Amid the hubbub for all the original productions over at Netflix, one of the streaming site's primary competitors, Hulu, is still trying to figure out how to create successful original programming of its own. Over the last few years, Hulu has trotted out more originals and foreign purchases than Netflix, but none of them have caught on big time with audiences. Still, like Netflix, Hulu's hoping that 2013 is its year. A few weeks ago, the streaming site released a bunch of promos and premiere dates for a slew of new shows (some of them fully original, some of purchased from overseas markets), two of which (The Awesomes and Quick Draw) debuted almost immediately after the announcement. Combined with the company's recent purchase and current airing of the British series Moone Boy, Hulu's had a busy month-and a half.
But the big question is, as always, are the site's new shows any good? I've watched the first three episodes of Moone Boy, The Awesomes, and Quick Draw and I'm here to let you know whether it's worth carving out some time before the fall season to take a look—or if you should just ignore them so you can watch Scandal again.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Moone Boy is an Irish sitcom set in the late 1980s that follows 12-year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle) and his imaginary friend Sean (Chris O'Dowd, of Family Tree, Girls, and Bridesmaids) as Martin deals with school bullies, new pals, and his trio of sisters. The show also features occasional animated sequences.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? Right now, six, which is the whole first season. The show's original network, Sky 1, has already ordered a second season to air later this year, and Hulu has confirmed that it will eventually import those episodes as well.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? Honestly? Not much of anything on television in the U.S., and that's not just because it's an international period piece (although the show does get laughs out of things that are unintentionally hilarious due to the '80s setting). Moone Boy isn't laugh-out-loud funny on a regular basis, nor does it focus on the kind of broad hijinks you're accustomed to seeing on American broadcast comedies. In fact, it's quite low-key, and even the imaginary friend concept isn't driven into the ground like some story gimmicks on other shows. It's like if Modern Family mostly focused on Luke and he were a little smarter.
IS IT ANY GOOD? Definitely. Rawle and O'Dowd (who is also the series' co-creator) have really great chemistry that never makes the central conceit distracting (there isn't some trauma that makes Sean come into existence, at least in the first three episodes). And while the pace is slow, the jokes and stories build very nicely throughout each episode. Outside of the main relationship between Martin and Sean, Moone Boy the show manages to give Martin's family, especially his parents, something worthwhile to do on a regular basis. There are also some simple but enjoyable side stories about women's roles at the time, giving Deidre O'Kane some nice material to work with. And in the pilot, there's a silly bit about overwhelmed fathers that Peter McDonald just nails. The three actresses playing Martin's sisters don't get much screen time early on, but there are brief moments that showcase their personalities. Finally, the show has a really nice sense of place and time. It doesn't necessarily make fun of the '80s, but there's a big set-piece in Episode 3 that's built around the Berlin Wall coming down that's just wonderful.
THE VERDICT You should watch Moone Boy. There are only six episodes to burn through and you know that there's at least a second (and probably a third) season coming. It's a small, worthy investment.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The Awesomes is an animated series about a team of reject superheroes, led by the son of the most famous superhero in history. It's from Mike Shoemaker and Saturday Night Live head writer and future Late Night host Seth Meyers, and it's executive-produced by SNL honcho Lorne Michaels. Once his father Mr. Awesome retires, Jeremy Awesome a.k.a. Prock (who's voiced by Meyers) vows to keep the superhero team The Awesomes together. Of course, Jeremy immediately fails because he's a terrible superhero (he can stop time, but the power appears to be slowly killing him). All of The Awesomes ditch the team, leaving Jeremy and his best pal Muscleman (The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz) to recruit new, less-skilled and perhaps more dangerous heroes to the team. Meanwhile, Mr. Awesome's longtime nemesis Dr. Malocchio (SNL's Bill Hader) is out of jail and ready to destroy the world again. Recognizable names like Parks and Rec's Rashida Jones, SNL's Taran Killam, Keenan Thompson, and Rachel Dratch and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon announcer Steve Higgins fill out the cast.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? Three half-hours (a two-part pilot, another episode) right now, but the first season will have 10. Hulu plans to release one per week.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? It's just like The Avengers, only animated! Wouldn't that be something? Okay, more seriously, this is a comedy about superheroes, which immediately made me think of The Powerpuff Girls. Because there's so much SNL and sketch-comedy talent involved, The Awesomes also feels a little like an extended concept for the long-running Saturday-night variety show (though not an extended version of The Ambiguously Gay Duo, unfortunately). It doesn't overlap much with another original animated superhero project that might come to mind, The Incredibles.
