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Picking and choosing the best television programs on Hulu is a little different from cataloguing the top-shelf choices available on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Unlike those two companies, Hulu’s main thrust has always been television. It started life as a way to watch last night’s shows today, and that’s still its purpose for a lot of people — meaning that its catalog is constantly being updated with new shows.
So in looking at the best programming for your free time, we tried to focus (with a few exceptions) on shows that have been on for at least a few seasons, and mostly shows that are off now the air. If a new program takes off, we’ll add it, but we tried to stick with modern classics or long-running current shows, with a handful of Hulu Originals sprinkled in, and currently-running FX shows, as a lot of them are exclusive to the service. Anyway, it’s time to get watching.
Before Handmaids Tale, The Act, and Castle Rock, Hulu’s biggest original production was this early 2016 mini-series based on the Stephen King book of the same name. James Franco plays a teacher in Maine (of course) who is presented with a chance to go back in time, and he chooses to try and stop the assassination of JFK. It’s a little clunky at times, but has a great cast, including Franco, Sarah Gadon, and Chris Cooper.
Often forgotten when people discuss the most influential and important shows of the Peak-TV era, this massive FOX hit is still a wildly entertaining show, even if some of its politics now look even more problematic than they did in the ’00s. If you can ignore some of the show’s stereotypes and politics, Kiefer Sutherland has never been better than he is as the iconic Jack Bauer, one of the most beloved TV characters of the modern era. The best seasons of 24 are more entertaining than any action movie released in theaters this year.
Tina Fey’s razor-sharp look behind the scenes at a late-night comedy show looks even smarter over a decade after its premiere. Who hasn’t wondered how this show would skewer changes in the world since it went off the air, from social media influencers to Donald Trump? Looking back on the entirety of one of the best network comedies of the modern age, we really miss Liz Lemon, Tracy Jordan, Jenna Maroney, and, yes, even Jack Donaghy.
Both versions (to date) of FOX’s hit medical emergency series are on Hulu, regularly updated with new installments. There’s something comforting about these shows, in which people fall into the worst days of their lives and there are other people there to get them out of it. It helps that both installments have such likable, charismatic casts.
Joey King and Patricia Arquette were Emmy-nominated for their excellent work in this 8-part mini-series about one of the most sensational true crime stories of the modern era. King plays Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who murdered her mother Dee Dee, played unforgettably by Arquette, revealing a lifetime of abuse and fraud. This is dark, fascinating television — you won’t be able to turn away.
There’s a wealth of Cartoon Network programming on Hulu — it’s one of the best streaming sources if you have kids — but this is arguably that cable channel’s best program ever. Pendelton Ward’s vision may first seem like just another parody of fantasy tropes, but it develops into something much deeper and smarter, even progressive in the way it captures diversity and individualism. It’s consistently clever and surprising — two things most cartoons are not.
American Horror Story
The multiple seasons of FX’s hit show have been a rollercoaster in terms of quality but just strap in and enjoy the ride. The latest outing (Apocalypse) isn’t quite on here yet but should be before the newest iteration (1984) premieres in September. The other seven are all here. Start with Murder House, of course, which is still the best of the seven seasons, but almost all of them have interesting beats, especially the underrated 2017 outing Cult.
Spin-offs of critically acclaimed shows typically fail. You can use the old axiom that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but it’s truly difficult to get out of the shadow of a major hit. It feels like Angel never quite did escape the legacy of Buffy, which is a shame given how excellent this show became. David Boreanaz’s first (of many) star vehicles ran from 1999-2004 and produced over 100 episodes.
There’s a whole generation excited by this entry. Running from 1993 to 1998, this Steven Spielberg production appealed to preteens after school more than it did little kids. It was a part of Saturday mornings on Fox for three years and then, even more memorably, a part of afternoons on the WB from 1995 to 1998. It’s one of those cartoons with a little something for every generation. Watch it again now and you’ll get all the jokes that went over your head in the ‘90s.
Speaking of great cartoons, here’s one that’s definitely not for kids. Hulu is the best of the streaming services when it comes to FX programming — you’ll find a few FX shows on this list — and this is one of the cable network’s best shows in their esteemed history. Over its ten seasons and counting, Archer has redefined itself, starting as a straightforward, adults-only spoof of 007 and spy movies, but twisting over rebooted seasons that parody things like film noir and Miami Vice. As of this writing, nine seasons are available on Hulu, but the tenth-season space parody Archer: 1999 will likely join them soon.
Has the current quality of Arrested Development allowed you to forget that the first three seasons were pure genius? Don’t let that happen. Go back and watch the early brilliance of the Bluth family saga, and on Hulu you won’t have to worry about even being tempted to watch the revival, with previews for how far the show has fallen, like you would on Netflix.
