Hulu is the exclusive home to a number of syndicated and beloved television programs, most notably Seinfeld. However, it also boasts a number of original programs only available by paying for a subscription to the streaming service. These include “The Mindy Project,” “The Path,” “11.22.63,” and “Casual.” But is paying for the service to view the original shows worth it?
Based on the 2011 novel by critically-acclaimed author Stephen King, this Hulu original mini-series revolves around Jake Epping (James Franco), a teacher for adults with special needs, as he travels back in time to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) from assassinating president John F. Kennedy. Luckily, Epping is joined by the kind-hearted beauty Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) and unstable southerner Bill Turcotte (George Mackay), both carrying their own dark secrets and motives.
The series finds most of its strength in its setting, ably juxtaposing a bubblegum pink aesthetic of early 60s pop culture with the powder keg of social unrest just below the surface. The look of the early 60s is gorgeous, from the saccharine ice-cream parlors and diners to the backwater bars of the midwest. Each squeaky-clean product jingle and primly manicured suburban lawn manages to simultaneously evoke a sense of nostalgia and uncanny discomfort as the viewer is fully immersed in a world that feels well-developed.
For the most part, the casting is top-notch. Co-stars Sarah Gadon and George Mackay do a great job presenting fully-developed and intriguing characters, while Daniel Webber manages to inject a small amount of humanity into the otherwise despicable Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ultimately, the most touted part of the show, its lead actor, also proves to be its weakest. James Franco is an incredibly divisive actor and with his choppy delivery and stilted dialogue, he is unable to convincingly shake off his own inherent “Franco-ness.”
The pacing of the show is also incredibly poor. Middle episodes drag as the characters continuously find themselves in dull, repetitive situations. Yet the show still manages to rush its confusing mess of a finale, which wraps up crucial plot points abruptly and in an insultingly pithy manner.
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy period pieces, tedium, and have an insatiable desire for more James Franco in their lives.
“The Path” centers on followers of the fictional Meyerist Movement and it’s Jim Jones-esque leader Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy) who believes that by adhering to a strict dogma they may follow “the Path” and ascend the ladder to heaven. Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan star as Eddie and Sarah Lane, cult members whose marriage comes into question as Eddie’s faith in the Path and its mysterious inner workings begins to falter. Each episode is replete with love triangles, intriguing mysteries, and piece-by-piece reveals of the true nature of the Path.
Aaron Paul carries the role of father and family man exceptionally well, almost fully able to shake the aura of his character in “Breaking Bad,” Jesse Pinkman, who still haunts his roles three years after the show ended. Michelle Monaghan also excels at her role as Sarah Lane, a woman at a crossroads trying to determine whether her loyalties lie with her church or husband.
Most impressive, though, is Hugh Dancy’s nuanced portrayal of Cal Roberts. Dancy deftly flaunts Cals deceptively charming nature, to the point that at even his most despicable moments, the audience still feels empathy for the character. By the end of the season, the followers that slowly build around Cal feel well-earned.
Similar to most other freshman series, there are a few subplots that seem to lead nowhere, as well as small pacing hiccups midway through the series. They are relatively minor quibbles however, and far from hampered my enjoyment of the show.
From its driving and sinister opening theme to the heart-pounding cliffhanger of its second-to-last episode, “The Path” paves the way for Hulu’s original series.
Those who enjoy occultish mysteries, complex lore and relationship-based drama might take to this show.
“Casual” — Season 2
The dramedy “Casual” carries the same brand of situational humor mixed with relationship and family drama that defined its first season. Weak acting and an uneven sense of characterization draw out a strong sense of ambivalence in viewers.
I would recommend watching reruns of “Friends” or “Gilmore Girls” instead.
“The Mindy Project” — Season 4
In the first season of the show since making the jump from prime-time networking to Hulu, season 4 of the Mindy Project attempts to shake up the status quo. This is done by throwing a baby into the standard “hospital+love triangle+quirky attractive doctors” formula. Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina continue to anchor the show with their strong chemistry while the focus on Mindy’s newfound motherhood manages to stir up excitement and a few laughs from an otherwise stale formula. Fan-favorite character nurse-dilettante Morgan (the hysterical Ike Barinholtz) has a more prominent role this season as well, but at times his over-the-top style of physical humor feels overwrought. In general, the slightly over-the-top jokes and exaggerated characters might prove less enjoyable for those without any prior experience with the cast or show.
I’d recommend watching if you’re an older fan of the series and can’t get enough of Mindy Kaling.