Hulu Looks to Stay Relevant Beyond 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Mindy Kaling Project

Mindy Kaling, Blumhouse, and DreamWorks Animation will help lure in subscribers.

With every passing day, the streaming service wars are only becoming more vicious. Cable television struggles to remain relevant while Netflix and Amazon duke it out to gain supremacy in our homes. Smaller platforms like FlilmStruck and Shudder make noise by embracing niche markets, but we roll our eyes at CBS All Access pretending they even have a dog in this hunt. Of course, they could all panic themselves into oblivion when Disney’s streaming service lands on the scene next year.

What’s Hulu to do? They’ve gained some momentum of late. The Handmaid’s Tale, which recently began its second season, was just renewed for a third, and the show has single-handedly secured its relevance within the critical community. Is anyone actually watching it? Similar to Netflix’s strategy of keeping mum, Hulu does not believe in transparency where ratings are concerned. They’ve got the Twitterati in the palm of their hand with their soul-crushing Margaret Atwood adaptation, but I can’t find a single family member who regularly tunes in. Maybe I just need a hipper family to adopt me.

Variety reports that Hulu has just surpassed 20 million US subscribers, at least. That’s an 18% increase since last year, and a number worth celebrating. Is it a number capable of halting Netflix’s domination of the market?

Hulu has been watching their competition closely, and they’re ready to challenge them in whatever arena they dare to stake a claim inside. As Netflix and Amazon go big into animation, Hulu follows suit. The company has signed a multiyear deal with DreamWorks Animation, snagging rights to classic titles as well as new releases starting in 2019 and a new original series due in 2020.

This is Hulu’s largest partnership devoted to family programming to date. A deal that will potentially put them into the Guillermo del Toro business since the Academy Award-winning director recently signed a deal with the studio. Netflix will take a hit as their contract with DreamWorks will end, and titles like Trollhunters, Kung Fu Panda, and Boss Baby will likely port on over to Hulu. By the way, that Netflix/DreamWorks contract cost $1.5 billion in 2013.

So, they’ve got the children covered with Shrek and the cool kids gobbling down The Handmaid’s Tale. What about the average must-see TV viewer? They need a show that will satisfy our simple tastes without resorting to junk food filler.

Hulu has canceled a mess load of programs of late. Aaron Paul and The Path just got the ax. Chance wasn’t given one. Please Like Me couldn’t convince anyone of their mission statement. Even The Mindy Project is bowing out after six seasons.

Mindy Kaling won’t need to move her office very far, though. After a long gestation process, her Four Weddings and a Funeral anthology series has been given a limited series order by Hulu. She has been tinkering away on this project since last year, and she’s finally convinced her friends over at Hulu to go ahead on the adaptation.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kaling has penned the series with original writer Richard Curtis executive producing. The show will focus on a group of friends as their lives weave in and out of each other, presumably with each episode devoted to a different cast member. The original 1994 film was a cultural sensation and could easily translate into sitcom catnip.

Despite the conclusion of The Mindy Project, Kaling has been on a roll in 2018. She was a major player in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time, and she is primed to steal scenes in the upcoming Ocean’s 8. If Hulu wants to remain a contender in their market, adding a talent like Kaling can only help.

Hulu is hungry. In addition to these deals, they’ve allied themselves with Blumhouse on a new horror anthology series launching in October. They’re resurrecting Stephen King’s Castle Rock with J.J. Abrams. George Clooney is determined to make an event out of Catch-22. They’ll continue to savagely satirize popular culture with Sarah Silverman’s I Love You, America.

Will it be enough? It might be a moot point. Depending on how the 20th Century Fox/Disney deal shakes out, Hulu could conceivably see itself absorbed into the Disney streaming service since the Mouse House will be inheriting over 60% stake in the company.

Hulu will not go down without a fight. They are the scrappy poodle unaware of their diminutive size against the pit bulls of Netflix and Amazon. They’ve been beefing up. They’ll match each snap with a bark.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.