The only place you can watch one of the ’10s best shows with a streaming subscription is Hulu. Over only two seasons, Donald Glover’s creative vision of life as a young black man in America has been as critically acclaimed as anything on television for a reason. It is daring, brilliant, hysterical TV, the kind of thing that is difficult to capture in words. Just see what all the buzz is about for yourself.
Another FX show! One of television’s smartest comedies is this gem created by and starring Pamela Adlon. The brilliant comedian presents a skewed version of her own life balancing parenthood with working as an actress, and the result is as confessional, hysterical, and daring as any comedy of the modern era. This show still feels a bit under the radar of where it deserves to be (and the third season was ridiculously snubbed by the Emmys). Time will correct that. Be on the right side of history now.
Beverly Hills 90210
Don’t roll your eyes at us. It’s hard to overstate how much this show was more than just a time-filler on Fox in the ‘90s — it was a phenomenon. Running for the entire decade (seriously, October 1990 to May 2000), Aaron Spelling’s teen soap opera wasn’t just a hit, it was a franchise, spawning spin-offs like Melrose Place and Models Inc. The current reboot is kind of bombing, but there’s a reason Fox thought the fan interest was still there. See why with the original.
Everyone still seems to talk about veterans The Simpsons and Family Guy, but neither has been the best FOX Sunday Night animated program in years. That title belongs to this gem, a family comedy in cartoon form that works for (mostly) all ages. After a rocky first season, Bob’s Burgers developed into one of the smartest and sweetest shows on TV. At its best, it’s close to peak Simpsons. And it’s near its best right now. This is also one of the few shows on this list for which new episodes will be there the next day.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Comedy Central hit just finished its 5-season run, so it’s a good time to look back over what the show accomplished while it was on the air. Based on their real friendship and struggles in New York City, Broad City is an honest, daring piece of TV comedy that feels like something people will find on services like Hulu. We can’t wait to see what Jacobson and Glazer do next.
What were you thinking, FOX? After this beloved comedy’s cancellation, Jake Peralta and the 9-9 jumped over to NBC, where it now looks like they could air for years. This is another comedy that started off on shaky ground but became one of the best ensemble comedies after about a year or two. It’s now as consistently funny as anything on network TV. Prediction: You know how everyone watches The Office over and over again on Netflix? This show will be like that in about a decade.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon’s show is still dismissed by some people as a “teen soap opera with fangs,” but anyone who doesn’t recognize how brilliant and important this show is to the history of television simply hasn’t seen it. Buffy helped redefine audience expectations, proving that deep, progressive social commentary could be embedded in a show about monsters, and that people of all ages could get it. There is so many genre programs nowadays — from Stranger Things to Westworld — that owe a debt to this show.
The first season of Hulu’s series inspired by the universe of Stephen King was a bit rocky, but ambitious enough for it to make this list, and not only for fans of one of the most successful writers of all time. Sure, if you’re a King fan, this is a must-see, just for all of the Easter eggs, but it also has something for those who don’t know their Pennywise from their Cujo, particularly in the ensemble, which includes great turns from Andre Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Glenn, and, most of all, living legend Sissy Spacek.
One of the first Hulu Original Series to get any sort of attention, the Jason Reitman-directed pilot of Casual premiered on the service in 2015, leading to a four-season run for the now-concluded dramady. The ups and downs of a divorce single mother and her odd family never quite gelled to become truly great television, but there’s one major reason to watch this show: Michaela Watkins. The former SNL star does the best work of her career on this show.
Any list of the best TV comedies of all time that doesn’t include Cheers is just wrong. For most of the ’80s, this was quite simply the best show on TV, and it’s held up incredibly well over the years. It’s still laugh-out-loud hysterical, anchored by one of the best ensembles in comedy TV history and razor-sharp writing. There’s a reason this show won 28 Emmys.
We got six seasons, now where’s our movie!? Fans of this NBC hit will get that reference, and those who don’t should check out this Dan Harmon-created laugher that struggled due to low ratings but stayed afloat and on the air due to its incredibly loyal fan base. Much smarter than critics ever gave it credit for being, this was a show that matched NBC darlings like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation at its creative peak. The entire run is definitely rocky, but you should watch it all … so you’re ready for the movie!
Glenn Close gave one of the best modern TV performances in this legal thriller that ran for three seasons on FX before moving to the Audience Network for a final two. Those FX seasons are excellent, pitting Close’s ruthless Patty Hewes against newcomer Ellen Parsons, played brilliantly by Rose Byrne. And the show had a revolving door of great guest stars like Ted Danson, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Lily Tomlin, and John Goodman.
