Hulu hasn’t run out of new content yet. Despite the freeze on many major studios for the last several months, the streaming service managed to have several original programs already in the can going into quarantine to roll out over the previous few months. Considering the new titles (and the shift in the popularity of old titles as more people were stuck at home binging), here is an updated round-up of some of the best offerings from Hulu Originals. Many previous entries or honorable mentions are still on the list, with updated ratings and renewal news.
This list is a scientific blend of Rotten Tomatoes scores (the two percentages, noting critical and audience response), the initial buzz for new series, broader public appeal, and maybe just a little of this reviewer’s opinions.
*Note: Series with renewals that have been halted or not gone into production before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown are noted with an *, and updated if renewals were canceled or shifted as information is available.
Best Hulu Original Shows
1. Harlots (97%/92%)
3 seasons, canceled as of 2020
While sadly recently canceled, for three seasons, this period drama, a co-production between Hulu and ITV in the UK, continually carried strong ratings and viewer popularity. Created by Alison Newman and Moira Buffini, Harlots is a primarily female-driven project, written and directed by women, and starring an impressive group of leading ladies. Inspired by The Covent Garden Ladies by Hallie Rubenhold, the series is a lush romp set in 18th-century England’s sex trade. The story follows Margaret Wells, a woman balancing her role as a brothel owner with raising two daughters, in an era very much driven by the patriarchy. This might be the best feminist period piece you’re not yet watching.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale (88%/78%)
3 seasons, renewed*
While not the highest-ranking, review-wise, The Handmaid’s Tale’s popularity keeps it near the top of the list as we await season 4 (although these days it is a dystopia many of us are less excited to return to from the already intense real world). Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dark drama in which a totalitarian society takes over following a Second American Civil War, and fertile women, the “Handmaids,” are forced into child-bearing slavery. Along with its widespread acclaim, the series also set a new standard for original content, being the first streaming series original to win an Emmy for Outstanding Series, as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama. Check out our review of The Handmaid’s Tale for our take on this acclaimed series.
In addition to the anticipated fourth season, a sequel series is planned based on Atwood’s 2019 best-selling The Testaments, a sequel to her original novel.
3. Ramy (97%/89%)
2 seasons, renewed*
Comedian Ramy Youssef frequently pulls from his own life as a Millennial Muslim American in his self-created fiction series about the struggles of a first-generation Egyptian American Muslim living in New Jersey. The show focuses on struggling with a personal spiritual path and finding balance with modern America’s traditional culture. Both hilarious and insightful, Ramy is a nuanced look at family, religion, and culture, in all of its messy, complicated humanity. Check out our preview of Ramy. Season 2 finds Ramy taking a more in-depth exploration into his spiritual side and what it truly means to be Muslim.
4. Love, Victor (93%/95%) – NEW
Set in the same world as the 2018 hit film Love, Simon, this new series from Hulu chronicles Victor’s arrival to Creekwood High School. Dealing with teenage struggles of self-discovery, complicated home life, and exploring sexual orientation, Love, Victor is charming, both critics and audiences. Heartfelt, wholesome, and encouragingly inclusive, the series makes room for a new form of high school story.
5. Normal People (90%/93%)
Jumped up the list in critical favorites since first debuting earlier this year, this intimate portrayal of modern love follows Marianne and Connell’s lives and their on-again, off-again affair that goes on for years. The series is based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel—and therefore may or may not have additional seasons—which looks at how people are drawn together even as their lives and social classes pull them apart. From the acclaimed director of Room, the show is a quiet and tightly crafted examination of intimacy.
6. PEN15 (93%/88%)
Season 2 debuts September 18
This whimsically awkward comedy, co-created and written by real-life best friends Maya Erskine(Casual, Insecure) and Anna Konkle (Rosewood, Maron), chronicles “middle school as it happened.” From burgeoning sexuality and early romantic encounters to the challenges of changing friendships and peer pressure, PEN15 tackles each awkward bump on the road to maturity—with the added twist of the adult creators playing13-year-old versions of themselves surrounded by actual teen actors. Both endearing and cringe-worthy, PEN15 has won over audiences and critics alike. Read our preview here.
7. Future Man (91%/85%)
3 seasons, ended
Previously an honorable mention, the second season of this dark comic adventure bolstered its profile with fans, as well as its place on this list. Future Man stars Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) as a slacker janitor and gamer who is called upon to save the world after his futuristic video game turns very real. Co-starring Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings) and Derek Wilson (Preacher), season 2 raised the stakes for the time-traveling heroes, as they join forces to save the world—again. April 3 marked the return of the series with its third (and final) season.
8. The Great (88%/84%) – NEW
The Great crosses a lush period drama with a satirical comedy in fine frivolous fashion. Chronicling the rise of Catherine the Great, the series pairs Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult as the outsider queen and her foppish monarch spouse who she develops dark intentions toward on her path to becoming the longest-reigning woman in Russian history. Wickedly funny if a bit dark, The Great manages to walk a fine line between costume drama and not taking itself too seriously—a feat that snagged it Emmy nominations for writing and directing.
