In the ongoing Great Streaming Wars of 2014, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video are constantly battling each other, making exclusive deals with networks, creating original programs, and just overall competing to host the best content. Hulu Plus has a clear advantage in that it has the most current-run shows available, yet it still often goes overlooked when it comes to older shows. But Hulu has plenty of those too — here are 45 TV shows on Hulu (some free, some with Hulu Plus) that aren’t available on Netflix or Amazon.
3rd Rock From the Sun
3rd Rock was a fun, goofy show about aliens posing as humans and trying to live a “normal” life in Ohio. The show was praised and showered with Emmy awards, and its fish-out-of-water humor still holds up today. Plus, it has an adorable adolescent Joseph Gordon-Levitt and just about every episode title is a bad pun.
Fox’s The Loop only ran for two seasons but it’s one of my secret favorites. It stars Bret Harrison as Sam Sullivan, a young guy trying to balance his work and personal life. Not the most original premise, but The Loop was surprisingly funny — especially in its first season, before it was crushed by network notes — and is worth the watch.
Broad City is the funniest new show of 2014, so by this point I’m going to just assume that everyone has seen it and loved it. One of the best things about this New York-based comedy? Endless re-watch value. The entire season is on Hulu so you can watch it again and again.
Loosely based on Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential was such a fun show. A sitcom about a group of people (Bradley Cooper, Nicholas Brendan, John Francis Daley, and Jaime King) working in the same restaurant, it was unfortunately canceled after four episodes, but Hulu even has the unaired episodes.
That ’80s Show
This wasn’t a strict spinoff of That ’70s Show but was created to be its counterpart, taking place a decade later. It never reached the same level of popularity as That ’70s Show and only aired one season, but it’s fun to watch Chyler Leigh and Glenn Howerton in wonderful ’80s glory.
Also known as that show where the monkey made more money per episode than you will ever make in your life. Animal Practice ran for one season on NBC in 2012. In all honesty, it was kind of bland — though it did pick up right as it was canceled — and I might be the only person who really liked it, but hey, I’m a sucker for monkeys wearing people clothes.
The Return of Jezebel James
After Gilmore Girls but before Bunheads, Amy Sherman-Palladino created this forgotten sitcom. Jezebel James stars Parker Posey as a woman who can’t have children so she asks her estranged little sister (Lauren Ambrose) to carry a baby for her. Unique premise and wonderful cast, but it paled in comparison to Palladino’s other work. But it’s only seven episodes, so why not check it out?
John Goodman’s next big TV project after Roseanne was Normal, Ohio, in which he played a beer-swilling, football-loving gay man. The creators had nice intentions — to break down stereotypes that were rampant on early-’00s television — but the show was poorly executed and had terrible ratings. Still, it’s a fascinating look back at a show that feels much older than it is.
The simplistic premise of Misfits is “reluctant teen superheroes,” but it’s so much more than that. It’s a great teen drama, one that blends realistic portrayals of teens with a sci-fi story featuring superpowers ranging from the power of invisibility to the power of… being a turtle? Yeah, it got weird. The first two seasons are just about perfect, and I can guarantee you’ll be hooked immediately.
College stories are tough — it’s why shows tend to go downhill when characters graduate high school — but Fresh Meat is one of the few exceptions. It’s a British comedy-drama centered around friends living in an off-campus house. While the first few episodes are a bit shaky, it quickly becomes remarkably sharp and poignant.
My So-Called Life
Often called the pioneer of emotional teen dramas, My So-Called Life won everyone over in the ’90s and has a legacy that far outlived its decade. It’s amazingly honest and sometimes so relatable that it’s eerie, but that’s what makes it so great. If you haven’t seen it, fix that immediately. If you have? Watch it again and reminisce about when Jared Leto was still perfect.
Eli Stone was a basic legal drama — with a twist! Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) begins to have hallucinations that are either because of his brain aneurysm or because, get this, he might be a prophet! OK, it sounds silly, but it’s actually a pretty good show (and weirdly heavy on the George Michael tunes) and wants to entertain more than pile on the heavy-handed God stuff (think: Joan of Arcadia but with lawyers).
You’re probably familiar with Masterchef, but Masterchef Junior actually became my favorite reality show of last year. It’s the same basic competition format, except the contestants are all super cute children who can cook a million times better than I can. Plus, who knew Gordon Ramsay could be so sweet?