No, not the Kevin Kline movie. This one is based on the comedy rap stylings of Dave Burd, aka Lil Dicky. After kind of a rocky start, Dave develops into a funny and even sweet comedy about identity in the Insta-era. Raunchy and ridiculous, it’s very much of the FXX brand of humor. If you like shows like The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you’ll dig this.
The writer/director of Ex Machina and Annihilation helped launch the new ‘FX on Hulu’ section of the service with this masterful sci-fi show about a tech company that discovers something breathtaking that redefines human existence. It’s smart, complex, foreboding material that fits with his previous work and Garland wrote and directed all eight episodes. Don’t miss this one.
It’s all there in the title of Derek Waters’ historical and hysterical show. Comedians get drunk and try to recount important chapters from history, which are then re-enacted with famous celebrities in guest roles every week. You thought history class was boring? Try watching it this way.
More of an industry than just a show, Family Guy has joined the rarefied air of the most influential animated shows for adults like The Simpsons and South Park. It’s not anywhere near its creative peak now, but you can dig into Hulu to see when the Griffin family felt truly subversive and consistently hysterical.
All three seasons (so far — year four is currently in production for a 2020 bow) are available on Hulu, and there’s really no logical reason not to watch this show as soon as possible if you have yet to see it. Noah Hawley’s critical darling is simply brilliant, starting with a wonderfully entertaining first season anchored by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, and then developing into an arguably-better second season. Year three may not live up to the first two but remains must-see TV. Just trust us on this one. Watch them all.
The top of almost every list of “shows canceled too soon,” Joss Whedon’s FOX sci-fi show had a brief run that almost seems to have cemented its legacy. Would we still be talking about it so much if it had been on for years? The fact that FOX couldn’t see what they had in Firefly actually had a greater impact — illustrating how creatively naïve the networks were at a time when companies like HBO were stealing talent away. See for yourself how big a mistake they made.
It seems likely that Netflix’s When They See Us is going to sweep the Emmy categories this year, but don’t count out this FX limited series, which finds Michelle Williams giving one of the most powerful performances of her career. She plays Gwen Verdon, collaborator and partner to the notoriously difficulty Bob Fosse, played unforgettably by Sam Rockwell. This is brilliant, dense television, one of the best limited series of not just 2019 but the entire decade. And it’s already on Hulu.
What’s better: Cheers or Frasier? And is this the best spinoff ever? Why don’t you watch the massive NBC hit that won so many Emmys that they practically had to disqualify it to let other people get a chance and get back to us? In all seriousness, the saga of Frasier Crane and his put-upon brother Niles has held up marvelously. Frasier’s regularly defeated pomposity will never not be funny.
Fry, Bender, and Co. always seemed to live in the shadow of Matt Groening’s other little Fox hit, especially when this animated sci-fi comedy didn’t find an audience as quickly as the network wanted. However, there’s something ironic about how a show that features cryogenically preserved life has kind of refused to die, coming back in TV films and even a revival on Comedy Central. It’s a testament to the diehard fans. Don’t be surprised if it comes back for another reboot.
Family sitcoms almost never get the credit they deserve in our current era of “highbrow” comedy, but this has been one of the most consistent on network TV for the better part of the ‘10s thanks in large part to an underrated ensemble and a big heart. A very self-aware blend of ‘80s nostalgia with standard family sitcom tropes, The Goldbergs is sweet and clever in ways that people who have given up on network TV may not expect. It’s a hard show to hate.
Thank you for being a frieennnnd. Not only does this comedy classic have perhaps the best theme song of all time but it’s held up remarkably well in the couple decades since it was one of the biggest shows on TV. The main reason for that is the ensemble — a quartet of mega-talented comediennes: Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and the eternally beloved Betty White. They were funny then; they’ll be funny always.
The Good Place
The best comedy currently on network TV is this existential laugher about a woman who dies and goes to the titular location, but not everything is exactly as it seems. This is a show that works better in binge format than it does week to week, as it’s incredibly difficult to watch just one and it’s really structured like one long film with the end of one episode often opening on the same scene in the next. The less you know about this great show’s twists and turns, the better. Just trust us.
Most animated programming aimed at kids goes on for years and years. It feels like there has to be at least 4,000 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants by now. But this Disney hit is a rare exception, running for only two phenomenal seasons, and leaving viewers wanting more. The result is a tight series run that really doesn’t have a single bad episode in it. The story of two kids whose uncle runs one of those tourist-trap mystery shops — only this one contains some actual mysteries — works for all ages.
Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult star in this razor-sharp comedy period piece from the writer of the Oscar-winning The Favourite. Much like that feature film, this series reveals the general insanity of the rich and powerful with witty writing and great performances from top to bottom.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu has lagged behind Amazon and Netflix in the originals department with one huge exception, the Emmy-winning drama based on the Margaret Atwood novel about a dystopian future that feels increasingly and disturbingly like life in 2019. The show has struggled some since its universally-acclaimed first year, but the performances continue to make it worth everyone’s time, especially the leading one from Elisabeth Moss, one of the best actresses of her generation.