9. Castle Rock (88%/80%)
2 seasons, renewal TBD
The anthology series Castle Rock is one of several Stephen King properties in development with Hulu. The first season debuted in July 2018 with 10 episodes intertwining characters’ lives in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, the setting for many of King’s novels and stories. Castle Rock weaves multiple stories in and out of the King canon, tying together his prominent themes in a new suspense/thriller. Season 2 focused on such classics as Misery, The Body (Stand By Me), and more, and managed to hold as strong a following as season 1.
10. Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (100%/60%) – NEW
Fans and critics can’t quite agree on this new food show hosted by Padma Lakshmi (cookbook author and former host of Top Chef). In her journey across America, Lakshmi explores the many variations of American food from the diversity of immigrant groups to indigenous communities. The show hopes to be a deeper look into food as a source of community, cultural roots, and explore the complicated identity of “American.” While results are mixed, it’s a rather enjoyable way to decompress and take a breath from America’s current state.
11. Shrill (87%/65%)
2 seasons, renewed
Shrill, inspired by Lindy West’s 2016 feminist memoir on body positivity Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, focuses on Annie (Aidy Bryant), an overweight young woman with a burgeoning new career who is ready to change something in her life—but not her body. The show’s short, sweet first season easily won over audiences and critics for its combination of comedic misadventures with heartfelt honesty and a pointed commentary on beauty standards. Star Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live), who wrote and adapted the series along with West and Alexandra Rushfield, brings a star turn as one of the few plus-size leads on TV—particularly one so fully realized in her own story. The first season was short and sweet, and followed quickly by season 2 that arrived in January of this year. Read our original preview here.
12. Marvel’s Runaways (87%/85%)
3 seasons, ended
Hulu Originals partnered with Marvel for this teen-oriented superhero drama in which six teenagers are brought together through the discovery of their parents’ criminal doings—and their possible supernatural powers. While sharing continuity within the larger MCU, the series primarily focuses on teens’ lives, giving series treatment to the issues of younger characters than other entries in the franchise. Season 2 took the kids deeper underground and in a new type of battle, not just with their parents and the threat of earth’s destruction, but also into the complicated relationships within one’s own family. All secrets were revealed in the final season, alliances tested, and the answers all brought to life. Read our initial review here.
13. Wu-Tang: An American Saga (81%/93%)
1 season, renewed*
This drama series follows a fictionalized account of the formation and rise of the popular Wu-Tang Clan ban. Set in 1990s New York, the show follows the vision of Bobby Diggs, aka The RZA, as he strives to form the band and help a group of young black men who might otherwise fall to the crack cocaine epidemic.
14. High Fidelity (86%/82%)
1 season, canceled
This fresh take on the favorite cult film puts Zoë Kravitz in the lead role of “Rob,” a record store owner—now in too hip Brooklyn—who explores her top 5 romantic hits (relationships) figuring out what went wrong. With its more modern vibe and Kravitz’s charm, the show won over audiences—although not enough, and Hulu did not renew the show. You can read our original preview here.
15. Veronica Mars (79%/78%)
1 season, ended (for now)
The fourth season “reboot” of the cult mystery drama brought the popular former-teen detective back to audiences with an eight-episode new season. The show caught up with Mars returning to her seaside hometown and her roots as a private eye, digging into a series of mysterious bombings disrupting spring break. While there were mixed reactions from fans on the season’s conclusion, and it may have tied up things too neatly for another season, it was a fun revisit to the series and the characters that had been so beloved on the 2004 CW drama. Read our preview here.
Top Hulu Original Miniseries
Little Fires Everywhere (78%/58%)
Elements of this suburban drama want to capture the hit status that was HBO’s Big Little Lies, a similar book-turned-series also starring Reese Witherspoon. While not garnering quite the same level of excitement, this 1990s-set drama is solid for fans of the genre, and with star power like Witherspoon and Kerri Washington, you’re in for some fierce standoffs. Read our preview here.
Looking for Alaska (92%/92%)
While there is not likely to be additional seasons due to the compact nature of John Green’s original novel, Looking for Alaska is a compelling 8-episode series that is worth the watch. The long-form structure allows for a tighter connection to the original story than film adaptations, and captivating performances by the young teen actors make it raw and relevant. Looking for Alaska tells Miles’s story, a young man struggling with high school and finding a place to belong who transfers to a boarding school for a fresh start, where he develops lasting friendships and falls for titular Alaska. When sudden tragedy strikes, the young group is forced face-to-face with grief and growing up. Read our preview here.
