Before streaming became a way of life, Hulu led the charge in encouraging viewers to cut their ties with cable television. It aggregated content from a variety of network sites, allowing you to (sometimes) find that episode of CSI that aired earlier in the week and watch it free of charge. It was a lousy substitute for a cable subscription, but it was an idea so far ahead of its time it just needed everyone else to catch up.
Well, they finally have. The Hulu of today isn’t free anymore, alas, but it makes it easy to wave goodbye to your monthly cable or satellite subscription. It combines networks like ABC, Adult Swim, and the Food Network with powerhouses like HBO and oh, yeah, it comes in a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN. If you’re a TV junkie, Hulu is your huckleberry.
Hulu review: TV shows
Grey’s Anatomy, Westworld, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, This is Us, The Bachelor. Whatever your TV taste is, Hulu will satisfy it. Not only can you usually watch new episodes the day after they air, but you can also typically binge other seasons, as well. If your sister-in-law has finally convinced you to give Empire a shot you can start from the beginning or simply cherry-pick your way through two decades of Law & Order SVU. The TV library is immense and Hulu’s curators do a great job of breaking it up into fun categories, like “Easy to Watch” or “Based on Books.” Unlike a lot of streaming services, Hulu is highly browsable, and its suggestion algorithm is helpful.
Though it has content for just about anyone, Hulu does seem to be aimed pretty squarely at 90s kids and their burgeoning families. You’ll find Animaniacs and Hey Arnold! rubbing shoulders with Steven Universe, alongside Hangin’ With Mister Cooper. Should modern children be subjected to Saved By the Bell: The College Years? I’ll leave that up to wiser people than myself.
Original shows is one area in which Hulu is decidedly lackluster, especially compared to the likes of Netflix. Though The Handmaid’s Tale caused a huge furore when it was originally released, subsequent seasons have been met with a shrug, and for good reason. Castle Rock and Marvel’s Runaways both received a great deal of hype that neither lived up to. There simply aren’t any must-see Hulu original shows. There are some that are ok, and others that are good enough if there isn’t anything better on, but that’s all.
Hulu review: Movies
Hulu’s strength as a TV library is made even more clear with a browse through the movies it has on offer. Though Hulu does get high-profile films, it gets them just a little later than everyone else. Think of Hulu as the small cinema down the road that gets one or two current films that you want to see, while the massive cineplex in the city center has everything you could possibly imagine.
Hulu does have a small roster of original movies, but as with its TV shows, they’re not really anything to get excited about. One small pocket of intriguing movie content is Hulu’s Into the Dark horror boutique. The titles there are very hit and miss - you’ll love some and hate others - but there are some gems to be found, if you’re willing to look.
If you don’t mind seeing the buzziest films the year they come out (or even the one after), then you may be satisfied with Hulu’s native movie selection, but otherwise you’ll likely want to supplement with a different streaming service, or level up your Hulu package to include something like HBO or Starz.
Hulu review: Pricing
Hulu pricing can get a bit complex, given the various add-ons you can opt into, but your base model will run you $5.99 a month. If you’re anti-advertisement, bump up to the $11.99 tier, where sometimes you’ll see an ad break before and after a show. This happened so rarely during our testing that we barely noticed it. Another benefit of this tier is the ability to download shows to watch offline, a nice feature if you can’t bear to ever be without episodes of Worst Cooks in America. You can add HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, or Starz (or all of the above) to either of those subscriptions, for an additional fee. Both options start you off with a 30-day free trial. Don’t forget you can also bundle Hulu with Disney+ and ESPN for a mind-bogglingly cheap $12.99 a month.
Hulu’s other package, Hulu + Live TV is even more like regular cable TV. It includes all the normal Hulu content, plus live and on demand programming like sports and news. Hulu + Live TV does have two huge advantages over cable and satellite, however: there’s no equipment to rent and no installation required. It even offers cloud DVR service and unlimited screens, though they’ll both cost you extra. There’s a seven-day free trial if you need some time to decide whether the hefty $54.99 a month (to start) is worth it or not.
Hulu review: Quality of Stream
We watched Hulu on an Apple TV, iPhone 8, and a desktop computer: playback on all was typically smooth, with no buffering or lag. However, Hulu did glitch on a regular enough basis to be noticeable. Playback would occasionally simply stop for no apparent reason, backing out to the menu, and when we hit play, we’d get a message saying the content wasn’t playable at the time. Backing entirely out of Hulu and starting fresh fixed it, but it’s an ongoing annoyance.
Should I subscribe to Hulu?
If you enjoy television and don’t have cable or satellite TV already, yes, you should have Hulu. But what if you have yet to cut the cord? Then it’s more about ease of use than access. Hulu makes it incredibly easy to find something you want to watch. No need to hunt for the channel in your cable guide or the VOD menu on your satellite, just go to Hulu and you’ll find it in seconds. The ability to watch recently-aired programs in addition to past seasons is a clear upgrade over normal TV, too.
There’s tons of kid-friendly stuff to watch, and the featured content is refreshed often enough that you always feel like you’re discovering something new. The pricing for Hulu is a little all over the map, but for our money, you can’t beat the Hulu/Disney+/ESPN bundle for $12.99. If you’re the resident movie buff, Hulu probably isn’t worth your while, but TV fans can consider their money well spent.