A lot of Hulu’s best shows are ones that struggled with Nielsen even as they were developing a loyal fan base like Community, Firefly, and this ABC comedy that never got the ratings but still gets buzz on social media. Why do people still hope for a reboot? Because Happy Endings was the rare smart relationship comedy on network TV, one that treated its characters seriously while also being charmingly goofy. It also had a perfect ensemble. All of you people who watch Friends repeats till you know them by heart? Try this one out.
Hulu pulls a gender-swap on the Nick Hornby novel and beloved 2000 John Cusack film of the same name, casting Zoe Kravitz as a record store owner obsessed with top five lists and collecting pop culture. Kravitz is the main reason to watch this one, as she holds together this romantic dramedy with her notable charisma. The tunes are pretty good too.
Hill Street Blues
People who think that quality TV didn’t exist before Tony Soprano don’t give enough credit to the network dramas of the ‘80s that really paved the way for HBO, AMC, FX, and the rest of the pioneers of the current age. One of the most important shows in history is this Steven Bochco drama that dominated ratings and awards shows for most of the ‘80s. One of network TV’s first true ensemble dramas, Hill Street Blues follows the staff of a police station through their professional and personal lives, using a structure you can still see in dozens of shows today.
Everyone has an opinion about Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whatever your opinion may be, you should watch the 4-part docuseries about her on Hulu. Given exclusive access to a lot of her campaign, it’s the best series or film yet produced about it, highlighting her successes and failures along the way, and presenting us with a different side of the controversial leader.
The series run of Showtime’s Emmy winner has been a rollercoaster, even for its most diehard fans. Only the first five seasons of the show are now available on Hulu as of this writing — two more have aired on the cable network — and that run of the series features incredible highs and incredible lows. The first season remains the best, a showcase for the talents of Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin. You’ll want to keep watching from there and some of your loyalty will be rewarded, but don’t say you haven’t been warned.
How I Met Your Mother
An entire generation of young people right this second is watching seasons of The Office and Friends for the 12th time. They’re two of the biggest shows, years after their cancellation. It feels like something similar could happen to How I Met Your Mother, a CBS hit that went through a roller coaster in terms of quality over its 200-plus episodes (and ended horribly) but contains plenty of highlights and episodes people will want to watch again and again.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
FX’s longest-running show also has one of the network’s most devoted fan bases. The dark comedy about a bunch of misanthropic lunatics in a Philadelphia bar has been surprisingly consistent over its remarkable run — season 14 starts this September! If you like shows about selfish people behaving very badly, take a look at this, and marvel at how often this program has pushed the envelope in terms of taste and somehow survived changes in TV comedy to remain as popular as ever.
One of the best series of the 2010s, Justified stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal in a Kentucky town faced with navigating the gray area between right and wrong. He often butts heads with the unforgettable Boyd Crowder, played brilliantly by Walton Goggins. This is smart, tense, character-driven television – the kind of drama that helped define the FX brand in the 2010s, along with Fargo and The Americans.
Key & Peele
Now that Jordan Peele is an Oscar-winning writer-director, it’s even more interesting to look back at the development of his voice over three seasons on this Comedy Central smash hit. Matched by his best buddy Keegan-Michael Key, Peele pair created some of the smartest sketch comedy of the ’10s, and they had the nerve to go out on top after only 53 episodes over five seasons. Watch them all. Then watch them again.
AMC’s huge hit mystery series became a controversial chapter in TV history when its first season didn’t end with a resolution to its central murder mystery. Fans were furious, and the outrage likely inspired the limited series approach we now see way more often. A network or streaming company wouldn’t dare leave a murder unsolved from season to season now. The controversy overshadowed a show that had decent episodes after that first season too, although would never quite live up to year one’s captivating examination of the ripple effect of unspeakable crime.
Right now, only the first season of BBC America’s hit show is on Hulu, although it’s likely to be joined soon by the Emmy-nominated sophomore year. Watch whatever you can while you can or you’ll be behind when people talk about one of the most-buzzed shows in years, a whip-smart hybrid of thriller and character study with two phenomenal performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.
King of the Hill
Mike Judge and Greg Daniels’ Fox hit ran for 13 years, producing over 250 episodes, but it feels like too few people still talk about it almost a decade after Hank, Peggy, and Bobby Hill rode across the Texan horizon. It’s time for a reappraisal of a show that was consistently funny and sweet. Some of the progressive elements of this show and the way it challenged Hank Hill’s old-fashioned, conservative beliefs feel downright ahead of their time now.
