Hulu doesn’t get much attention on lists of what to watch this weekend. But just look at what the NY Times has pulled out as suggestions:
The Best Movies and Shows on Hulu Right Now
We’ve handpicked the finest movies and television shows currently streaming on Hulu in the United States. Take a look.
By Jason Bailey
- Nov. 29, 2020
As the streaming age has expanded and individual services have molded their identities, Hulu has found itself somewhat lost in the shuffle. Thought of first as a repository for new television (and, for many cord-cutters, the “live TV” option of choice), it also houses a library of indisputable TV classics, usually in their entirety.
This Disney-owned service also hosts a rotating library of movies, both new releases and recent classics, rivaling the collections of many of its competitors.
But as is so often the case with these platforms, algorithms are dodgy, recommendations are sometimes inexplicable, and it’s just plain hard to know exactly what’s on offer. We’re here to help.
‘The Assistant’ (2020)
Julia Garner is “magnificent” as the personal assistant to a TriBeCa-based film executive whose sexual harassment of hopeful young starlets is an open secret. The name “Weinstein” is never once uttered, and it doesn’t have to be; the writer and director, Kitty Green, uses what we already know to fill in the blanks. We don’t even see the monster in question — he’s just a presence and a voice, in snatches of overheard dialogue and muffled fits of rage, and Green’s beautifully controlled film captures, with brutal, pinpoint accuracy, how that presence infects a workplace, and what happens when someone decides not to play along.
‘Raging Bull’ (1980)
Robert De Niro won his second Academy Award for his fiercely physical and psychologically punishing performance in this searing adaptation of the autobiography of the middleweight champion Jake LaMotta. It’s a relentlessly downbeat piece of work, but the force of De Niro’s performance and the energy of Martin Scorsese’s direction are hard to overstate, or to forget. Our critic called it Scorsese’s “most ambitious film as well as his finest.”
‘Romeo + Juliet’ (1996)
The director Baz Luhrmann made his American breakthrough — and helped solidify Leonardo DiCaprio’s status as a teen heartthrob — with this wild, hyperkinetic update and reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic. The star-crossed lovers are here brought to life by DiCaprio and Claire Danes, who poignantly capture the pangs of longing and desire that bring this pair together, consequences be damned; Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, and John Leguizamo add fire and passion to the colorful supporting cast. Our critic deemed it “a witty and sometimes successful experiment.” (For more flamboyant ’90s drama, stream “Interview with the Vampire” on Hulu.)
This 2013 coming-of-age drama from the writer and director Jeff Nichols (“a distinctive and welcome presence in American film”) is an evocative throwback, conjuring up the dizzying freedom of a “Huck Finn”-style boys’ adventure story while fusing it with a contemporary tale of crime and punishment. Matthew McConaughey is the title character, a fugitive hiding out on a remote island who is discovered and then assisted by two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland). Nichols is beautifully attuned to the rhythms of these small Southern communities, which makes his work somehow both leisurely and urgent. His films sneak up on you, and this one ambles for two hours before landing with the force of a gut punch.
‘Drugstore Cowboy’ (1989)
A crew of pill-popping outcasts knocks off pharmacies in the Pacific Northwest and forms a makeshift family in Gus Van Sant’s breakthrough film. He infuses James Fogle’s source novel with the jittery nervousness of its protagonists: This is a film constantly itching for its next fix. But Van Sant captures the harrowing lows of addiction with equal vividness (and a fair amount of gallows humor), arriving at a message of hope that is refreshingly free of “just say no” bromides. Matt Dillon is electrifying in the leading role; our critic called it “the role of his career.”
‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure’ (1985)
Paul Reubens became a pop culture sensation thanks to this 1985 comic adventure, which was also the debut feature of the director Tim Burton. Together, they build a wild and weird world for the childlike Pee-wee Herman, played by Reubens, who must leave the bubble of his comfortable small-town life (and the Rube Goldberg contraptions of his charming home) when his beloved bicycle is stolen. His “big adventure” takes him to truck stops and biker bars, to museums and rodeos, from Texas to Hollywood, in a series of gloriously goofy and slyly witty set pieces.
