Is Hulu the New Old HBO?
For the first few years of the so-called content wars, Hulu always seemed to lag behind Netflix and Amazon in terms of media relevance, let alone the big dogs on premium and basic cable. The streamer had made its bones as the best place to watch new and classic shows from other providers, but failed to produce a signature series along the lines of House of Cards (before Spacey hit the #MeToo fan) and Transparent (ditto for Tambor). There were some hyped up, high profile misses like The Path and Chance, and some more intriguing niche shows like East Los High (which ran much longer than you thought) and Shut Eye (which didn't last as long as you would think). If we're being honest, The Handmaid's Tale was probably intended as a limited series, given that the first season covered the plot of the source novel. And if we're being really honest, the show definitely benefitted from the rise of right wing populism and politicians who were openly misogynistic and bigoted, with Offred replacing Khaleesi as the symbol of feminist protest. Still, the show's mix of dystopian narrative, Vermeer lighting and resistance politics has made it a strong contender for the best series on any platform. Season 2 was probably too long, but ultimately managed to survive outside the printed source material -- to the point that Margaret Atwood has decided to write a sequel novel.
Part of Hulu's late arrival to the dance probably results from making fewer shows. Netflix and Amazon have thrown enough darts to fill a few boards. Even the cable channels seem to be churning out new series at an unprecedented pace, often featuring big name talent in front of and behind the camera. Yet in addition to its signature series, Hulu also has a Marvel show with hipster/geek cred and a diverse ensemble and three breakout comedies in Shrill, Pen15 and Ramy that showcase underrepresented voices and points of view. Next week, Hulu will start streaming a documentary news series that's The New York Times' response to everything Vice has ever done.
So now that Hulu is competing with other prestige content providers, the big question is whether this can last. It could just be a hot streak of a few interesting shows, but there's a chance that Hulu has stumbled into a sort of Moneyball approach to making original content that allow it to retain the rights to Seinfeld without raising rates on its customers. Then again, maybe Hulu won't need to worry with Disney picking up the check at the end of the meal. In fact, the future slate of shows goes heavy on some Marvel properties, and the recent George Clooney adaptation of Catch-22 feels like a well-intentioned but expensive misfire.