arquette, Joey King, AnnaSophia Robb, Chloe Sevigny, Calum Worthy
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The sinister, simmering miniseries The Act is a fictionalized telling of a very real crime: the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. What makes this story even more twisted is that the murder was committed by Dee Dee’s daughter Gypsy Rose and Gypsy’s secret, troubled boyfriend she met online. But where things get really messed up is in the realization that Dee Dee had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, essentially torturing Gypsy for years to make her seem ill, infantile, and mentally and physically disabled. Patricia Arquette and Joey King give powerhouse performances as the mother-daughter duo at the center of this nightmare, as Dee Dee is able to fool doctors and neighbors for years about Gypsy, who longs to be a normal girl. Though the miniseries is a little long and falters a bit at the end, the early episodes that show Dee Dee’s merciless, co-dependent control of Gypsy under the guise of a loving, attentive mother will chill you to the bone. —Allison Keene
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Stars: James Franco, Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones
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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
Created by: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Sam Zvibleman
Stars: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle
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Two young women make a comedy about middle school. It’s based on their own experiences, and they name the characters eponymously: Maya (Maya Erskine) and Anna (Anna Konkle). Then they make a really interesting choice, casting their 30-ish selves as the 13-year-old principal characters, and surround themselves with a supporting cast of actual middle schoolers. The result is so excruciatingly awkward it probably out-awkwards actual middle school, which is no small feat. Erskine and Konkle absolutely hurl themselves into the roles, sparing nothing in their quest to anatomize seventh grade in all its disgusting, giddy glory. They’re hilarious, and there are moments when you entirely forget they’re adults. And then there are moments when that fact sticks out like a sore thumb and those moments are possibly the best, because they evoke the competing impulses of the age—to race into adulthood and to go back to the safety of childhood—with a kind of zany, surreal brilliance. These are young people for whom every single minute seems momentous and defining, and who cannot realize that nothing momentous and defining has yet happened to them. —Amy Glynn
Created by: Mindy Kaling
Stars: Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Anna Camp, Zoe Jarman, Amanda Setton, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ike Barinholtz
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As anyone who’s sat through the second or third Bridget Jones movies can attest, not that much interesting stuff happens after the couple you’ve been rooting for in the romantic comedy finally get together. Then again, most female romantic leads aren’t Mindy Lahiri. Creator and star Mindy Kaling’s impressively dressed, self-centered OB/GYN is a walking master class in relationship failure. Although she’s had some strong hits along the way (the show’s will they/won’t they build-up with co-star Chris Messina’s Danny, for example), Mindy is most fun for viewers when she’s single and on the prowl. But all the vapid pop culture references—“There’s a sequel to the Bible and not to Gone Girl?” is a personal favorite—meet-cutes and elevator sex are really just sugar coating. Where The Mindy Project really excels is in its conversations about feminism, single parenting, and whether a woman truly can have it all. —Whitney Friedlander
Created by: Ramy Youssef, Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch
Stars: Ramy Youssef, May Calamawy, Mohammed Amer, Dave Merheje, Stephen Way, Hiam Abbass, Amr Waked, Laith Nakli
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A quarter-life crisis has never been sweeter than in Ramy. The half-hour Hulu dramedy follows a fictionalized version of star Ramy Youssef (who also writes many of the first season’s episodes) as he figures out life as a young Muslim Egyptian-American in New Jersey. Co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, along with showrunner Bridget Bedard, find an endearing doofus in Ramy and plenty to say about generational compromise, religious identity, and culture clash. Ramy is easy to watch, radically optimistic, and a groundbreaking portrayal of Islam on screen. —Jacob Oller
Created by: Aidy Bryant, Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West
Stars: Aidy Bryant, Lolly Adefope, Luka Jones, John Cameron Mitchell, Ian Owens
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Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant takes center stage as Annie, an overweight woman who wants to change her life. But it’s not what you think: So many TV series, from This Is Us to Netflix’s repugnant Insatiable, build entire storylines about a fat woman losing weight. Before we even get to the opening credits, a total stranger tells Annie, “There is a small person inside of you dying to get out … You could be so pretty.” Annie’s got a boyfriend who makes her leave through the backdoor so his roommates don’t see her, as a mom who drops not-so-subtle hints about dieting and exercising. But an unexpected event in the first episode forces Annie to reassess her life and flips the proverbial script on the “fat woman” story TV and movies are so fond of telling. Amazingly, Annie doesn’t have to lose weight to improve her life. She’s ready to advocate for what she deserves. Bryant is so utterly charming, you can’t help but root for her. Lolly Adefope is also a true breakout as Annie’s best friend, Fran. The series is a delight. “I’m the one with the fat ass and the big titties, so I get to decide what we do,” Annie says. Damn straight, she does. —Amy Amatangelo
Created by: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe
Stars: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal
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Many people are confined to their homes with various family members right now, but Hulu’s new show Normal People is not one to watch with your mom. Trust me on this. Normal People is a journey best taken alone in a dark room. The series, especially in the beginning, is uninhibitedly horny and would certainly make for an awkward group watch. If you’ve read the book, all this hot-and-bothered business probably sounds familiar (author Sally Rooney writes freely and without using conventional punctuation structures, bringing the reader even closer to the action). But it’s also a deeply felt story.