Watch it on Hulu
‘Palm Springs’ (2020)
The “Groundhog Day”-style time loop comedy gets an update and rom-com twist with Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as a pair of wedding guests stuck reliving the same day, over and over — but together, falling in and out of something resembling love while for everyone around them it’s déjà vu. Samberg and Milioti shine, and the supporting cast is filled out with valuable players (including J.K. Simmons and June Squibb). The director Max Barbakow and the writer Andy Siara work out plenty of clever variations on the premise while gingerly tiptoeing into unexpectedly serious waters. Our critic called it “wildly funny” and “admirably inventive.” (Rom-com fans should also check out “Broadcast News” on Hulu.)
Watch it on Hulu
Loners at a subpar community college join in a study group to muddle through their joke of a Spanish class and end up forging unexpected bonds from their shared misery. It sounds like the set-up for a crushingly typical TV sitcom, but “Community” is anything but; over its six tempestuous seasons, the creator, Dan Harmon, and his inventive writers, turned the classroom laugher into a “bracingly funny” and slyly surreal blend of sketch comedy, science fiction and meta-television — while simultaneously creating the kind of complicated but sympathetic characters and delicate relationships it seemed too cool to indulge. (“Community” fans will also enjoy Harmon’s cult cartoon series “Rick and Morty.”)
Watch it on Hulu
The South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, who previously smuggled trenchant class commentary into genre movies like “The Host” and “Snowpiercer,” takes a more direct route with this story of a household of grifters who smooth-talk their way into the home of a clueless upper-class family. What begins as a clever con comedy turns into something much darker (and bloodier), a “brilliant and deeply unsettling” examination of privilege and power, orchestrated by a filmmaker working at the top of his craft; the results were thrilling enough to win not only the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but the first best picture Oscar for a film not in English. (The earlier Best Picture winners “A Beautiful Mind” and “Slumdog Millionaire” are also currently on Hulu.)
Watch it on Hulu
‘The Host’ (2006)
Bong Joon Ho gleefully picks up where “Godzilla” left off with this “loopy, feverishly imaginative genre hybrid,” riffing on urban monster-movie conventions (with generous doses of environmental activism and familial melodrama thrown in). His mutant sea creature is created by the carelessness of the local government and the American military, another sharp inquiry into who the real monsters are. Bong also takes a keen interest in the human dynamics at play, and how the dysfunctional family at the story’s center comes together for a common cause. (For more end-of-the-world entertainment, stream Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.”)
Watch it on Hulu
‘Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’ (2005-2012)
This long-running showcase for the late, great celebrity chef, author and raconteur is a globe-trotting celebration of the cultures and cuisines of the world, a well-balanced mixture of destinations close (Maine, New Orleans, New York’s outer boroughs) and far (Vietnam, Russia, Egypt, Turkey), which Bourdain explores with both curiosity and bravado. He combines history, political commentary, observation and (of course) food appreciation into an undeniably appealing mix, often propelled by the sheer force of his personality. Bourdain’s willingness to go wherever the journey takes him gives his show an inspired unpredictability and infectious energy.
In a scant two seasons, Donald Glover’s FX comedy/drama has established itself as a true force in modern television — thoughtful, peculiar, cinematic, relentlessly entertaining. Glover (who also created the show, and frequently writes and directs) stars as Earn, a small-timer with big dreams who takes the reins of his cousin’s burgeoning hip-hop career, with mixed results. The supporting cast is top-notch, with Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz as nuanced characters interpreted with fierce precision, but the show is most dazzling for its tonal improvisations; it feels like Glover and company can go anywhere, at any time, and the results are exhilarating. (Pamela Adlon’s acclaimed “Better Things,” also from FX, is a similarly personality-driven comedy/drama.)