The Last Man on Earth
On the one hand, it’s amazing that something as delightfully strange as this sci-fi comedy ran for four seasons on network TV. On the other hand, we’re still angry that Fox canceled the show after a cliffhanger, denying Tandy and his friends the narrative closure this show really deserved. Here’s what we need — everybody watch this on Hulu. If it’s their No. 1 streaming show, maybe they’ll get the gang together for a Deadwood-style closure movie.
For seven seasons, the cast of this FX hit comedy captured the alpha male stupidity that’s often amplified through fantasy football. With guest appearances by actual NFL players and increasingly ludicrous plot lines — some of them very adult — this was a great showcase for incredibly talented comedians, including Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Katie Aselton, and the always-amazing Jason Mantzoukas as Rafi, perhaps the dirtiest comedy supporting character of the last decade.
With the possible exception of Twin Peaks: The Return, there’s no more WTF show of the modern era of Peak TV than this very loose adaptation of the Marvel series starring Dan Stevens. This is a show that’s nearly impossible to describe to people who haven’t seen it, which is one of the reasons it’s great. It’s an absolute mindfuck of a program that just got weirder in each of its three seasons. Check it out and try and explain it all to us.
Who wants a little Canadian humor? What if we told you that this quirky comedy was one of the biggest hits from our neighbor, a show that recently won an award for Best Canadian Comedy series and earned a commitment for dozens more episodes? Starting life as a web series and now branded as a Hulu Original in the U.S., Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney’s comedy about life in a very small town is charmingly stupid, not unlike King of the Hill or Beavis & Butt-head relocated to the land of hockey and Mounties. Don’t get it wrong — it takes smart, talented people to make something this dumb this entertaining.
AMC has struggled to find an acclaimed, hit drama with the decline of The Walking Dead, but people seem to be taking to this laid-back, fascinating dramedy starring the great Wyatt Russell. The second season is currently airing, and AMC dropped the first on Hulu to give people a chance to catch up. The story of an ex-surfer named Dud who finds community with a fraternal order in Long Beach feels like it’s just on the cusp of being your friend’s favorite show. Watch it before that happens.
The Looming Tower
This high-budget, star-powered adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s novel feel like it would have gotten a great deal more attention if it was on something like HBO or even Netflix. It tells the story of counter-terrorism in the ‘90s and the people who watched the rise of Osama Bin Laden to that fateful day in 2001. It’s a smart show, anchored by a talented ensemble led by Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Bill Camp, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Peter Sarsgaard.
ABC’s last great drama premiered in 2004 and became an overnight sensation. The road over the next six seasons would be rocky, although history is starting to come around to remember the peaks of this brilliant show more than its valleys. If you haven’t seen it, we’re jealous of what you’re about to experience. Just watch the pilot, still one of the best ever made, and try not being hooked immediately.
This adaptation of the 1970 Robert Altman film, itself an adaptation of a 1968 novel by Richard Hooker, was the biggest show of its era, and one of the biggest of all time. There’s a reason it’s basically played in repeats since the day it went off the air, with the biggest series finale of all time, a ratings number that will never be topped. 125 million people watched it with a 77 share. That’s physically impossible now. See the show that made history.
Malcolm in the Middle
This Fox hit doesn’t get enough credit for helping to lead the sitcom from the laugh-track, studio-audience era to the current single-camera comedy format that everyone knows and loves. When it premiered in 2000, it was unusual to see a comedy on network TV that looked like a short film, and the first few seasons of this family sitcom were clever and heartfelt. It kind of fell apart, but Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek make even the late seasons worth a look.
One of the best shows of 2020 is this “FX on Hulu” exclusive starring Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who stood in the way of the Equal Rights movement in the ‘70s. Blanchett is amazing but it’s the texture of the entire piece that captivates, including Mad Men-level period detail and an incredible ensemble that also includes Rose Byrne, Melanie Lynskey, Uzo Aduba, Margo Martindale, and many more.
Does anyone else miss the days when network TV produced dramas as reliably well-written and performed as this Stephen Bochco hit? Sure, the 12 seasons of this ABC cop drama fluctuated wildly in terms of quality, but when NYPD Blue was good, it was among the best shows on television. And it rarely gets the credit it deserves for reshaping the form in terms of what was allowed for adult audiences. TV wouldn’t be the same today without it.
The Outer Limits
This ABC anthology series that started in the ‘60s (and had reboots in the ‘90s and ‘00s) will always be in the shadow of The Twilight Zone, a show that clearly influenced it into existence, but it’s worth a look in its own right. This one is more sci-fi-heavy than Serling’s show, but it does often contain fun, last-minute twists. Plus: There are rumors it is being rebooted yet again. We’ll see.