Christina Applegate stars as Samantha Newly, an unlikeable woman who develops amnesia and is horrified to learn how awful she used to be. She tries to figure out who she is while making amends with the people she once hurt but often screws up. It sounds a little do-goodery, but it’s a funny sitcom that had great ratings for the first season, then unfortunately fell off during the second. Both are available on Hulu.
Like most people, I missed Reaper when it first aired but eagerly raced through the series on Hulu. Starring Bret Harrison and Tyler Labine, Reaper is about a slacker whose soul belongs to the devil, so he is forced to do Satan’s dirty work. It’s darkly funny and should have lasted longer.
When you’re done with Reaper, stick with Tyler Labine and his newest show: the Hulu original Deadbeat. Labine plays a slacker, stoner medium and it’s the best of Hulu’s originals yet — and was just renewed for a second season.
Grounded for Life
Remember Grounded For Life? The ABC sitcom that ran for five seasons and aired in syndication until 2013? I loved Grounded For Life and its unique storytelling approach — heavy use of flashbacks, disjointed timeline, working its way backwards from the outcome, etc. — and, of course, its star Donal Logue.
Ah, the days when Aaron Sorkin was tolerable. Sports Night was my introduction to Sorkin and remains my favorite show of his to this day. Sports Night centers on a fictional sports news show and features all the Sorkin staples: dangling modifier jokes, walk-and-talk scenes, and long-winded conversations that wouldn’t ever happen in real life.
The Cosby Show
Who doesn’t love The Cosby Show? When the series was streaming on Netflix, my friends and I all rapidly devoured it and were heartbroken when it was no longer available. Fortunately, it’s all on Hulu now, so you can revisit eight seasons of the best sitcom family.
When you’re done with The Cosby Show, skip ahead a few years and revisit Cosby, Cosby’s next sitcom, which was loosely based on the British sitcom One Foot In The Grave. It may not be as much of a classic as its predecessor, but it’s still great.
A Different World
And while we’re on the subject, Hulu also recently added A Different World, a college-centric spinoff of The Cosby Show. It was the more serious of the two, focusing on timely and important issues, and soon became a strong enough program that it no longer had to cling to The Cosby Show‘s coattails.
2009 was the year television tried to cash in on the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy by ordering a million medical dramas. One of them was Mercy, starring a pre-Orange Is the New Black Taylor Schilling as a nurse who returns from a tour in Iraq and tries to readjust to her New Jersey hospital.
Just five days after Mercy debuted on NBC, the same network premiered Trauma, a medical drama focused on San Francisco paramedics. Trauma was the more thrilling of the two visually (Mercy had better characters) and remarked more on the fast-paced world of paramedics. Both were canceled after one season.
Sometimes you just have to give in and watch a mindless and hilariously terrible sitcom. Stacked was about Pamela Anderson working in a bookstore (get the title now?). It was full of hackneyed jokes about poor dumb Pamela Anderson and the smart guys she worked with — and also featured Christopher Lloyd as a rocket scientist — and was rightfully canceled after a few episodes. It’s a good case study in how awfully weird we let television get in 2005.
Whoopi was another terrible, terrible misstep for early-’00s television. It premiered on NBC in 2003 and is very much a post-9/11 sitcom. You wouldn’t think you could go wrong with a Whoopi Goldberg sitcom, but it was so strange, packed with odd, “let’s push the envelope” racist jokes. Yet I watched it, because it was on Hulu and I love bad television, and it’s one of those programs that you can’t believe exists and is funny for all the unintended reasons. Just watch the pilot and you’ll never complain about current TV again.
Jon Benjamin Has a Van
But back to the good shows. You may not be totally aware of H. Jon Benjamin but you definitely know his voice. He’s the voice of Sterling Archer, Bob Belcher, and Coach McGuirk. In 2011, Comedy Central aired his live-action show Jon Benjamin Has A Van which featured Benjamin as a reporter. It was an inventive show — in one episode, his sound guy is kidnapped so there’s no audio — and gone too soon.
Doogie Howser, M.D.
Out of all the implausible shows on television, Doogie Howser, M.D. might be my favorite. Neil Patrick Harris plays a 14-year-old doctor who “can’t buy beer but can prescribe drugs.” Everything about it is ridiculous — he has to balance being a teen with performing surgery! — but it’s so entertaining.
Felicia Day’s The Guild took off and became an insanely popular web series about the lives of gamers. It’s gleefully nerdy and endlessly funny and ran for six seasons — five of which are available on Hulu.