‘Arrested Development’ (2003-2006)
Many a dysfunctional family has graced our televisions, but few boasted as many problems as Michael Bluth’s: His father is in prison, his mother is blissfully out of touch, one brother is a blowhard, the other seems to be from another planet, his sister is a dime-store Gwyneth Paltrow and his son is in love with his cousin. This “sharply satirical comedy” steadfastly refused to make its horrifying central family lovable or relatable, save for Michael (played wryly, and winningly, by Jason Bateman), whose dry, bemused reactions make him a useful audience surrogate. Hulu is only streaming the original three seasons of the series (Netflix financed, and thus hosts, its revival), but these are the best ones anyway. (For a portrait of a slightly happier family, check out ‘Parenthood’ on Hulu.)
‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991)
When David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surrealist mystery/soap debuted on ABC in 1990, our critic wrote, “Nothing like it has ever been seen on network prime time” — and week after week, Lynch and Frost continued to prove him right. The show’s central preoccupation is the murder of Laura Palmer, a seemingly innocent teen queen, but that mystery is merely the entry point; the show’s real subject is the depravity of small-town life and the secrets that emerge when its careful veneer of normality is cracked.
Few television series run more than a decade without losing their flavor, their laughs, or their heart — but then again, few television series are as special as “Cheers.” Set in a Boston bar owned and tended by a former baseball star and recovering alcoholic (Ted Danson, in the role that understandably made him a star), “Cheers” took the conventions of the character-driven hangout sitcom and perfected them. Thanks to consistently razor-sharp writing and a flawless ensemble cast, the result was “pure comedy that was sophisticated but not pretentious.” Running 275 episodes (without a clunker in the bunch), “Cheers” has gone on to charm subsequent generations of viewers, who have found it as comforting and reliable as … well, as a trip to the neighborhood watering hole. (The show’s long-running spinoff series “Frasier” is also on Hulu.
‘Bob’s Burgers’ (2011 — present)
Though separated by nearly two decades, “Bob’s Burgers” is something of a “Cheers” for the 21st century — television comfort food, centering on a neighborhood mainstay and the weirdos who float through its doors (though this show’s characters are allowed to veer into even stranger territory by the animated format). But it’s also a clever riff on the family sitcom, as the establishment’s proprietor is the patriarch of a decidedly oddball family; most surprisingly, it treats that family with genuine affection, peccadillos and all. Our critic compared it to a go-to restaurant, “reliably good, visit after visit.” (“Bob’s Burgers” fans may also enjoy “King of the Hill.”)
‘30 Rock’ (2006-2013)
Tina Fey co-created and starred in this long-running NBC metasitcom, inspired by her own experiences as head writer for “Saturday Night Live.” It’s written and played with the wink and nudge of knowing showbiz gossip and inside jokes, delivered at lightning pace. She came into her own as a performer over the show’s seven seasons, with the help of an unbeatable ensemble cast: Jane Krakowski as the show’s uproariously vain star, Tracy Morgan as a gleefully hedonistic superstar brought in to boost ratings, Jack McBrayer as the delightfully naïve network page, and (especially) Alec Baldwin as the gruff and cynical network executive in charge of the program. For more fast-paced comedy, try “Broad City” and “Happy Endings.”)
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003)
Few shows in television history sounded less promising than a series adaptation of an unloved, unsuccessful teen horror/comedy, launching midseason on a network no one had heard of. But from the ashes of the (vastly compromised, it’s said) 1992 feature film came Joss Whedon’s reimagined and recalibrated seven-season triumph, which slyly conflated the conventions of supernatural horror and high school life, and asked which was truly the fiery hellscape. Though a little bumpy early on — it took some time for Whedon and company to find their tone (and access to convincing special effects) — once “Buffy” finds its footing, it’s unstoppable. (Whedon’s short-lived but much-loved space opera “Firefly” is also available on Hulu.)
‘The Simpsons’ (1989-present)
There was little reason to expect much from this cartoon comedy, which the then-nascent Fox network spun off from the animated interstitials of “The Tracey Ullman Show.” But this series, which our critic deemed “refreshingly different,” became the longest-running fiction series in television history, with a jaw-dropping 30 seasons on the books. Not all are great (nothing lasts forever, folks), but particularly in its early, subversive seasons, “The Simpsons” is a whip-smart, lightning-paced mixture of social commentary, pop culture burlesque and anti-“Cosby Show” family comedy. And its best episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail,” “Last Exit to Springfield,” “A Streetcar Named Marge,” etc.) are among the very finest half-hours in all of TV comedy. (Creator Matt Groening’s follow-up series “Futurama” is also streaming on Hulu.)
