New to Hulu? Here’s What to Watch

A few years ago, Hulu was mostly known for its impressive library of TV shows from the past several decades. But since 2017, when “The Handmaid’s Tale” became the first show created by a streaming service to win an Emmy for best drama, Hulu has been pumping out more and more original content.

Hulu recently announced an expansion of its partnership with Spotify: Subscribers to Spotify Premium, which costs $9.99 a month, now have free access to the entire Hulu catalog (with ads). The deal is open to new and existing subscribers. If you’re wondering what to stream now that the TV heavens have opened up, here are highlights of Hulu’s recent original series and documentaries.

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It’s the year 2000, and best friends Maya and Anna (played by creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) are 13 and clinging to each other to survive middle school. “PEN15” — remember that old calculator trick? — places the grown-up Erskine and Konkle alongside actual tweens, and the two are such strong performers that after a couple episodes, you barely notice the incongruity. The show nails the details of what makes 13 such an awkward age, and how important it is to have a war buddy to get you through that brutal stage of budding adolescence.

‘The Act’
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This limited series tells the true story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the subjects of a viral 2016 BuzzFeed article written by Michelle Dean, who cocreated the series. Patricia Arquette plays Dee Dee, devoted mother to the sickly, wheelchair-bound Gypsy (Joey King) — or so their neighbors, sympathetic local news crews and assorted charities believe. A stomach-churning story of Munchausen syndrome by proxy that ends in tragedy, “The Act” isn’t always easy to watch, and it probably could have been told in fewer than eight hourlong episodes. But it’s worth checking out for the fantastic, committed performances by Arquette and King.

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Inspired by Lindy West’s memoir of the same name, “Shrill” stars a revelatory Aidy Bryant as a woman who reaches her breaking point. Annie has a decent job at an alt-weekly in Portland, a fun live-in bestie (Lolly Adefope) and loving parents. But her regular hookup, a slacker with a podcast, makes her leave out the back door, and her boss mockingly disparages her weight. Annie is already a grown woman, so “Shrill” isn’t exactly a coming-of-age story. But over the course of the season, it tracks Annie’s dawning realization that she’s been holding herself back from enjoying her life to the fullest. The show hits the sweet spot between funny and emotionally affecting, and its six half-hour episodes breeze by.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
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When its first season debuted in the spring of 2017, just a few months into President Trump’s time in office, “The Handmaid’s Tale” seemed to eerily echo many people’s worst fears. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, the show’s first season roughly tracks the action of the book, which is set in the religio-fascist state of Gilead (formerly the United States). Our narrator Offred, nee June (Elisabeth Moss), is a handmaid: a fertile woman forced to bear children for the heads of state. The novel’s action ends on an ambiguous note, but a popular and acclaimed TV show needs forward motion, so the second season veered onto its own path, with varying results. The third season begins in June, so there’s plenty of time to catch up.

‘The Bisexual’
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The filmmaker Desiree Akhavan stars in and created this British production about Leila, an Iranian-American woman living in London who has a sexual awakening. But “The Bisexual” is not your conventional coming out story: Leila abruptly leaves her long-term girlfriend (who is also her business partner) and realizes she is attracted to men as well as women. This funny, nuanced series is as much an interrogation of generational friction as sexual identity, and it features a range of characters that develop in surprising ways. Akhavan — a fearless, often hilarious performer — creates a world that feels both bold and believable.

‘Castle Rock’
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A horror drama located in what we’ll call the Stephen King Universe, “Castle Rock” is an anthology series — the second season, which doesn’t yet have a premiere date, will tell a whole new story. The first season kicks off when the warden of Castle Rock, Maine’s Shawshank prison commits suicide, which leads to a shocking discovery deep in the bowels of the facility. This prompts the return of Henry Deaver (André Holland), who moved out of town when he was a boy after a mysterious incident that left his stepfather dead. Now he’s a lawyer, and he rekindles his friendship with the girl next door, Molly (Melanie Lynskey), who has a telepathic sixth sense. “Castle Rock” isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s a fun, pulpy thriller with excellent mood lighting.

‘Minding the Gap’
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This Oscar-nominated doc follows three friends growing up in Rockford, Ill., including the film’s director, Bing Liu, now 30. A shared love of skateboarding ostensibly unites Bing, Keire and Zack, but as the film progresses, Liu probes deeper into his friends’ lives and upbringings, as well as his own. Zack, a high school dropout, fathers a child, and struggles with the responsibility; Keire, whose father died when he was young, works toward a better life for himself; and the filmmaker confronts his mother, who married a violent man when Bing was a young boy. What really connects the friends is a shared history of childhood abuse, which Liu is determined to confront.

‘Too Funny to Fail’
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A must-see for sketch comedy acolytes — particularly those who are burned out on ripped-from-the-headlines political comedy — this charming documentary goes behind the scenes of the short-lived but influential ABC series “The Dana Carvey Show.” Debuting in the spring of 1996, the show lasted just one season before ABC canceled it, though its writers and performers (including Robert Smigel, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell) would go on to become the top dogs of TV comedy. In “Too Funny to Fail,” they marvel at the nonsense they brought to air on a “Big Three” network in the mid-90s, before the rise of streaming and niche cable channels gave weird TV a million little homes.

‘Fyre Fraud’
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“Fyre Fraud” is one of two competing documentaries about the infamously shambolic Fyre Festival scam of 2017 (the other is streaming on Netflix). Of the two, this one takes a wider view of the debacle, placing it firmly in the context of millennial striving and social media saturation. Festivalgoers were teased with images of supermodels frolicking on a private beach in the Bahamas — but upon touching down in the Caribbean, they found a concrete site down the road from a Sandals resort dotted with FEMA-style tents. The filmmakers score an interview with head fraudster Billy McFarland, who reveals an infinite capacity for dodging the truth.

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