Tag Archives: Hulu

Holy smoke! Delightful Rev. is back with new episodes

'Rev.' returns to Hulu and Hulu Plus.

Inner-city vicar Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander, second from right) faces challenges from both church officials as well as his fussy lay reader, Nigel (Miles Jupp, far right) in Season 3 of ‘Rev.,’ which begins streaming Sunday on Hulu and Hulu Plus.

It’s been nearly two years since U.S. audiences have enjoyed new episodes of Rev., the hilarious, award-winning Britcom starring the fantastic Tom Hollander as a stressed-out vicar trying to keep his struggling church afloat in inner-city East London.
That extended hiatus wasn’t due to any quality concerns at its home channel in the UK (BBC2), where Rev. is revered as the highest-rated comedy series (it’s also carried in more than 140 channels worldwide). No, we haven’t seen Rev. for awhile simply because Hollander, its executive producer, co-creator and co-writer as well as star, is simply one of the busiest British actors working today, as is his leading lady, Olivia Colman, who was David Tennant’s detective partner in the shattering murder mystery Broadchurch.
As Rev. belatedly returns with six new episodes Sunday on Hulu Plus, time clearly hasn’t stood still in the neighborhood surrounding St. Saviour in the Marshes. For one thing, at the tiny vicarage, the Rev. Adam Smallbone (Hollander) and his patient wife, Alex (Colman), have welcomed their first child, daughter Katie, now approaching her first birthday (we see the frenzied circumstances of Katie’s birth in the opening moments of the season premiere).
What that means, most pertinently, is that Adam and Alex are dealing with the same stresses they’ve endured before, only with exponentially less sleep, especially now that Katie is going through a bout of explosive diarrhea. “Perhaps Satan is in charge of her bottom because you haven’t baptized her yet,” offers Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney) during one of his frequent visits to remind Adam that the size of both his congregation and his church coffers is a matter of growing concern among church officials.
In fact, two such officials – Area Dean Jill Mallory and Diocesan Secretary Geri Tennison (Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, respectively, both of the Britcom Getting On) – also have stopped by to remind Adam passive-aggressively that, with the larger neighborhood now experiencing a sharp decline in its Christian populations as more Muslim residents move in, some old, high-maintenance churches such as St. Saviour may have to be shuttered.
That motivates Adam to collaborate with local Imam Yussef Hasan (guest star Kayvan Novak) on a fund-raiser to renovate a rusty and dog poo-choked playground in the season premiere. The event is a rousing success, although Adam and his flock are able to contribute only an embarrassingly tiny portion.
Episode two finds Adam on the horns of a different dilemma when two close gay friends of his ask him to officiate at their wedding. That being a no-no for the Church of England, Adam offers instead to lead a prayer for them at the regular Wednesday Eucharist gathering, but that event quickly spirals out of control.
Also returning to their occasional guest roles this season are Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as cleric and motivational speaker Roland Wise and Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London.
Rev. is the kind of rich, character-driven comedy that rewards faithful viewing, so if you are joining the series in progress, be sure to take advantage of the fact that Hulu Plus is streaming Seasons 1 and 2 as well. Hollander recently has said that he’s not sure whether he’s up for a fourth season as Adam Smallbone, so by all means enjoy the myriad delights of Rev. while you can.
Olivia Colman in 'Rev.'

Vicar’s wife Alex Smallbone (Olivia Colman) unexpectedly goes into labor while her husband is officiating at a wedding in the season premiere of ‘Rev.’ on Hulu.

Hulu takes a funny, poignant peek ‘Behind the Mask’

Hulu's original series 'Behind the Mask' spotlights sports mascots such as Rooty, a cedar tree.

An amazingly determined teenager named Michael Hostetter is the kid behind high-school sports mascot Rooty, a cedar tree, in Hulu’s ‘Behind the Mask.’