‘Chicken Run’ (2000)
Aardman Animations, the British stop-motion studio behind the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts, made its feature debut with this delightful cross between barnyard farce and prison escape caper, in which a headstrong hen enlists a cocky circus rooster to help her and her friends flee their henhouse before the evil farmer turns them into pies. The animation is, per the company’s standard, breathtakingly meticulous. But parents will enjoy this one as much as their kids do, as the directors Nick Park and Peter Lord inject copious doses of droll British wit and winking nods to classic adventure movies. Our critic called it “immensely satisfying, a divinely relaxed and confident film.” (For more stop-motion family fun, stream LAIKA’s “Missing Link.”)
‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ (2018)
Barry Jenkins followed up the triumph of his Oscar-winning “Moonlight” with this “anguished and mournful” adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. It is, first and foremost, a love story, and the warmth and electricity Jenkins captures and conveys between stars KiKi Layne and Stephan James is overwhelming. But it’s also a love story between two African-Americans in 1960s Harlem, and the delicacy with which the filmmaker threads in the troubles of that time, and the injustice that ultimately tears his main characters apart, is heart-wrenching. Masterly performances abound — particularly from Regina King, who won an Oscar for her complex, layered portrayal of a mother on a mission. (That year’s best actress winner, Renée Zellweger in “Judy,” is also on Hulu.)
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s nine-season ensemble sitcom was, famously, a show “about nothing,” but that label is deceptively simplistic. “Seinfeld” is a show about navigating the inexplicable inconveniences and rage-inducing frustrations of modern life, of trying one’s best to cope in a world that seems solely populated by inconsiderate nincompoops. (And also, subtly, it’s about becoming one yourself.) The four actors at the show’s center were a Marx Brothers of the ’90s, a finely-tuned comedy team whose gifts and timing complemented each other with precision, and the writing — chock-full of idioms and idiosyncrasies that have fully penetrated the American vernacular — is as sharp and uproarious as ever. (The show’s spiritual successor, the darkly funny “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is also on Hulu.)
‘Minding the Gap’ (2018)
Bing Liu was nominated for a best documentary Oscar for this, his debut feature, a candid and sometimes agonizingly intimate portrait of his loose crew of skateboarding pals. He began making videos to capture that activity, recording the skateboarders’ tricks, spills and pranks; they got comfortable around the camera, forgetting it was even there. But it was, observing and chronicling their lives for years on end — and as they got older, Liu used their comfort to eavesdrop on difficult conversations and extraordinary confessions, weaving what A.O. Scott called “a rich, devastating essay on race, class and manhood in 21st-century America.” (Documentary fans will also want to check out “Apollo 11” and “Honeyland” on Hulu.)
‘Hill Street Blues’ (1981-1987)
Few series of the 1980s were as influential or acclaimed as Steven Bochco andMichael Kozoll’s seven-season cop drama, which shunned the flash and sizzle typical of police series of the era for something closer to the ground-level realism of ’70s cinema. There were sprawling, complicated narratives, messy and not altogether sympathetic “heroes” and a visual style that seemed to stumble upon scenes rather than stage them. “Hill Street” was operatic yet intimate, institutional but personal; it changed the look, feel and flavor of cop shows for decades to come. (The show’s influence is keenly felt in Bochco’s later “NYPD Blue.”)
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are the delightful duo — funny, prickly and plausible — at the center of this “fast, brainy, nasty-but-nice teenage comedy” from the actor-turned-director Olivia Wilde, which both embraces the conventions of the John Hughes-style high school movie and shrewdly subverts them. Our heroines are a pair of overachievers who’ve focused solely on their studies all through high school, only to discover on the eve of graduation that their hard-partying classmates nevertheless landed at prestigious universities themselves. And thus, they must recover four years of lost opportunities in a single night of bad behavior and hard truths. (For more character-driven comedy/drama, check out “I, Tonya” and “Support the Girls.”)