For the uninitiated, Normal People is the tale of two Irish teens, outsider Marianne and cool-kid Connell who, against all the odds (namely, a high school social hierarchy) fall in love and float in and out of each other’s lives into their university years. In the new adaptation starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal (both poised for breakouts), the plot is treated delicately and with great care, allowing for lots of small, quiet moments with these characters as they change, mature, break up, have sex, and make up over the years. At first, they hide their relationship from Connell’s popular friends, a group of random hot Irish people who stalk the halls of a high school that looks inexplicably like an airport terminal. Connell comes across as quite a scumbag early on, but the imperfectness of both his and Marianne’s youthful mistakes are part of what makes Normal People so real and endearing.
In the end, Normal People isn’t just some erotic but sweet story of turbulent young love. It’s a portrait of intimacy itself—and I do mean both kinds, sexual and emotional. There’s an earnestness to it that you won’t find in other TV shows aimed at young adults. But take away all the dynamic storytelling and so-real-it-hurts humanity, and you’re still left with a steamy quarantine binge that’ll leave your heart racing in the best way. But you’ve been warned: Just don’t watch with your friends or loved-ones if you, like Connell, are prone to blushing. —Ellen Johnson
Created by: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Peter Capaldi, Chris Langham, Rebecca Front, Chris Addison, Joanna Scanlan, James Smith
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If you’re a fan of Veep, and find yourself jonesing for more TV from Armando Iannucci, then The Thick of It is definitely in your wheelhouse. A hilarious take on the British political system, it could be argued that it’s an even more biting take on politics than Veep. The show may have run from 2005 until 2012, but it was a sporadic run, as there are only 24 episodes. However, those 24 episodes are excellent. If you don’t know British politics, you might not fully understand every bit, but chances are you can still understand awful, stupid people saying awful, stupid things. Malcolm Tucker, as played by Peter Capaldi, remains Iannucci’s greatest creation. And if you’ve ever wanted to see the current Doctor saying the c-word a whole bunch, then this is the show for you. —Chris Morgan
Created by: Alison Newman Moira Buffini
Stars: Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Dorothy Atkinson, Pippa Bennett-Warner
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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
Created by: Dahvi Waller
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Ari Graynor, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Tracey Ullman
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Equality is at the heart of Mrs. America. The series, which starts in 1971, examines the national debate taking place over the Equal Rights Amendment, meant to put women on the same legal footing as men. For some housewives across America, though, the amendment was concerning because it was ushered in by second-wave feminists who (they believed) threatened to dismantle traditional family values. And at the head of that anti-ERA movement was Illinois housewife and mother of six, Phyllis Schlafley (an elegant Cate Blanchett).
Phyllis is the nexus of everything happening in Mrs. America, but each episode also spends time with one or two other important women on the opposite side of the movement, from Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) to Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) to the first black woman to run for President, Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba). Where the limited series, created by Dahvi Waller, really excels (and manages to eschew the issues of other series dealing with similar topics) is that it’s not overly reverential to these real-life characters. It also, crucially, doesn’t treat them as caricatures—there is a deep, recognizable, and very true humanity to each of these women that is immediately authentic, as they move in and out of each other’s lives.
Mrs. America is juggling a lot, but it never feels like too much. Like the ever-present (worthless) question of “can a woman have it all?” Mrs. America does have it all, and more. It illuminates an essential part of the women’s liberation movement and the real women behind it (and against it) in ways that are engrossing, enlightening, and sometimes enraging. —Allison Keene
Created by: Bruce Miller
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley
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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
Created by: Tony McNamara
Stars: Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Phoebe Fox, Sacha Dhawan, Charity Wakefield, Gwilym Lee, Adam Godley
Watch on Hulu
For those who adored The Favourite, writer Tony McNamara is back with “an occasionally true story” for Hulu focused on the rise of Catherine the future great, when she was just “a 20-year-old who’s been in Russia six months, and who—with the aid of a drunken general, an angry maid, and a nervous bureaucrat#8212;is going up against the violent regime that is Peter’s empire,” (as one character succinctly states). The 10-episode series has a crisp, fast-moving script and sumptuous costuming that looks like a traditional historical drama but feels refreshingly modern in its approach. Bathed in a Marie Antoinette meets Death of Stalin aesthetic (and never going Full Dickinson), the series’ acid, winning humor understands the familiar absurdity of an age filled with the constant juxtaposition of wealth and brutality. Emotionally affecting as a complicated dance of horror and hope, Catherine’s outright victories may be few and far between, but the journey is thrilling.
The Great begins in the mid-18th century, with Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) arrival at the Russian court as a naive German bride for Peter (Nicholas Hoult) the not-so-great and in fact very-much-awful. A script this cleverly bombastic requires very specific handling to balance its humor and drama, and both Hoult and Fanning are luminous as the ill-matched new couple. But though Catherine has a distaste (quite rightfully) for Peter, she does have a heart for her new country. “I want a strong, vibrant Russia alive with ideas, humane and progressive, where people live with dignity and purpose,” she says dreamily. “Russia?” the Emperor’s advisor Orlo (Sacha Dhawan) says in a questioning tone. “It needs to be believable.” Catherine’s maid, Marial (Phoebe Fox)—a former noble lady stripped of her position—adds, “Just tell them … no one will rape and kill you and your children, and you’ll have some bread. That would be sufficient.”
The way the series charts Catherine’s quiet but brave attempts to take power by growing a voice at court and discovering new things about herself is a really beautiful journey, punctuated by completely absurd events. It’s strange and wonderful and a fantastically funny ride. But it will also leave you pondering the nature of sacrifice and real change, and the courage it takes to overthrow a despot. Huzzah. —Allison Keene
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