Documentary filmmaker Josh Greenbaum gives us a fascinating glimpse into the world of sports mascots in Behind the Mask, a Hulu Original Series that begins streaming today. Three of the 10 episodes are available now, with each of the remaining seven premiering on successive Tuesdays.
Who are these guys in the costumes, and why do they do what they do? Their answers are as varied as their public personas, and Greenbaum has drawn four guys from different venues – high school, college, minor league and professional sports – to share their insights.
Each has a compelling story in his own right, but let’s start with the one most viewers are sure to find the most compelling. He’s 16-year-old Michael Hostetter, the sports mascot at Pennsylvania’s Lebanon High School, a facility with virtually no victories in any sport. Michael is one of those geeky (his word) misfits who tend to fly under the social radar yet somehow become magnets for bullies. He lives with his divorced mom in this run-down blue-collar steel town that has seen better days, but despite all the strikes he seems to have against him, there’s an unquenchable fire burning inside Michael, a determination to cheer on his teams to a win – any win, in any sport – and help his local neighbors feel better about themselves.
At the end of his freshman year, Michael auditioned for and won the gig as school mascot, but here’s the thing: The LHS mascot isn’t a cool, fierce animal or a formidable warrior. He’s a cedar tree. Named Rooty. See photo above if you think I am making that up. It’s arguably the lamest concept for a sports mascot in the history of mascot-dom, yet Michael – who cannot dance a lick, I might add – glows with pride and determination whenever he dons what is, let’s be honest, an absolutely ridiculous-looking costume.
As the series unfolds, Michael searches for a prospective girlfriend, but the only girls at the school he has anything in a common with are the cheerleaders. They’re crazy about Rooty. Michael? Maybe not so much.
Watching this kid sucking it up every day to take on whatever life wants to throw at him is one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen on TV in a long time. I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same way.
As I said, however, the other three guys have interesting stories of their own.
Jon “Jersey” Goldman is very popular at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he’s the guy behind Hey Reb, the big-hatted, mustachioed mountain-man mascot who’s got a Yosemite Sam vibe going on. Goldman, a communications major, absolutely loves the college experience, especially since he’s on a full scholarship for being the school mascot. He’s not so crazy about going to classes, which helps explain why he’s currently in his sixth year at the school.
Now, however, the clock is finally ticking down to his graduation, and Goldman is battling severe separation anxiety at the thought of giving up the Hey Reb costume and stepping out into the world as himself.
Up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., California native Chad Spencer, who grew up in Canada, is living paycheck to paycheck with his job as Tux the Penguin, mascot of an AHL semi-pro team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Spencer loves working as a mascot, but he’s not getting any younger, and he’s feverishly pursuing his dream of landing a mascot job with an NHL pro team so he can afford to spend more time with his little boy, who lives in Canada with his ex-wife.
Moving up to the big leagues, Kevin Vanderkolk is a genuine celebrity from his wild stunts as Bango, the mascot for the Milwaukee Bucks. Vanderkolk, who has received multiple national honors from the NBA, is best known for his signature move, a backflip dunk off a 20-foot ladder. While he is a risk-taking madman on the courts, however, at home Vanderkolk is a doting dad to his five kids with wife Colleen, a neurologist. Vanderkolk makes a point of looking for opportunities to let his kids perform with him, but he spends a fair share of his time undergoing physical therapy for the multiple injuries he inflicts upon himself regularly.
I’ve screened the first three episodes currently available, which are very family-friendly and suitable for all ages (younger viewers will love Vanderkolk’s high-energy brood). I particularly would urge parents of any tween or teen who is having social anxiety to spend some time watching young Michael Hostetter. While he probably would be astonished at the suggestion, this humble yet defiantly resilient kid is a role model in the making.

Pick up for Hulu’s loopy new ‘Strange Calls’

'The offbeat Aussie comedy 'The Strange Calls' is now streaming on Hulu.

Barry Crocker and Toby Truslove star as Gregor and Officer Toby Banks in ‘The Strange Calls,’ a new Hulu Exclusive Series.