There is so much sketch comedy out there that it’s overwhelming, but you can never go wrong putting on any episode of MTV’s The State. It features an all-star cast — Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, David Wain, Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Ian Black, and Thomas Lennon to name a few — and has a rabid, cult fanbase. Join us so you’ll understand all the silly references we make in everyday conversation.
No Ordinary Family
I’m a sucker for anything about kids with superpowers, and No Ordinary Family was just that. After a mystery plane crash, an entire family, including the two teen children, develop powers and find themselves at the center of a battle between good and evil.
Commander in Chief
Geena Davis stars as Mackenzie Allen, the first female President, who gets the position after rising up from VP. While the premise was initially promising, the show began to fold under the weight of it. It’s actually a shame it was canceled so soon, because future seasons planned to focus less on Mackenzie’s gender and more on her political affiliation.
Oh, how I love heavy dramas. October Road starred Bryan Greenberg (One Tree Hill) as a big-shot NYC guy who returns home to his small town after a decade to reunite with his family, his ex-girlfriend, and the child that may or may not be his.
My Generation tried, but failed, to cash in on the mockumentary trend. It follows a group of stereotypical high school seniors (like “the beauty queen,” “the jock,” and “the nerd”) who are meeting up ten years later to take stock of their lives. It’s so of its time — one character’s entire backstory is basically just “Remember Enron?!” — and it failed to connect with viewers.
It’s hard to explain why I like Reba, because it’s basically just a normal sitcom about a divorced mother who finds out her daughter is pregnant. There is never anything especially amazing happening, but maybe that’s the draw. It’s comfort food as a show, something you can put on Hulu and watch without investing much time or effort, and it works.
Night Gallery was a horror anthology series that ran from 1970-1973. It was hosted by Rod Serling and often seen as a brother of The Twilight Zone but relied more on straight horror rather than just science fiction. It’s creepy and perfect for marathon watching over a long weekend.
The aptly titled sitcom Damon stars Damon Wayans as a single detective and David Allan Grier as his recently divorced, rent-a-cop older brother Bernard. It’s a bit Brooklyn Nine-Nine mixed with a little Odd Couple as Bernard moves in with Damon when his marriage falls apart.
Moone Boy is a semi-autobiographical Irish sitcom written by and starring the brilliant Chris O’Dowd. O’Dowd plays the imaginary friend of a 12-year-old boy and helps him navigate his way through life. It’s wildly inventive, visually impressive, and an overall lovely and delightful show that just started its second season.
This BBC Three series is about two young strangers — 18 and 16 — who meet at a party, have sex, and later find out they’re about to become parents. The three seasons, which find the two leads struggling with impending parenthood, actual parenthood, and whether or not they should be a couple, were picked up by Hulu.
I won’t judge you if you don’t remember the bland NBC sitcom Teachers starring Justin Bartha because it was pretty bad. This, however, is the original UK version, and it’s much better. This is wry humor, mostly about how shitty the teachers are — one of my favorite running gags has teachers oblivious to all the bullying that surrounds them.
The Young Ones
Hulu has a lot of great British sitcoms. The much-loved The Young Ones centers on a group of undergraduates living together — including Rik Mayall from Drop Dead Fred — and employs slapstick humor and non sequitur, plus musical performances.
Battleground is Hulu’s first original series, a mockumentary created by J.D. Walsh. It’s a political comedy centered on the inner workings of a group of campaign staffers working to elect a “dark horse candidate” to the Senate.
This British medical sitcom takes place largely in a geriatric ward, providing the show with some very, very dark humor. It ran for three seasons, all heavily praised by critics, and has since been adapted into a US version for HBO.
Rounding out the British shows is the romantic comedy Free Agents, about two coworkers who have a one-night stand and then have to deal with the consequences. There is great chemistry and banter between the two leads. It failed to translate when NBC adapted it in 2011, but the original is worth checking out.
There’s a reason Brooklyn Nine-Nine won two Golden Globes before it even finished its first season — the show was hilarious from the start. Centered on a Brooklyn precinct, B99 skipped the bumbling cop cliché and instead focused on a great cop who is unable to grow up (Andy Samberg). As great (and toned down!) as Samberg is, the real draw here is everyone else in the cast who settled into their roles without a hitch, providing the best ensemble currently on television.
Strangers With Candy
There’s not much to be said about Strangers With Candy that hasn’t been said elsewhere, a million times. It’s one of the absolute best TV comedies, a Comedy Central cult hit about a 46-year-old woman (the amazing Amy Sedaris) returning to high school. It’s brilliantly funny and brilliantly weird and you’ll love it.