Parks and Recreation
If The Office has a challenger in the department of best modern network workplace comedies, it’s this brilliant program, a show that took a few seasons to really find its groove but then never looked back. By season three, when Rob Lowe & Adam Scott are on the show and the writers have learned how to write for their amazing ensemble, this was one of the funniest shows on TV. We still miss it.
One of the cult hits of the modern era of TV, it feels like way more people have watched this Starz comedy in the decade since it went off the air than ever paid attention to it when it was on. Adam Scott leads a great ensemble as an actor forced to work a crab job at a catering company. Scott stars alongside Ken Marino, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, Lizzy Caplan, Jennifer Coolidge, Megan Mullaly, and many more. Yes, these are all very funny people.
Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, and Hugh Dancy star in this complex Hulu Original drama about life in a cult. The sad news is that it was canceled after three seasons, but there’s enough dramatic meat on the bones of those three years to warrant a look, especially in the performances from the talented leads. It never quite lived up to its potential but still reminds one how great Paul and Dancy can be.
One of the most inventive and hilarious new shows of 2019 is this twisted creation from Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, two thirtysomething comedians who 8th-grade versions of themselves in plotlines in which the rest of the cast are actual teenagers. The result is a surreal, trippy comedy that’s about how we remember the worst and best days of our youth as it is actual reality. It’s also just very funny, and recently won the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Series, beating hits like Russian Doll and Undone.
For years, it felt like Garth Ennis’ critical and cult darling comic book wasn’t really adaptable for film and television, but Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, of all people, figured out how to make it work. Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, and Ruth Negga star in the AMC series, which is currently working its way through its fourth and final season. That means you might be able to watch the whole thing by the time you read this.
Hulu made some progress in the original comedy department in early 2019, premiering acclaimed shows like PEN15, Shrill, and this program, their best original comedy to date. Ramy Yousseff creates and stars in a quasi-biographical story of what it’s like to grow up Muslim in New York in the ’10s. It’s like Atlanta and Master of None in the way it blends issues of race into universal stories about being young in America. Don’t miss this one.
J.G. Quintel’s Cartoon Network hit is one of those great animated shows that straddles the line between being something for kids and something attuned more to adult tastes. It’s the story of two working-class buddies that just happen to be a blue jay and a raccoon. Often gloriously surreal, Regular Show ran for over 250 episodes for a reason. It’s quirky in ways that modern animation isn’t often allowed to be.
The always-great Abigail Spencer of Rectify headlines one of Hulu’s best original shows of 2019, a hyper-noir that kind of feels like “Frank Miller’s Sons of Anarchy.” Yeah, you know you want to see that. Spencer plays a woman left for dead by her motorcycle gang family, and then gets revenge by infiltrating and destroying it years later. Ron Perlman, Rodrigo Santoro, Rory Cochrane, and a cast of talented newcomers also star.
It fell apart before it was over, but the first few seasons of Denis Leary’s firefighter drama made for riveting television. Leary plays Tommy Gavin, the most memorable member of an NYC firehouse dealing with trauma and other life problems after 9/11. Leary has long been closely related with firefighters, and he brings a truth to his deconstruction of macho stereotypes here, at least for a few seasons.
Rick and Morty
Is there any group of people out there more loyal than Rick and Morty fans? In the span of just three seasons, Dan Harmon’s brilliant animated sci-fi comedy has developed into the kind of phenomenon that people obsess over. And the news that there will be many more adventures (the network has committed to 70 more) of poor Morty and his mad scientist uncle Rick means that the cult that adores this show is likely to grow. Watch out.
Saturday Night Live
Hulu is better at keeping up with current shows than it is providing deep catalogs for hits, but the Hulu page for one of the most important programs of all time offers a nice mix of both. Sure, they have the recent seasons in their entirety, spanning the last 15 years, but you can also jump in the time machine and see where TV comedy changed forever with the first five seasons.
Life at Sacred Heart Hospital was part of the comedy scene for pretty much the entirety of the ’00s. Bill Lawrence’s beloved show lasted nine seasons and survived a jump to another network and a cast reboot. Launching the career of Zach Braff, Scrubs contained some of the decade’s best ensemble comedy when it was at its peak. All of you people crying over losing The Office on Netflix? Give this one a try. It’s shockingly rewatchable and still more often funny than it’s not.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? You can’t watch arguably the best sitcom of all time on Netflix or Amazon. The only streaming service that includes Jerry Seinfeld’s masterpiece with its subscription cost is Hulu. You would think they would put that on their commercials. It would probably boost subscribers given how much people still absolutely adore this show.
The only place you can watch one of the best cop shows of all time is Hulu. Shawn Ryan’s FX drama helped shape the modern TV landscape with its no-holds-barred presentation of cops who operate in a very gray area of morality. Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins really drive the show, but the entire ensemble works, especially later season-long guest stars like Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker. This is a must-see.
