Hulu is going through a fascinating transition right now. Out with the old, in with the new, and hold tight to success stories like The Handmaid's Tale. Not all of Hulu's originals streamed new seasons in 2018, but here are five favorites that did offer up the goods.
I'm not starting with the obvious, I'm starting with the one I wish got more attention. I have become an evangelist for this witty, subversive, sexy, powerful show. Harlots is one of Hulu's co-productions, in this case with ITV Encore in the U.K. I stumbled on it after streaming The Handmaid's Tale and wanting something new to watch. By the time I was done with both seasons -- and dying for Season 3 to show up -- Harlots had become my favorite Hulu show to watch.
As much as I appreciate The Handmaid's Tale, it's not exactly what you'd call entertaining. Harlots has its deep, dark moments, but it's a blast. Samantha Morton has the lead role of brothel madam Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville is overdue for an Emmy as devious madam Lydia Quigley. Jessica Brown Findlay also shows she can do much more than be sweet Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey. Season 2 added Liv Tyler to the fun, and that fun will continue with a third season at some point. If you haven't caught up on Harlots yet, give these brilliant bawdy 18th Century lasses a chance. They'll show you a good time.
The Handmaid's Tale
Yes, this is the Emmy-winning series that really put Hulu on the map. The Handmaid's Tale continued to excel in Season 2, blazing a new trail inspired by Margaret Atwood's novel. It's the first streaming series to win any Outstanding Series Emmy or to win the Golden Globe for Best TV Drama. Elisabeth Moss has also deservedly picked up several awards for her lead role as June Osborne/Offred. I would argue that Yvonne Strahovski deserves just as many trophies for managing to play Serena Joy Waterford without turning her into a two-dimensional villain.
I find Serena fascinating, more fascinating than June, if I'm honest. But I'm also just holding a grudge against June at the moment, after The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 finale. No spoilers, but ... Season 3 has its work cut out for it to justify that decision. I'm not buying it right now.
Hulu scored big to land this anthology series based around familiar Stephen King characters and settings. It's a fantastic concept, and it jumped off to a great start with Season 1. I think there's room for improvement in some areas (pacing, perhaps), but you can't top the cast or the thought-provoking twists. Sissy Spacek is always welcome in an Uncle Stevie story, but Bill Skarsgård managed to steal the whole thing without saying much at all as The Kid.
Castle Rock Season 2 is already a go, although it's not 100% clear what direction it will take. Here's what co-creator Sam Shaw told EW when asked about the Jackie Torrance nod to going west, and the overall direction for Season 2:
Here's where we'll probably be infuriatingly tight-lipped, but what I would say is that we would sure love to see Jackie explore the Overlook Hotel. Part of the fun of Season 2 and beyond will be seeing what some of the questions [will be]. The penultimate episode of this season points to the idea that there are other worlds than these, and in this final tag there's this sense that there are worlds of Stephen King's that this show may explore eventually that are more far-flung than the state of Maine.
More details on Castle Rock Season 2 will be coming in 2019, I'm sure, but you should get yourself caught up on Season 1 now to document the many Stephen King universe Easter eggs. They will probably be important later.
Netflix doesn't get to have all the fun when it comes to TV series connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first season of Runaways aired from late 2017 to early 2018. It definitely set the stage for a fascinating Season 2, which just dropped 13 new episodes on December 21. Yes, all at once. That's not how Hulu did it with Season 1, but the streamer isn't always consistent on episode drops.
Runaways co-showrunner Josh Schwartz said a reference late in Season 2 will probably be the first breadcrumb connecting to the MCU in any way. But the show exists happily on its own merits, enjoying plenty of praise for Season 1 (especially for the scene-stealing parents) and even more for Season 2. As CinemaBlend's own Nick Venable ended his Season 1 review:
... Marvel's Runaways will almost definitely be a new turning point for the streaming service, proving it can deliver blockbuster superhero storytelling that looks and generally works far better than traditional networks' comic book series.
At this point, newcomers have 23 Runaways episodes to catch up on -- 10 from Season 1, and the 13 that just dropped for Season 2. Hulu has yet to announce a Season 3, and it would be a true shame to lose the potential of this new hit right when it was getting started.
The Looming Tower
Hulu entered the miniseries game with 11.22.63 (another Stephen King adaptation) in 2016, and stepped it up with the ambitious 10-episode drama The Looming Tower in 2018. After such a promising start, I can only hope they have plans for many more limited series in the near future.
The star-studded Looming Tower was adapted from Lawrence Wright's book, streaming 10 episodes from February to April 2018. The series culminated in the "9/11" episode set after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Looming Tower led to Emmy nominations for lead actor Jeff Daniels, supporting actor Michael Stuhlbarg, and director Craig Zisk for the "9/11" episode. It also picked up a casting nomination at the Creative Arts Emmys for the overall cast.
The limited series follows the rivalry between the FBI and CIA in the late 1990s, showing how that affected the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. The Looming Tower was a perfect addition to the streamer's repertoire, and not just because it elevates its critical status even further. Hulu streams almost exclusively in U.S. markets -- instead of overseas, unlike Netflix and Amazon, or HBO, etc. So as much as I could've easily pictured this series airing on HBO, it was a good choice for a U.S.-centric outlet.
Gone But Not Forgotten
There were a lot of TV casualties in 2018 in general. Hulu has lost several signature series in the past few years -- including The Path, The Mindy Project, Chance, Difficult People, Casual, Freakish, and The Hotwives. As you can see below, though, Hulu also has plenty in the pipeline.
Hulu just released several photos from George Clooney's new series Catch-22, which premieres this spring. Hulu will also be the new home of Kristen Bell's Veronica Mars revival at some point in 2019. Hulu also has a Four Weddings and a Funeral series in the works, including one cast member from the original movie. An Animaniacs reboot will be airing at least two seasons, starting in 2020 on Hulu.
New show Into the Dark just debuted its first season in October and continues adding new episodes through 2019. Josh Hutcherson's Future Man missed the cut for this Hulu list since Season 1 debuted in 2017 and Season 2 premieres January 11, 2019. It's not clear yet what Hulu plans to do with Sean Penn's The First, which debuted Season 1 in September. It's also not clear at the moment what will happen with All Night or Light as a Feather, or the late night talk show I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman.
Hulu doesn't have the only programming to watch in 2019, of course. Here's more to look forward to in midseason 2019.