IS IT ANY GOOD? The Awesomes is solid, and it has lots of potential, but it takes a little while to get going. The two-part pilot is dedicated to getting the new team together and that brings in the occasional laugh, but the jokes aren't as strong as you might expect from the creative team involved. The premise itself isn't particularly original, but it is nice to see a breezy and comedic superhero project in a world where everything has to be "dark," "gritty," and "realistic." Plus, the first post-pilot episode is a fairly substantial improvement, even if it focuses almost exclusively on the various characters' origin stories. Each voice actor gets time to do their thing, which is not necessarily something I think the show will be able to pull off every week.
However, it's still generally enjoyable. It's nice to see (or hear, rather) Meyers in a more traditional "acting" role after so many years of seeing him behind the Weekend Update desk, and the supporting cast is really lovely. Unsurprisingly, Hader is the stand-out performer, and his Dr. Malocchio is off-the-wall enough while still retaining a moderate amount of menace. I'll be the first to admit that animated shows aren't anywhere near my cup of tea, but this one's pretty solid. It's bright, smooth, and fluid and serves its concept well.
THE VERDICT The Awesomes isn't as strong as Moone Boy after three episodes, but it's still worth checking out. Heck, you could probably watch a trailer and then skip to Episode 3 and really enjoy yourself.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Quick Draw is another period sitcom, set in 1875 Kansas; it's basically a comedic and at least partially improvised Western. The series follows new town sheriff John Henry Hoyle (co-creator John Lehr, 10 Items or Less), who recently graduated from Harvard with an interest in forensics-based investigation. But all of Hoyle's book-learnin' hasn't prepared him for the Wild (Mid)West, as he bumbles his way through murder investigations and the townsfolk immediately start a pool to bet on when he'll die (many of them choose Day 1). Hoyle and his dense, handsome deputy Eli (Nick Brown) take on local outlaws, hustlers and old friends, just barely skirting by each time.
HOW MANY EPISODES ARE THERE? As of now, three, with a new one premiering every Monday. It looks like there will be eight total in the first season.
WHAT'S IT KINDA LIKE? I've read various articles and press releases that compare the show to the likes of Reno 911! and Veep, and I can see the resemblance to the former, but definitely not the latter. Quick Draw's improvised style means that some bits last for a long time, sometimes getting funnier as they go and sometimes careening into painful territory. So sure, it's like Reno 911!, but the really mediocre parts of that show. This one's more like 10 Items or Less, which Lehr also starred in and co-created. Unfortunately, it's not like Deadwood, and nobody calls anyone a c**ksucker.
IS IT ANY GOOD? MEH. Quick Draw is far and away in third place among these three shows. Each of its first three episodes features a moment or two that you'll probably enjoy, particularly the third one, which begins with the delivery of Eli's mail-order bride. I'm guessing that your personal mileage could vary, because I'm just not a big fan of Lehr's work or how stupid every character appears to be. Hoyle's constant reminders that he went to Harvard are amusing at first, but then they feel like how The Office's Andy used to incessantly tell everyone he went to Cornell; even when that show was falling apart, the writers knew not to return to that well so often because of diminishing returns. Nick Brown is fine as Eli, but he's mostly just reacting to whatever stupid thing Lehr's Hoyle says, which doesn't leave a lot of room for an interesting performance. Bob Clendenin (Creepy Tom from Cougar Town) is the best part of the show in the early going as a goofball Undertaker, but he's doing the things you've already seen him do on other, better shows.
THE VERDICT Ultimately, Quick Draw feels like a show that fits the derogatory definition of "web series" you might have in your head. The production values are fine, and there are some decent jokes here and there, but it's all surface. It's okay not to be super ambitious, but Quick Draw doesn't really have it together yet. I don't think it's really worth watching.
Hulu has more shows (both originals and purchases) coming throughout 2013 and if they can keep up this pace, where two out of three are pretty solid, that's a nice year. Not everyone has Netflix money, right?
Have you watched any of Hulu's new shows? What do you think of them?
AIRED ON 8/4/2014
Season 2 : Episode 2