Robert Altman’s hit 1970 antiwar comedy didn’t seem like a slam-dunk for television adaptation, thanks to its raw style and bawdy humor. The series creator and TV comedy veteran Larry Gelbart sanded away most of those edges, yet found a way to ground the show in the horrors of war while keeping the laughs digestible. Much of that was because of the chemistry and camaraderie of the flawless cast — particularly Alan Alda’s brilliantly realized characterization of “Hawkeye” Pierce, the unflappable wiseguy who found, over the course of the show’s 11 seasons, that there were some things even he couldn’t manage to make light of. (If you’re looking for a more serious medical series, stream the ’90s fave “ER.”)
‘Veronica Mars’ (2004-2019)
The creator Rob Thomas ingeniously fused the conventions of hard-boiled private eye noir with high school drama for this clever, moody and frequently funny three-season marvel (subsequently revived for a 2014 movie and a recent fourth season), which our critics deemed one of the best TV dramas this side of ‘The Sopranos.’ It also made a star out of Kristen Bell, who seamlessly veers from tough to vulnerable as the title character, a postmodern Nancy Drew who answers phones at her dad’s investigation agency and explores the seamy underbelly of her upper-class seaside resort town. The mysteries are top-notch (frequently intermingling season-long puzzlers with one-off cases of the week), but what makes “Mars” special is the relationships — particularly the complex, affectionate byplay between Bell’s thorny Veronica and her protective pop, played by the wonderful Enrico Colantoni. (If you like the neo-noir vibe of this one, check out “Gemini”; Thomas’s uproariously funny comedy series “Party Down” is also available on Hulu.)
‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2019)
This “subtle and thrilling love story” from the French writer and director Céline Sciamma is an overwhelmingly quiet film — there is no musical score, and seldom a voice that speaks above a whisper. The delicacy of that approach mirrors the story Sciamma tells, of a young artist (Noémie Merlant) sent to paint a portrait of a reluctant would-be bride (Adèle Haenel); they initially regard each other tentatively, suspiciously even, and Sciamma builds their relationship so carefully and patiently that when they finally give in to their shared desire, it’s more thrilling than any action movie. (For more powerful foreign cinema, stream “Grave of the Fireflies” and “Shoplifters” on Hulu.)
‘Beach Rats’ (2017)
Eliza Hittman (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”) writes and directs the muted yet moving story of Frankie (the sublime Harris Dickinson), a sexually conflicted young man who fears his orientation is at odds with his persona and finds himself struggling to live within the lies he’s built. Hittman’s sensitive screenplay scrutinizes its subject but never judges him; her keen understanding of Frankie’s surroundings and upbringing forbids such simplicity. Performances are subtle but effective, with particular praise due to Madeline Weinstein as the girlfriend caught in his emotional crossfire.
One of modern television’s most discussed and dissected, analyzed and agonized, loved and loathed programs is this six-season story of a group of plane-crash survivors, trapped on a mysterious and (presumably?) deserted island. This simple setup proved fertile soil for shocking twists and copious fan theories, as well as for an admirably all-rules-are-off sense of storytelling, regularly veering off into extended flashbacks, flash-forwards and even the occasional flash-sideways. Some of its loose ends are frustrating, and some of the answers are unsatisfying. But it’s nonetheless a bold experiment in longform storytelling, and one whose “Wait, WHAT?” cliffhangers make for essential binge-watching. (For another unpredictable adventure, add “Killing Eve” to your queue.)
When it began in 2009, this “outrageously entertaining” animated FX comedy from Adam Reed sounded like a one-joke premise, and not exactly a fresh one either: an extended spoof on James Bond-style spy stories, set at a secret intelligence agency during an indeterminate and anachronistic pseudo-Cold War period. And yet it took flight (11 seasons and counting) thanks to the show’s frisky writing, winking self-awareness, willingness to reboot itself entirely, and the skills of the uproarious voice cast, including Jessica Walters of “Arrested Development” as another unstable mother and the “Bob’s Burgers” star H. Jon Benjamin as the boozing, womanizing title character. (Fans of this absurd comedy may also enjoy “Absolutely Fabulous.”)