The Strange Calls, a loopy six-part Australian sitcom that began streaming this weekend on Hulu, opens as Officer Toby Banks (Toby Truslove) arrives in the small Aussie coastal community of Coolum. Still reeling from a painful romantic break-up, Toby has moved here from a larger city, looking to start over in his new capacity as the night shift officer for the Coolum Beach Police Department. Had he done his homework, he would have discovered this job has a suspiciously high turnover rate.
Toby isn’t encouraged by how things start out for him in his new locale. His testy superior, Sgt. Neil Lloyd (Patrick Brammall), can’t even remember Toby’s name properly and seems to take a mildly sadistic glee in showing Toby his new “office,” a dilapidated RV with only a battered bicycle available as his night-shift police vehicle.
And then the calls start coming in. One man reports his intense fear of a giant squid to whom the caller owes several million dollars. A woman asks for assistance in removing a tall tree that has gotten stuck up her cat (that’s not a typo). Understandably, Toby thinks he somehow has landed in the crank-call capital of the world.
Then he meets Gregor (Barry Crocker), the elderly (he admits to 47) eccentric who functions as the town’s unofficial nighttime security officer. Gregor knows Coolum inside and out, and he tells Toby the place is an epicenter of eeriness.
“It can be pretty weird around here once the sun goes down,” he cautions Toby. “Some of those cries for help are more real than you can possibly imagine.”
Almost immediately, Gregor begins driving Toby around as he investigates a series of increasingly bizarre cases involving werechickens, zombie cats, a theater ghost and much more. Toby also begins to learn that Gregor enjoys a personal life that seems to be, um, unusually full (he may or may not be the star attraction on an erotic webcam for senior women).
Created and directed by Daley Pearson, who also wrote some of the episodes, The Strange Calls is a very funny, off-kilter and distinctly original comedy series that looks like what you might get if you crossed Broadchurch with the old 1991-92 comedy-fantasy series Eerie, Indiana. Katherine Hicks has a recurring featured role as Kath, a pretty caterer who strikes some romantic sparks with Toby, but the show’s focus wisely stays on Toby and Gregor, an inspired comic odd couple. The Strange Calls is so delightful and unpredictable that I happily binge-watched all six half-hour episodes in one sitting and was left wanting even more.
Highly recommended for fans of unconventional adult(ish) comedy.
'The Strange Calls' is now streaming on Hulu Plus.

Barry Crocker, Patrick Brammall, Katherine Hicks and Toby Truslove star in ‘The Strange Calls.’

Warning: Mini-Masters at work

Sarah Lane, 9, and Gordon Ramsay
I hadn’t really planned to review, or even watch, Fox’s new Friday night series MasterChef Junior, since I expected it would be a less intense (thus, less interesting) version of host Gordon Ramsay’s grown-up MasterChef series. I caught last night’s premiere this morning on Hulu, however, and boy, was I wrong.
Following an extended talent search, the premiere episode opened with what Ramsay credibly declared to be the 24 best home cooks in America between the ages of 8 and 13. Any skepticism was quickly banished as Ramsay and fellow judges Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot divided these two dozen semi-finalists into three groups of eight, with each octet competing in a different challenge for a shot at making it to the final 12.
These were not, mind you, dumbed-down challenges for small-fry. The first group was tasked with preparing a dish using fresh seafood — something that many adult home cooks find intimidating — and they responded with creations that were both imaginative and sophisticated. The second group was asked to prepare a dish spotlighting pasta that the young cooks prepared from scratch, while the third group was given an assignment that routinely makes grown-up chefs in cooking competitions quake with fear: making dessert.
Obviously, I wasn’t able to sample any of the dishes myself, but the judges were enthusiastic about all of them, while pointing out any minor flaws they noticed. Based on their comments, as well as the appearance of the dishes, it looked to me as if these young cooks — especially the ones that made it into the finals — already are better at their craft than at least half the grown-up competitors we usually see on Top Chef and other such shows. They’re also utterly fearless. The youngest finalist, 9-year-old Sarah Lane, earned her spot by preparing a chocolate lava cake, one of the most difficult desserts to pull off for any pastry chef, and she absolutely nailed it.
In last night’s opener, at least, Ramsay was on his best behavior, watching his language and chatting with the kids as if they were his kitchen peers. I was impressed by how the judges genuinely seemed to be basing their evaluations on the quality of the finished dishes, not the camera-friendly appeal of the kids: In fact, the most adorable moppet didn’t make it into the finals (cue waterworks).
If you missed last night’s premiere, you can catch it online at Fox.com or Hulu.com, as well as the On Demand service of many cable systems. And you should try to catch it, because MasterChef Junior is among the most delightful family shows I’ve seen in a long time.
lava cake

