What to watch on Hulu while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic

April 3, 2020, 8:30 PM UTC

With social distancing upon us, and Americans responsibly sheltering to flatten the curve and mitigate damage from the still-escalating coronavirus crisis, we are hopefully finding time amid the rampant anxiety and paranoia of the day to escape into any number of streaming services piled high with offerings to help ease the passage of the weeks.

With so many options to stream, families surfing Hulu might find themselves understandably overwhelmed. Fortune’s here to help, breaking down the major services’ offerings into a few distinct recommendations based on whatever mood our current global crisis might have you in (all of which are completely valid). And if nothing here strikes your fancy, check out our Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime guides, for your continued perusing pleasure.

For a badly needed laugh:

Lakeith Stanfield in “Sorry to Bother You,” 2018.
Annapurna Pictures/Everett Collection

Sorry to Bother You A gonzo-absurdist odyssey through the infernal machinery of American capitalism as experienced by one low-level participant—Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a black telemarketer who ascends through the ranks after adopting a comical white voice (that of Arrested Development’s David Cross)—this feature debut by Oakland rapper-activist Boots Riley may be one of the most scathing takedowns ever of economic systems that honor profits over people. It’s also bracingly bananas and a comedy of unusual vision and vigor, letting none of its characters off the hook even as it turns them loose—particularly Tessa Thompson as a gloriously accessorized performance artist and organized-labor activist and Armie Hammer as the truly evil bro-CEO who forever redefines the term “workhorse.”

Anna and the Apocalypse Not since Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy has British cinema produced a genre mashup as gleefully, go-for-broke entertaining as this Christmas zombie musical. Improbably, all three of those tonal ingredients are balanced out by director John McPhail and his young, impressively game cast, led by future megastar Ella Hunt as a Scottish high-school senior with dreams of skipping town postgraduation. Unfortunately, that titular apocalypse has other plans, and her small town is soon overrun by the undead. What’s a girl to do but take up arms and break into song? Luckily, for us and her, the tunes—from communal toe-tapper “Hollywood Ending” to “Soldier at War,” a bad-boy solo from standout supporting player Ben Wiggins—are matched by marvelously elaborate dance routines and an extra helping of (still-beating) heart, enough to make this a cozy Friday-night watch any time of year.

Booksmart Depending on your vantage point, Olivia Wilde’s teenage comedy is either a cutting critique of lily-white liberal feminists or a slightly less-than-conscious (but still very funny) ride through their snugly ensconced environs. Either way, there’s no faulting the warm, bubbly chemistry between leads Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, two stars on the rise whose overachieving high-school seniors decide to break their good-girl images the night before graduation. Keep a particular eye out for Billie Lourd, ridiculously great as an out-there, drug-toting shaman of a wealthy classmate.

Additional picks

When Harry Met Sally
Support the Girls
Mean Girls
The Big Lebowski

For the best stuff you missed last year:

D’Arcy Carden in 2019’s “Greener Grass.”
IFC Midnight/Courtesy Everett Collection

Greener Grass Suburbia has perhaps never seemed as psychotically, hypnotically surreal as it does in this unhinged romp of a satire from writer-directors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe. The pair also star as two suburban moms whose ghastly, Stepford-ized existence in an unnamed vivarium of ticky-tacky houses and impeccably manicured lawns have left them trapped in a state of suspended absurdity, with braces pasted across their already-straight teeth and only golf carts to drive to and from band recitals and soccer matches. The depth of the madcap world-building in Greener Grass is truly something to behold, from bizarro in-universe TV ads to a fleetingly glimpsed sign at the supermarket that promises, “Not responsible for stolen lives.” And if the entire film feels like one long I Think You Should Leave sketch, it’s to its immense credit that Greener Grass pushes that one-joke premise in every possible direction, accruing such strange and sinister textures by film’s end as to leave you both amused and deeply, deeply afraid.

Hail, Satan? Might I be able to interest you in joining the Satanic Temple? Before you answer, fall into this sharp-witted and enlightening look, by indie filmmaker Penny Lane, at the group’s origins and unlikely progressive values. Cloaked in the widely misunderstood iconography of satanism, the Satanic Temple has emerged since 2013 as a band of outsiders whose outrageous, attention-getting stunts are designed less to worship the devil than to call attention to hypocrisy in American politics, particularly as it pertains to the Christian right’s efforts to undermine the separation of church and state. For example: If the Arkansas government can install a monument to the Ten Commandments outside its state capitol, isn’t it only just that the Satanic Temple be allowed to erect a bronze statue of goat-headed god Baphomet next to it?