‘Mike Wallace Is Here’ (2019)
Avi Belkin’s biographical documentary takes an unconventional but effective approach to chronicling and eulogizing the legendary newsman. Abandoning the traditional devices of omniscient narration and retrospective interviews, Belkin tells Wallace’s story only using archival materials: old clips and kinescopes, behind-the-scenes footage, conversations in which Wallace himself was the (often guarded) subject, and most effectively, interviews in which the journalist’s lines of inquiry spoke to his own struggles. Crisply cut, probing but fleet-footed, Belkin’s experiment is more compelling, and often more informative, than the standard bio-doc. (For another deep dive into a storied journalist, stream “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins.”)
This “one-season wonder” from the creator Ted Griffin (who wrote the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake) concerns a busted-out ex-cop and a former criminal, two pals who team up to become private detectives. But this is no mere procedural. Griffin and his writers are less interested in the crimes than in the complicated characters who are investigating (and committing) them, making a series that leaves the viewer perpetually unbalanced; you’re never quite sure if you’re going to get a breezy chase scene or a raw, emotional verbal duet. It’s only 13 episodes, so it’s a quick binge. It’s also a sad one, since these characters clearly had so many more stories to tell. (Executive producer Shawn Ryan’s “The Shield” is also available on Hulu, as is the similarly-styled shaggy-dog private eye movie “The Nice Guys.”
‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ (2016)
This riotous, high-spirited, “charming and funny” family comedy could have been played straight, as a Disney-style, kid-friendly adventure yarn. But the writer and director Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) instead delivers a delicious sendup of action movie tropes while sneakily exploring a family dynamic that pays off with surprising warmth and sweetness. Sam Neill amps up the gruff tenderness that made his turn in “Jurassic Park” so memorable, but the real find here is Julian Dennison, a young leading man so unlikely yet so charismatic that the rest of the movie bends around him.
‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ (2013-present)
Sitcom creator Michael Schur mated the familial hangout vibe of his “Parks and Recreation” with the police precinct setting of “Barney Miller” to create this “loose, jokey workplace comedy.” Andy Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, an immature police detective who butts heads with his buttoned-up captain (Andre Braugher) — the old loose-cannon/by-the-book odd couple, writ large. The show’s charm, however, lies in its rich ensemble, an assemblage of familiar comic types given dimension and personality by a top-notch supporting cast. (The similarly styled sitcom “Superstore” is also worth your time.)
Winner of three Academy Awards — for best actress (Patricia Neal), best supporting actor (Melvyn Douglas) and its black-and-white cinematography (by James Wong Howe) — this widescreen tale of the contemporary West seems, in its opening scenes, like yet another story of a wild cowboy who cannot be tamed. But as played by Paul Newman (also nominated for an Oscar), Hud Bannon isn’t a hero; he’s a brutish, irresponsible lout, and “Hud” refuses to romanticize him. Instead, the director, Martin Ritt, sees Hud for what he is: an artifact of an earlier era, a dinosaur who is just beginning to realize he’s on his way to extinction. Our critic called it “this year’s most powerful film.” (Classic movie lovers should also check out “Johnny Guitar” and “The Furies.”)
‘The Hurt Locker’ (2009)
Winner of the Oscar for best picture of 2009 (and best director for Kathryn Bigelow), this harrowing war drama concerns a team of specialists trained in on-the-ground bomb defusion in Iraq — with a particular focus on Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who’s a bit of a loose cannon. Bigelow mines palpable, sweaty tension from this terrifying work, but she doesn’t settle for cheap thrills; the film is most intense when dealing with James’s internal conflicts and his psychological battles with his team. Manohla Dargis called it “a viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force.” (For more brainy action, check out “Crimson Tide.”)
‘The Prestige’ (2006)
Between his first and second cracks at Batman, the director Christopher Nolan slipped in this twisty, stylish exercise in sleight-of-hand moviemaking — “an intricate and elaborate machine designed for the simple purpose of diversion,” per A.O. Scott — as if to assure the fans of his breakthrough movie, “Memento.” that he was still up to his old tricks This time around, the term “tricks” is literal: In “The Prestige,” Nolan tells the story of two stage magicians in 1890s London, whose friendly rivalry first becomes fraught, then deadly. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale scheme and connive appropriately in the leading roles; a standout supporting cast includes Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and David Bowie.