Only the most recent season of this FOX hit is available on Hulu, and probably not for long given that the show is reportedly going to jump ship from streaming services to yet another network-specific offering, but this is all the streaming Simpsons you’ll find right now, so take what you can get. Is The Simpsons as good as it was in its prime? Is anything? There’s still an episode every now and then worth watching, even if just to remind us of how this was once the best show on television.
The team behind Rick & Morty return for this Hulu exclusive with an even darker sense of humor thanks to the less restrictive nature of streaming. Once again, it’s a sci-fi comedy steeped in philosophical commentary on human nature, this one about an alien family trying to fit in on planet Earth long enough that they can enact their plan for world domination. Viciously funny.
Sons of Anarchy
Kurt Sutter’s macho reimagining of Hamlet in the world of a California motorcycle gang often gets a bad rap as nothing more than macho posturing. This is a much smarter, more daring show than you might think at first, and it’s anchored by stand-out performances from Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal, who was robbed of at least one Emmy nomination for her work here. This is another long-running drama with some rocky, sub-par seasons, but the entire trip is worth the ride overall.
Hulu has a habit of including only a few seasons for some of their shows, but that’s not the case with this breakthrough animated series — you can watch 22 seasons and counting. For over two decades, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny have been pushing boundaries and making headlines with their raunchy, progressive brand of humor. When it’s great, South Park is still one of the funniest shows on TV.
John Wells, the producer of ER and The West Wing, took a genuine creative risks with this ensemble cop drama, one of the most underrated shows of the Peak-TV era. For five seasons, TNT’s best show brought us into the lives of its officers in ways that other cop dramas weren’t willing to do. And the show featured an incredible ensemble, especially now-Oscar-winner Regina King. If you’ve loved her award-winning work on American Crime and Seven Seconds, just wait till you see her here. She should have won at least one Emmy.
Long before Star Trek and even Shaun of the Dead, the great Simon Pegg headlined this British comedy that ran for two seasons from 1999-2001. Co-starring his buddy Nick Frost, Spaced features Pegg as Tim Bisley, an average guy who ends up living with a woman he just met, played by Jessica Stevenson. Oh, we almost forgot, it was directed by Edgar Wright, the man who would go on to make movie classics with Pegg & Frost, not to mention a little movie called Baby Driver.
This one is on the Mt. Rushmore of ensemble dramas. With programs like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, the adult network TV drama was redefined from a story-of-the-week format to something richer and more character-driven. All six seasons of this massive ‘80s hit were nominated for the Emmy for Best Drama, and the show launched careers, including David Morse, Howie Mandel, and a young actor named Denzel Washington.
Don’t start yelling at us — we’re not dumb enough to pick a favorite and so are just bundling all the current Star Trek offerings on Netflix into this one entry. The truth is you could spend days watching just Star Trek episodes on Hulu. They have the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Why not watch ’em all and pick your favorite? We’re too scared.
Yes, this is the only show on the list that’s not actually finished a full season yet, but most people subscribe to Hulu to also get a bit of the new, and this is one of the best airing shows on network TV. Cobie Smulders, Michael Ealy, and Jake Johnson ooze charm in this old-fashioned mystery series that is just purely entertaining. Catch up with it on Hulu and then maybe actually watch it on ABC so we’re sure it gets renewed. This should be on for like ten seasons.
One of the smartest comedies on TV doesn’t get nearly the critical attention it deserves but that’s starting to change as it goes into its fifth season. Every year of this ensemble comedy has been stronger than the one before. It starts off a little shaky but check out this spiritual child of The Office that relocates that show’s ensemble brand from a paper company to a big box store. As you get to know the characters, it only gets funnier and funnier.
The undisputed king of the reality series is there on Hulu in its entirety. Yep, you can relive all the buzzworthy moments over the stunning 30-plus seasons of this show. There have been some stinkers, but Survivor remains a strong performer for CBS for a reason. It still has the most addictive structure to its game, demanding both social and physical acumen, and it has the best host in the history of reality TV in Jeff Probst. As they continue to play with the format and the rules, it feels Survivor could outlive us all.
*Taste the Nation With Padma Lakshmi
The wonderfully charming host of Top Chef takes her culinary expertise across America in a food/travel series that feels inspired by her friend, Anthony Bourdain. Like that master TV personality’s shows, Lakshmi’s seeks to connect with different cultures in the United States through their food. You may not be travel in 2020, but you can live vicariously through Padma.
One of the all-time best “canceled too soon” shows is this cop comedy starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James that tragically ran for only 13 episodes in the fall of 2010. It sounds clichéd, but it really was ahead of its time in that it’s hard to imagine something this smart and fun getting canceled today. Watch all 13. Then watch them again.
