Streaming services have everything these days. They don’t really — in fact, the average streaming library is substantially smaller than you think it is — but it can certainly feel like it when you’re wading through lists of shows. These are not decisions to take lightly; committing to a show is inviting it into your home, heart, and head for several hours at least.
Of the streamers out there, Hulu is maybe the most TV-literate, thanks to its roots as the original streaming platform for a lot of network shows back in the day. Nowadays its collection feels more in line with the hodgepodge of influences that we’ve come to expect from streaming: an ever-shifting collection of TV and movies, with shows inherited in complicated licensing agreements (Hulu is owned by Disney, which makes Hulu its site for FX and FXX shows, which is different than FX on Hulu shows). Hulu doesn’t have everything, but it has enough that it can feel overwhelming to scroll through the service looking for the next great hit.
So, if you’re looking for a sure thing, how do you whittle it down and find the best thing to watch tonight (and, if you’re lucky, the night after, and the night after that, and the night after)? Here are some of the best TV shows to pick from on Hulu.
Russian spies, posing as the perfect American family, worming their way through the government and gaining access to the highest state secrets. By the 2010s, this thought was a smidge too tame for the sort of espionage the U.S. political system was facing — a throwback to Cold War paranoia that was quaint fiction in the face of real-life consequences. But The Americans makes this story feel sincere at every turn (perhaps even more so than the actual couple it was based on, not to mention the other Cold War spies implanted on either side of the Pacific).
Following Elizabeth (Keri Russell, who continued high-stakes government work in The Diplomat) and Philip Jennings (Perry Mason’s Matthew Rhys), The Americans deftly marries their relationship with their spywork. The masterstroke of the show is its patience: letting the work — on their relationship, their mission, or beyond — methodically build, until finally it explodes. That could be a major blowout, but the brilliance of the show is how the stakes feel immediate no matter how big or small they are in the classic sense. The Americans is a slow boil in the best sense of the term, the sort of exquisite foundation that marks everything feel grounded, and blessedly, remarkably real. —Zosha Millman
There are few better versions of TV than hangout TV, and nobody is doing it better right now than Reservation Dogs. The show follows four misfit teens who live on a reservation in Oklahoma, whose tight bond was cemented by the death of one of their closest friends. Award-winning filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and a brilliant team of writers and creatives have created one of the funniest, most moving shows on television, boosted by a fantastic cast of main characters and featured guests, like Amber Midthunder as a chatty influencer and Gary Farmer as an old stoner.
The heart of the show is in its core four. Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Paulina Alexis, and Lane Factor are stupendous as the Rez Dogs, bringing life, heart, and a ton of humor to a group just trying to find their place in a world set up against them. If you like coming-of-age comedies, hangout vibe television, or simply keeping up on the best the medium has to offer, Reservation Dogs is an absolute must-watch. —Pete Volk
How the hell did this show end up on network television?
One of the great mysteries of 2010s television (in both the “how the hell did this happen” way and the “that’s a compelling mystery” way), Hannibal is a shockingly violent and explicitly sensual show about cannibalism and forensic psychology from Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me creator Bryan Fuller.
The show follows Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a criminal profiler who specializes in serial killers. Graham has trouble with his emotions, and becomes overly involved in his investigation as he attempts to catch killers by putting himself in their mindset. His foil is Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a genius who is also a serial killer and cannibal. The two of them, naturally, become absolutely obsessed with each other.
The show lasted just three seasons, but they are three glorious seasons of television unlike anything else on TV (especially network TV). Watch it and be astounded with what an NBC show was able to get away with. —PV
The 2010s are littered with shows about accidental criminals. Claws follows in the same steps as shows like Weeds or Breaking Bad, regular people who get pulled into a life of crime through circumstance (and, sure, a little bit of choice). Desna (Niecy Nash) owns a nail salon in Florida, where she launders money for a local crime family in hopes of someday getting out with a better nail salon. By the end of the pilot, those chances are just about shot, and Claws unfurls from there.