The Accident (92%)
When a Welsh community is rocked by an accident that kills a group of children, tensions run high in the search for justice. With questions unanswered by town leadership, one woman struggles to help hold the community together while caring for her daughter—the accident’s one survivor. The miniseries may not become an ongoing drama, but it a great example of Hulu’s partnerships with outside distributors to bring exclusive viewing of great international television to its viewers.
Hulu Originals: Fan Favorites
Here are a few newer series that bombed for critics but were hits in the viewers’ eyes. Take these recommendations with a grain of salt, but we think you might enjoy binging these series.
Crossing Swords (21%/87%) – NEW
This wacky new adult animated series takes classic peg people toys on a medieval adventure. When good-hearted Patrick gets a job as a squire, he learns about the upper crust’s dark underbelly. Sex, language, violence… these poor toys see it all in a battle of the valiant versus the corrupt.
1 season, renewed*
Given that it has been renewed, this quirky dramedy was more than a few folks’ cup of tea. As Jules, Kat Denning stars who has to rediscover herself and how to reconnect female friends after her long-time boyfriend dumps her. With surreal comic interludes (talking cat-head lady, anyone?) and a sharp, cutting sense of humor, the series is a somewhat twisted but creative jaunt worth a few hours. Read our preview here.
Utopia Falls (43%/93%)
1 season, renewal TBD
About as expected, Utopia Falls has huge points of appeal and a lot of immature and predictable tropes of young adult dystopian stories. But the highs—strong cast, a killer soundtrack, excellent dance sequences—might be just the thing that earned the otherwise mediocre show a fan following. Probably among young teens. Read our preview here.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (42%/82%)
1 season, renewal TBA
Perhaps not a critic favorite, but the quirky British rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral, based on Richard Curtis’s 1980s hit film of the same title, has an active niche audience. And for fans who fit that niche, it is a delightfully frothy romp. Stretched over a year of the titular four weddings and a funeral, a group of friends explores love, loss, successes, and struggles for identity in modern-day London. It’s a little sappy and self-referential but manages to hit the heartstrings. Launched as a miniseries and moderately self-contained, there is no word yet on another season. But one can hope. Read our preview here.
Many of these series have been over for a bit, but we couldn’t entirely take them off the top recommendations list, as they are still choice selections in Hulu’s collections.
Difficult People (96%/86%)
3 seasons, ended
Difficult People isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a dark comedy starring series creator Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, which follows the pair as struggling and bitter comedians in New York. Their frequently clueless and antisocial behavior consistently lands them in one awkward situation after another in each 30-minute episode. Despite the often offensive or cringe-worthy antics, the series is smart and built a solid following (not hurt by executive producer Amy Poehler).
4 seasons, ended
Casual focuses on the antics and bonding between two adult siblings who face the dating world’s challenges side by side after newly divorced Valerie moves in with her bachelor brother Alex, along with Valerie’s teenage daughter. All three are navigating the waters of casual dating while on the road to personal growth. The show earned regular rave reviews and was considered a turning point in the quality and expansion of Hulu’s original content.
The Path (77%/80%)
3 seasons, ended
Don’t let the Rotten Tomatoes score fool you. Despite some mixed reviews, this mysterious drama has not been short of viewers or fans. The Path centers on a family in the center of a controversial cult, dealing with the struggle between power, belief, and personal relationships. Starring Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), and Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), the series starts insular, dealing with a personal crisis of faith, but grows and expands over the three seasons.
Not So Original Hulu Originals
Hulu has been building a pretty good library of “Originals” that are not original to Hulu but canceled shows they have given new life to (The Mindy Project) and older or international series that they have picked up for exclusive distribution.
Letterkenny (92%) is the latest popular new-to-Hulu Original. The popular Canadian comedy debuted on Hulu in 2019 and has since been the exclusive U.S. home for the series, included its new season 8. All eight seasons are available in Hulu. Letterkenny is a quirky comedy about a small town of three constantly feuding communities: the Hicks, the Skids, and the Hockey Players. Let the wacky antics ensue.
The Wrong Mans (95%/91%) is a two-season British comedy from BBC Television, in which a county council employee and his mate become entangled in a deadly criminal conspiracy. Created by James Corden and Mathew Baynton, the series combines the intricacies of a crime drama with a sitcom’s tropes, all driven by a simple case of mistaken identity.
National Treasure (91%/95%) first aired in the United Kingdom, but the streaming service has exclusive distribution rights. The series is a four-part drama inspired by a real-life police operation that uncovered abuse cases by several veteran TV performers. Starring Robbie Coltraine, the four-part television drama is engaging, timely, and received universal acclaim when it aired in 2016.
11.22.63 (80%/88%) is a science fiction miniseries thriller based on Stephen King’s novel about an ordinary English teacher sent back to stop the JFK assassination. Mysterious setbacks and supernatural happenings keep the series engaging through all eight episodes, and the compelling storytelling is not surprising given the pedigree involved. The series stars James Franco and Chris Cooper.
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