The catalog of limited series gems isn’t as deep on Hulu as some of the competition, but they do have exclusive rights to this AMC horror hit from 2018, soon to return in a very different format — it appears that the show will follow an American Horror Story structure with a different story every season. The first one is based on the hit novel by Dan Simmons and stars the great Ciaran Hinds and Jared Harris in a semi-fictional story of a lost expedition in the middle of the 19th century. It’s creepy and unforgettable.
The Thick of It
Before Veep, Armando Iannucci created this brilliant British political comedy starring peter Capaldi, and featuring the same razor-sharp, vicious wit that would define the HBO Emmy winner too. Like Veep, it pulls back the curtain on the selfish egos that control modern politics. It was such a critical darling that it was adapted into a feature film that ended up getting an Oscar nomination, In the Loop.
Bravo’s darling reality show has been running strong for 16 seasons now, and shows now signs of slowing down. One of the few reality competition shows to actually produce stars within its own industry with its winners, Top Chef values quality over the clichés of the reality genre. And it helps that the show has two of the best hosts in the history of reality TV, Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi.
Top of the Lake
Oscar nominee Jane Campion wrote and directed both seasons of this critically acclaimed mystery series, both starring the great Elisabeth Moss. The Handmaids Tale star plays Detective Robin Griffin, investigating different mysteries in both seasons to date, both involving the fates of young girls. Holly Hunter guest stars in season one; Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie in season two. The first is superior, but both are worth your time for the performances alone.
The Twilight Zone
One of the best shows of all time is about to be rebooted again, this time by the one and only Jordan Peele. Why not catch up with Rod Serling’s wildly influential and brilliant creation, a show that still works brilliantly more than a half-century after it first aired, before you return to The Twilight Zone? This is the kind of TV that will never truly grow old, visions that tap into our greatest fears, anxieties, and needs. It was a masterpiece then and it’s a masterpiece now.
Those of us old enough to remember when the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer dominated the cultural conversation will never forget it. There had never been anything like Twin Peaks on television and there wouldn’t really be anything like it again until David Lynch returned to this world 25 years later. Sadly, the Showtime reboot isn’t on here yet, but catch up with the original and mark the days until it is.
The Venture Bros.
A spoof of the adventure and sci-fi serials that were more prevalent in animation in the ‘60s, this Adult Swim hit is often flat-out brilliant. It’s one of the weirdest shows of the modern era, telling the story of the Venture family, who are often battling a supervillain named the Monarch. If you like Archer, give this a shot — it has a similar tone in the way it mimics and mocks tropes from genre films and shows that went out of fashion decades ago.
It’s the show that wouldn’t stop! When this critically acclaimed teen mystery series premiered in 2004, who would have possibly guessed that not only would we have seen a feature film based on it but that it would be rebooted for a fourth season in 2019? The new year, a Hulu Original, has gotten some of the best reviews in the history of the Kristen Bell series. See what all the hype is about. (Note: As of this writing, you can only watch the movie if you have the HBO add-on package.)
What We Do in the Shadows
Jemaine Clement adapted his beloved comedy movie into a series in 2019, and the result was a big enough hit to get it renewed for another year. The show doesn’t feature the same cast but does work from the same premise, which could be pitched as “The Real World but with vampires.” It’s very smart and very funny.
The Wonder Years
It’s funny that a show that’s basically about nostalgia for youth has now become an item of nostalgia for a generation raised on Kevin Arnold and his family. The ABC fan favorite stars Fred Savage as kid growing up in the ‘60s and features a level of heartfelt storytelling that wasn’t often seen in shows of its era. It was a show that never went for an easy laugh, blurring the line between comedy and drama in ways that other shows never tried in 1988. That’s why it’s held up 30 years later.
Sometimes you want to watch a serious character drama or progressive comedy. Sometimes you want to watch a trio of idiots act like idiots. Workaholics is incredibly rewatchable, thanks mostly to the great comic timing by Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm.
Chris Carter’s show truly changed the way people looked at genre television in the ‘90s, paving the way for the next two decades of hit sci-fi and supernatural programming. At its peak, it was one of the best shows on TV, and those episodes have held up as well as anything from the era. Pick out your faves and don’t be surprised if you get sucked back into the entire saga of Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and the Cigarette Smoking Man.
You’re the Worst
Stephen Falk’s FX comedy stars Chris Geere and Aya Cash as a couple who defiantly refuse to be a couple. Smarter about relationships in the age of sexting and Tinder than nearly any other modern show, this hit just wrapped its run after five successful seasons. Watch the first four on Hulu now and keep your eyes open for year five to drop, because they really wrapped it up in style.