What follows is equal parts comedy, drama, and crime thriller, propulsively following the women of the salon as their life adjacent to crime becomes a life of crime, with new threats to their livelihood and their lives. That Claws balances its genres so adeptly is never not a wonder. The result is that the show feels totally separate from other TV in this subgenre; where those slowly blanch their protagonists’ worlds, Claws uses the technicolor world of Florida to create a world free of crime that’s always tantalizingly close. And so Claws becomes a perfect marathon watch — each cliffhanger begets more trouble, more promise, and (thankfully) more great episodes. —ZM
Miss good superhero stories? Legion’s got your back.
A trippy sci-fi from Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, Legion stars the incredible Dan Stevens as a powerful mutant whose abilities are misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. The show follows his journey with his powers and the forces pitted against him, but what makes the show really shine is its willingness to shed conventional storytelling techniques and just get weird with it.
When watching Legion, you can expect stupefying visuals that occasionally break the rules of what even makes sense, a vast story across multiple dimensions that actually lives up to the complexity of multiversal comics stories, and a terrific ensemble cast. Stevens is pitch-perfect as the troubled David Haller, but Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Navid Negahban, Amber Midthunder, Bill Irwin, and Jean Smart are all stellar as principal cast members (not to mention Jemaine Clement and Hamish Linklater in smaller roles).
Legion isn’t as consistent as some of the other shows on this list, but it always went there. And in a genre that has grown stale with oversaturation, there’s a lot to be said for that. —PV
If you haven’t watched The Bear, you’ve probably been misled.
Before I started watching, I had been told it was Extremely Stressful Television about toxic workplace conditions and the hell that is the restaurant industry. While some of that is partially true, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what The Bear is and what makes it so compelling.
Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) comes home to Chicago after working at a world-famous restaurant in New York, taking over his deceased brother’s run-down, dysfunctional Italian beef sandwich shop, The Beef. That conflict is enough to make the show interesting, as Carmy tries to professionalize and scale up the establishment against the protestations of some of the longtime employees. But what makes the show sing is how effectively it embeds you into the world of The Beef. Every character is fully realized, and their relationships to each other evolve in ways that feel natural both to real human interactions and the development of the show’s premise. The camerawork and editing also help immerse you in the restaurant — without ever having seen an overhead shot or blueprint, I could draw out the entire place right now, just because of how effectively and subtly the camera leads you through the environment.
I left the best part for the end: the cast and their performances. You’ve likely heard the hype around White’s award-winning performance as Carmy (and it’s well-earned), but Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, and the rest of the cast are all fantastic in their rich roles. I’ve watched a lot of seasons of TV this year. My two favorites so far are The Bear season 1 and The Bear season 2. —PV
On paper, Superstore is just one of many Office wannabes: A jaded guy gets a job at a place (in this case, a big-box superstore called Cloud 9 in St. Louis), quickly bonds with a woman he works with, and their antics become the focal point of the show as they work and goof their way through a 9-to-5 (or, sometimes, a 6-to-3). But Superstore does what the other Office clones couldn’t, which is make compelling characters who you’d follow into any menial situation, breakroom meeting, or complicated workplace romance.
There are big-picture things that make Superstore work — its ability to balance serialized stories with episodic glimpses into the lives of the Cloud 9 workers; its willingness to tackle big labor issues with humor and heart; the elegant will-they-won’t-they that manages to stay balanced no matter its status — but also, man, Superstore is just funny! Episodes get punctuated by little interstitials of customers in the store doing weird things. Characters are well drawn enough that they can hang and ping off any pairing. It’s hard to pick a favorite character amid a whole host of worthy contenders. In the end, Superstore defied its origins and became just a legitimately well-done sitcom. It easily makes the list for best shows on Hulu — if only purely because now I’m constantly hunting for a Superstore clone. —ZM
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