Four degrees of desperation

Olivia Colman
If you’ve been watching BBC America’s gripping new murder mystery Broadchurch, I’m guessing that you’re falling in love with Olivia Colman, who stars as nurturing police detective Ellie Miller. This astonishingly versatile actress seems to be popping up everywhere these days, most recently in the United States on Run, a four-part miniseries that started streaming today on Hulu.
Colman, best known for playing warm, self-effacing characters, is decidedly cast against type here as Carol, an exhausted single mother with mousy brown hair streaked with blonde highlights that are less self-applied than self-inflicted. She shares her cramped council flat in London with her teenage sons, a couple of mouth-breathers who drift from one short-term job to another, filling in their frequent downtime with pot-enhanced video games and beer, pilfered from their mum’s refrigerator.
While her sons are spending their days in varying degrees of incoherence, Carol struggles to pay their rent and board with a soul-killing job at a characterless retail warehouse, where she helps stock the aluminum shelves with items sold by the case.
At the end of the day, Carol is so tired she barely can drag herself to the corner store to pick up more beer and liquor, then head home to cook a meal for her boys, who more often than not turn up their noses and lurch out for a night at the pub.
Things manage to get even worse on My Two Thugs, Carol’s life if it were a TV series, when she finds a bloodstain on one of her son’s clothing and eventually realizes they may well be behind a recent and savage homicide not far from their home. And while her first instinct is to protect her delinquents, their semi-casual dismissal of the crime makes her realize they are heading down the same dangerous path as their father, an abusive lout who walked out on them years ago.
That’s just in Episode One. Which lasts just over 40 minutes.
The concept behind this miniseries is to follow the ripples of an action from its point of occurrence to the seemingly disconnected lives it affects. The points of connection in Run are somewhat tenuous and occasionally not very compelling, but at least two of the episodes are well worth your attention.
In the first episode, we learn that Carol is augmenting her meager warehouse salary by stealing small electronics, ideally cell phones, and fencing them to Ying (Katie Leung, Cho Chang from the Harry Potter movies), an illegal Chinese immigrant who is selling them, and bootleg DVDs, to pay off a gangster. (Stay with me here, folks, I am not making this stuff up). One of those sales inadvertently causes some heartbreaking complications for Richard (Lennie James, AMC’s new Low Winter Sun series), a recovering heroin addict trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter. His travails lead us, in turn, to Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a young Polish cleaning woman who – forgive me, I do not know the Polish equivalent of quelle surprise – was the girlfriend of the murder victim in Episode One.
Complications ensue, not all of them credible. In fact, as all the social horrors kept piling up – drugs, white slavery, larceny, immigration fraud, black market piracy, et al. – I started to wonder whether I was watching some contemporary variant on Reefer Madness. Stay out of wicked London Town, kids. It gets badder.
That said, I don’t especially regret watching all four episodes this morning, since each had its arresting moments, but if you’re strapped for time, I would recommend checking out Episodes One (Colman) and Three (James), both of which deliver powerhouse performances. The other two episodes aren’t bad, but they do traffic mainly in complex issues that have been tackled elsewhere more effectively, and frankly, I had hoped Episode Four was going to tie up all the narratives in a powerful bow.
It doesn’t.
Still, I’m glad that Hulu – which keeps getting publicly trumped by its streaming rival Netflix when it comes to high-profile events – remains a go-to service for people who want to explore more of the work of rising stars like Colman that isn’t otherwise available.
Run Episode 3 Lennie James as Richard
Lennie James