‘The Twilight Zone’ (1959-1964)
Rod Serling’s innovative, influential, unforgettable anthology series married the tropes of science fiction with the humanism of morality tales, using the social shifts and rampant paranoia of the Cold War era to tell stories both wildly fantastic and uncomfortably familiar. Its theme song remains ubiquitous (ditto Serling’s hard-boiled introductions), and its best episodes have permanently embedded themselves in the common consciousness, but “The Twilight Zone” stands as more than a mere cultural touchstone. “While he hosted weekly visits to other planets and alternate universes,” our critic writes, “Serling asked his viewers to question authority, innovation and the role of faith in their lives.”
‘Star Trek’ (1966-1969)
Serling’s contemporary Gene Roddenberry likewise used the conventions of genre fiction to tell strikingly contemporary stories about the human condition. The original series is shockingly slender — it only ran three seasons and 79 episodes, yet spawned over a dozen movies and multiple spinoff series. Many of them are also available on Hulu, but this is where it all began, and where the curious viewer should start; the vital narrative elements are all in place, and the original ensemble (particularly William Shatner’s cocky Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy’s sensible Mr. Spock, and DeForest Kelley’s exasperated Dr. “Bones” McCory) is hard to top. (The follow-up series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is also on Hulu, as is the similarly beloved “The X-Files.”)
‘Amazing Grace’ (2018)
Over two nights in January of 1971, Aretha Franklin, a gospel choir and a live audience gathered at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts to record “Amazing Grace,” her soul-stirring, best-selling, widely acclaimed gospel album. A film crew was there as well, led by director Sydney Pollack, but due to a combination of technical snafus and objections by the Queen of Soul, that footage remained unseen for nearly 50 years — until the 2018 release of this stunning documentary. That delay, if anything, lends it fresh power and electricity; it plays like a vibrant time capsule of a unique moment in African-American music and American culture. Wesley Morris called it, simply, “one of the great music films.” (Music and movies also pair movingly in the films “Wild Rose” and “Love & Mercy.”)
‘Saturday Night Live’ (1975-present)
Cultural constants are in short supply, but it seems like we’ll always have NBC’s impossibly long-running late-night variety program, which has been skewering politicians, the news media and the foibles of daily life for 45 seasons (and counting). Hulu doesn’t offer all of them; the service takes a giant leap from Season 5 to Season 30, which means you don’t get the glory days of Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers and several other MVPs. But there’s plenty of gold to choose from — particularly those first five years, featuring the original, comically peerless ensemble and such immortal characters as the Coneheads, the Blues Brothers and Roseanne Roseannadanna. (For more sketch comedy, check out “Key & Peele.”)
Mary Kay Place has carved out a remarkable career as a valuable supporting player (including memorable turns in “The Big Chill,” “Being John Malkovich” and “Girl, Interrupted”), but she was rarely given the opportunity to show what she could do in a leading role. The writer and director Kent Jones changed that with this acclaimed independent drama, featuring Place as a prototypical good citizen who spends her days volunteering in her small town, supporting friends and family in various states of duress and contemplating her own mortality. Jones makes this woman seem familiar and knowable, but his subtle screenplay (and Place’s powerful performance) slowly peels away those layers, revealing unexpected regrets and complexities. Our critic called it “a rich and tender study of a woman hollowed out by remorse.” (Admirers of this intimate character study may also enjoy “Little Woods.”)
‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ (1970-1977)
You can find the DNA of this sophisticated, influential seven-season classic in everything from “30 Rock” to “The Office” to “Sex and the City.” Moore sparkles as a newly single working woman making her way in the big city of Minneapolis, where she spends her days in a bustling TV newsroom and her nights trying to reassemble her personal life. Midway through its run, our critic wrote, “Consistently tight writing and good acting have made this situation comedy the best of its kind in the history of American television.” He wasn’t wrong. (Moore’s other beloved, long-running sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” is also on Hulu, as is co-star Betty White’s “The Golden Girls.”)
