Movie and TV reviews – Focus on Hulu

By Bruce A. Smith

The two primary streaming services in the nation, Netflix and Hulu, are quite different from each other. Netflix focuses on feature-length projects and TV series, much of it done in-house or under contract to independent production companies. Most notably, Netflix is the home of Orange is the New Black, Weeds, and hundreds of comedy specials. It also offers a backlist, so that shows that have been off-the-air for a while, like The Blacklist, can be viewed in their entirety, which is great for binge-watching.

In contrast, Hulu is mostly a re-play of regular TV shows from broadcast networks, like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Law and Order- SVU, or Chicago PD. Generally, only the shows from the current season can be viewed, at least on my payment program.

Hulu also airs occasional documentaries and movies, generally for a month or two, and currently it is showing the Academy Award-winning documentary “Free Solo,” the story of mountain climber Alex Honnold. He climbed the iconic El Capitan in Yosemite without any ropes or safety devices – being the only person ever to do so on that 3,000-foot ascent.

Hulu also provides a means of watching TV shows without commercial interruption, which, in my opinion is worth the fifteen-bucks a month fee. However, for another ten dollars, I can also stream a subsidiary service called “Showtime,” which is the home base of “Homeland,” the best show of its kind on TV. Hence, I buy the Showtime package so that I don’t have to wait a full year to see its latest season.

For those unfamiliar with Homeland, it is a spy thriller set in the current era of American politics, and it is tight, taunt and well-written. It’s superbly acted, and magnificently produced. Its plot lines are seamless, each season is original and fresh, and all the narrative twists are supremely plausible. As for character development, the lead character, CIA agent Cary Mathison, played by Claire Danes, gives one of the finest performances of the smaller screen in entertainment history. One of the elements of her character is a series of manic-depressive episodes, and Danes delivers a performance that is sublime, riveting, and nuanced. Homeland won Emmys for every one of its first few seasons, which unfortunately will be wrapping up soon when the eighth season airs next month.

Sadly, the Hulu service I purchased requires that I view my shows on a 24-hour delay, which is awful when I am immersed in the latest doings of the “Bachelor,” and can’t talk about the latest dramas the day-after.

There are hundreds of TV shows available on Hulu, and many are the well-known varieties. But there are dozens of offerings that are not well-known, and are interesting.

Here’s my current list of Hulu shows that I watch in heavy rotation:

  1. Law and Order – SVU. This iconic police procedural is in its 20th Everything I know about sexual assault and surviving rape, I learned listening to Lt. Olivia Benson.
  2. Chicago PD. Tough, gritty, police procedural produced by Dick Wolf, the guy who brought Law and Order to the screen.
  3. Chicago Med. One of the sister shows to Chicago PD. The third sibling is Chicago Fire, but it has never captured my attention.
  4. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Light and funny. A decent replacement to Carson.
  5. The Late Show with Seth Meyers. Seth is more political than Jimmy, and has more substantive guests.
  6. The Circus. It’s the best political show on TV, and gives probing insights into the Greatest Political Show on Earth – the Trump era.
  7. Timeless. This is a sci-fi drama that utilizes time machines to explore history and correct the nasty doings of villainous folks who want to control the world. I learned a lot about American history that was never taught in school, and was entertained while I learned it.

Some Hulu shows are flying under the radar screen, in the sense that I don’t see or hear much media attention given to them. One show is the eight-part series, “Killing Eve,” which I resisted watching for months because the title suggested to me a lot of blood and gore. However, that is not the case. “Killing Eve” is a quirky, smart, savvy spy thriller that is top-notch. Lead actress Sandra Oh, won an Academy Award, or a Golden Globe – I forget which – for her performance in this show. Oh plays a British intelligence analyst who is able to penetrate through bureaucratic turgidity and impenetrable intrigue to find the real culprits.

One of the few movies available on Hulu this month is “Free Solo,” the story of Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Capitan. Top-notch, and watchable because we know he made it successfully – otherwise the anxiety would be unbearable. The show is doubly satisfying because most of it portrays Honnold’s practice climbs with full ropes and gear. Watching him fall repeatedly in the tough spots – and his explanations of what complicated hand and foot moves he needs to develop in order to climb it successfully without the ropes – is mind-boggling. The guy is a super athlete. The show also explores what life is like for those who love these free climbers and stay on the ground and at home.

There are about a dozen shows that I call “popcorn TV” because they are interesting enough to watch every now and then, but are not overly compelling. As a result, I watch them only when I’ve finished with my “A” list.

The Popcorn List includes: Manifest, a half-baked sci-fi drama dealing with time travel, where Flight 828 goes missing for five years and then returns, with interesting impacts. Of course, the government wants to know what happened and the passengers are suspect, along with having their lives turned upside-down.

The Rookie is an appealing cop show set in Los Angeles. The rookie cops are a fascinating blend, including one guy who is 40-years old. He doesn’t run as fast as the younger guys and gals, but he brings a lot of wisdom to the streets of LA.

A similar show is 911, the story of a select set of 911 dispatchers and their crew of first-responders. The incidents are weird, but wonderful, and the dramas are well-told. The cast is excellent – although Connie Britton has disappeared again, like she did in the excellent Nashville, which I loved tremendously.

Homicide Hunter is an excellent re-enactment of the career of Lt. Joe Kenda, who solved 386 homicides for the Colorado Springs PD during 1980-2010 or so. Most of these murders were tough to crack, so the intrigue exists. But the documentary-like show drags on occasion due to padding the nitty-gritty to stretch it to a one-hour story. Fortunately, Lt. Kenda narrates the broadcast and he is gruff, charming and utterly dedicated to justice. For those who are skeptical of the cops – or afraid of them – Kenda will restore your faith in fair play and the value of solid, careful police work. One element of the show that is missing is Kenda’s personal life. He is so passionate about the job that I often wondered how he was able to maintain a family. He never seemed to be home for dinner. Mrs. Kenda, what was it like being married to this guy?

My all-time favorite popcorn show is Long Island Medium. This is a reality-TV type show that traces the doings of Theresa Caputo, a housewife from Hicksville, NY, who can talk to dead people. Theresa has a charming approach to her gift, and she talks to people about the loss of their loved ones. In the course of her 100 episodes, she probably addresses thousands – some individually and some in groups. Yet, one of the endearing aspects of the show is that Theresa often approaches folks in her regular life, so she is channeling spirits in coffee shops, the grocery store, or a bowling alley. Theresa is good-natured, and she gives a lot of comfort to people in grief. On a personal note, I love seeing all those scenes of Long Island, as I grew up just down the road from Theresa.

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