Hulu’s comic ‘Quick Draw’ hits close to the mark

John Lehr (right)
After last week’s sorely disappointing premiere of The Awesomes, Hulu comes much closer to hitting the original programming bullseye with Quick Draw, a Western spoof that begins streaming today. Co-created by writer-director Nancy Hower and writer-actor John Lehr (10 Items or Less), the largely improvised half-hour comedy stars Lehr as John Henry Hoyle, the new sheriff of Great Bend, Kansas, circa 1875. Hoyle was educated at Harvard, a fact that he manages to work into nearly every conversation, which means he has little use for low-tech investigatory tools such as, say, eyewitness testimony when he can flummox the locals with his newfangled forensic science.
Hoyle’s tenure as sheriff was preceded by five other lawmen, all of whom were murdered on the job, as he is cheerfully informed by Eli Brocias (Nick Brown), his suspiciously long-lived deputy.
“So all five sheriffs were murdered, and yet you were their deputy and you survived. Can you guess my next question?” Hoyle asks Eli.
The Great Benders (Bendians?) are unimpressed by their new sheriff’s academic pedigree. In fact, the local saloon and brothel run by acerbic madam Honey Shaw (Allison Dunbar), has a New Sheriff Dead Pool board prominently posted on the bar (“I find that very hurtful,” Hoyle confesses). But when they get a load of Hoyle’s impressive sharpshooting skills, they start to appreciate him a little more.
“I got a B-Plus at the Harvard Gun Club,” he explains modestly. “It was Harvard, and a B-Plus is hard to get.”
As with most projects that are derived from improv, Quick Draw is a little uneven, but more jokes land than miss, and the confident cast clearly knows what it’s doing. It helps a lot that the ensemble includes the priceless Robert Clendenin (if you watch Cougar Town, he’s the hangdog neighbor Tom) as Great Bend undertaker Vernon Shanks, who rebuffs Hoyle’s offer to make him a professionally trained medical examiner, preferring his own time-tested technique (to wit, build a box, put the dead in the box, bury the box and collect the fee).
Only time will tell whether Quick Draw has any staying power, but the first two episodes now streaming on Hulu kept me laughing often enough to look forward to more.

Hulu’s new ‘The Awesomes’ falls well short of its title

It only makes sense that the streaming service Hulu would try for its own slice of the original-programming pie that has proven so lucrative for its chief competitor, Netflix. Unfortunately, The Awesomes – an animated superhero spoof premiering today on the service – isn’t likely to make much of an impression among viewers.
Co-created by Seth Meyers (Saturday Night Live) and Michael Shoemaker (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon), this new half-hour program has very little original to offer. Its very title sounds like a knockoff of The Incredibles, an infinitely superior animated superhero project, and its central premise, built around a team of C-list heroes, is reminiscent of comedies like the live-action movie Mystery Men, not to mention countless TV comedy sketches, including Meyers’ own SNL.
The series opens as Mr. Awesome (voiced by Steve Higgins) announces on his 90th birthday that he is retiring from his longtime job as leader of the valiant team of heroes known as The Awesomes. His son, Jeremy (Meyers), is aghast, however, when none of the other heroes is willing to take up the mantle of leadership and, when Jeremy volunteers for the job himself, the team pointedly disbands completely.
The U.S. government gives Jeremy, aka Professor Doctor Awesome (“Prock,” for short), 48 hours to put together a viable new team, but the only likely candidates are former rejects such as Frantic (Taran Killam), a speedy but scatterbrained loose cannon; the Impresario (Kenan Thompson), who can conjure hard-light images to combat villains, although those images usually take the form of his smothering mother; and Gadget Gal (Paula Pell), who can transform an everyday item like a spatula into a lethal weapon.
Prock’s most trusted ally is Muscleman (Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project), his super-strong yet dimwitted best friend, who tries to help Prock build popular public support for his new team in the face of more headline-friendly competition from charismatic Awesomes alum Perfect Man (Josh Meyers, Seth’s brother).
The most valuable member of the voice cast, no surprise, turns out to be the brilliant Bill Hader as archvillain Dr. Malocchio, a nefarious master of mind control, but otherwise, the actors – which also include Rashida Jones from Parks and Recreation – are at the mercy of material that seems to have been dashed off during an SNL lunch break. There are some funny performers here, but they can’t work miracles with desperately tired jokes, which are the rule rather than the exception in the two-part pilot currently available on Hulu.
It’s possible that The Awesomes will get better over time – Hulu has ordered 10 episodes for this first season – but I’m not optimistic. What I’ve seen so far is just lazy, unspired and self-indulgent, as if the show were a mere vanity project. I can’t for the life of me see what there is to be vain about here, however.
Perfect Man and Mr. Awesome