Noah Hawley’s television adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 Oscar winner sounded like a sure-fire failure. After all, how could anyone but the Coens manage to recreate and recapture their oddball worldview and idiosyncratic characters? Yet Hawley’s series, a seasonal anthology — each year telling a new quirky crime story, in a different time period — succeeds by taking the entire Coen canon as inspiration (one of the show’s many pleasures is spotting the connections to all of their films) and telling stories that fit snugly into that same, cockeyed universe. Our critics called its first season “oddly winning,” Season 2 “sublime,” and Season 3 “an expertly made meta-concoction.” (“Fargo” fans may also enjoy FX’s “Justified,” another wry, witty neo-Western.)
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Shot on the fly in real locations with smartphones and a cast of mostly first-time actors, this “fast, raucously funny comedy about love and other misadventures” from the director Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) is a vibrant and heartfelt story of life on the fringe. The plot concerns two transgender sex workers (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) and their various fortunes and misfortunes over a 24-hour period in the sketchier stretches of Hollywood. Played differently, the material could have been sensationalistic, but it isn’t; Baker is, above all, a humanist, and he loves his characters no matter what kind of trouble they’re causing.
‘Friday Night Lights’ (2006-2011)
When this series adaptation of the 2004 feature film — itself an adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s nonfiction book — debuted on NBC in 2006, our critic led her review with a succinct proclamation: “Lord, is ‘Friday Night Lights’ good.” Over the five seasons that followed, this heart-rending drama, set in the world of small-town high school football (though not, in any traditional sense, solely about that world), taught lessons, complicated assumptions, and developed some of the indelible characters in modern television — chief among them Kyle Chandler as the idealistic and committed Coach Taylor and Connie Britton as his no-nonsense wife. (For more character-driven drama, check out “Queen Sugar” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”; if your interest is football, try Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday.”)
‘The Wonder Years’ (1988-1993)
Nostalgia tends to run in 20-year cycles, so filmmakers and television writers spent a good deal of the 1980s meditating on the 1960s — particularly the idealism of the Woodstock era, and how it faded away in the years that followed. This six-season family dramedy certainly trafficked in such wistfulness, but filtered it through a contemporary lens, as the adult iteration of its protagonist (voiced by Daniel Stern, played as a teen by Fred Savage) narrated his journey through middle and high school during this turbulent era. And the show is now seen through a prism of dual nostalgia, recalled with fondness by those who were themselves teenagers when it first aired, confirming that its stories of first love, teen awkwardness and familial rebellion aren’t confined to any specific era. (For more family-based comedy, check out “Malcolm in the Middle.”)
‘The Thick of It’ (2005-2012)
Before laying waste to the American political system on HBO’s “Veep,” Armando Iannucci took his satirical scalpel to the British Parliament with this ruthless four-season comedy. Its ostensible focus is Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham), head of the fictitious Department of Social Affairs, but the showcase character is Malcolm Tucker, the inventively foul-mouthed and delightfully cruel political adviser played with scorched-earth intensity by the future 12th Doctor of “Dr. Who,” Peter Capaldi. However, as with “Veep” (and the spin-off film “The Thick of It”), the true subject is government incompetence, and the stew of ego-boosting, failing upward and general bumbling that seems to define political power on every shore. (For more sharp-witted British comedy, check out the original version of “The Office.”)
‘I Love Lucy’ (1951-1957)
When writing about the virtues of the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz family sitcom, it’s tempting to just jot down a list of its classic moments: the chocolate conveyor belt, stomping the grapes, mirroring Harpo Marx, “Vitameatavegamin.” That impulse is understandable; the series has been so fully consumed by popular culture that those moments are still immediately recognizable, well over half a century after they aired. In those years, the rules of television comedy were still being written, and “I Love Lucy” wrote plenty of them (its three-camera, shot-on-film, “live in front of a studio audience” set-up was the go-to process for television comedy for decades). But beyond its considerable influence is an inarguable truth: It perseveres because, as our critic noted in 2001, “it’s fantastically, timelessly funny.”