The Beach Bum Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine’s candy-colored picaresque plays like the stoner comedy’s last stand, a gaudy, gonzo case for getting baked by the beach as the pursuit of the modern-day transcendentalist. Our ostensible hero, Moondog (a blissed-out, slack-jawed Matthew McConaughey), is a celebrated pothead-poet who stumbles through in a kind of a devil-may-care delirium. He’s an observer of life, a nonparticipant, mainlined hedonism in a Hawaiian shirt. If only the people—from his adoring lover (Isla Fisher) to a depraved junkie (Zac Efron, with panini-pressed sideburns)—would stop loving him. Korine’s underbelly odyssey is more hell-bent on savoring the character’s bohemian symphonies than his antiestablishment politics, even as shadows—of mortality, responsibility, ruin—creep beneath the sunshine. There’s something to be made, too, of how incessantly this white-guy burnout fails up, no matter the carnage he leaves in his wake, or how much he’d rather just stay where he is. Intoxicating on the surface, The Beach Bum may actually be Korine’s most politically charged film yet, if you can key into its deviant frequencies. As Moondog says near the end, after reading his own work, “That’s great poetry.” Infuriatingly, he’s right.

Additional picks

Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Knives and Skin
The Art of Self-Defense

To find your next binge-watch:

The Twilight Zone What better time than our ongoing quarantine to delve into the realm of the uncanny and sinister with host Rod Serling? Widely regarded as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Twilight Zone set the standard for short-form storytelling with its genre-spanning collection of extraordinary tales, from the deliciously macabre (“The Masks,” “The Monsters Are Due at Maple Street”) to the eerily tragic (“Time Enough at Last”) and brilliantly consciousness-shifting (“Eye of the Beholder,” “To Serve Man”). Especially given the lackluster nature of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone revival last year, it’s high time to look back at the original series’ finest hours—many of which are concerned with all-too-timely matters of societies and individuals struggling to face existential terrors. All five seasons are streaming on Hulu (as opposed to Netflix, which is oddly missing the show’s fourth set of episodes, each an hour long).

Parks and Recreation The first episodes of Greg Daniels and Michael Schur’s now-seminal sitcom—about midlevel bureaucrats (led by the perky Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler) striving on behalf of the Parks Department in fictional Pawnee, Ind.—gave little indication of the buoyantly heartfelt, irrepressibly funny series that was to come. But to binge all seven seasons of Parks is to witness a comedy come into its own with remarkable wit, sensitivity, and grace; one turning point was “The Master Plan,” toward the end of season two, in which the arrival of state auditors (played by Rob Lowe and Adam Scott) added two invaluable, long-term members to the series’ unrivaled ensemble.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia The son of legendary documentarian Errol Morris is at the quirky core of this Viceland docuseries, giving audiences an engaging, unusual, third-eye-opening crash course in psychedelics. Self-described as a “psychonaut,” or an explorer on the lookout for little-known drugs, Hamilton Morris aims to shed light on what kinds of drugs—from PCP to ketamine to fish with hallucinogenic properties—might one day be available, post-prohibition, for mass consumption, looking at how they work, what their assorted effects tend to be, and how people might use them to alter states of consciousness and being. Two seasons are streaming on Hulu.

Additional picks

Into the Dark
The Handmaid’s Tale
Looking for Alaska
Wu-Tang: An American Saga
30 Rock

For the whole family:

Aardman Animations’ “Chicken Run.”
DreamWorks/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Chicken Run In hindsight, this Aardman Animations stop-motion classic may be one of the most politically radical and directly feminist movies ever built for the children’s set. Beyond simply playing beak service to WWII picture The Great Escape, it follows a courageous hen named Ginger, whose repeated attempts to escape the Tweedy Chicken Farm end in failure—until a rooster named Rocky falls from the sky, at which point Ginger hatches a daring new scheme to save her coop. Just as striking as the inventive animation, colorful characters, and biting humor is the way Chicken Run bakes Marxist ideas of organized class struggle, ethical labor, and coalition building against exploitation into the crust of its story.

Bumblebee If any film franchise was going to pull off a daring tonal about-face more than 10 years in, it makes an entertaining kind of sense that it’d be Transformers, Paramount’s mega-millions series about warring aliens capable of transfiguring themselves into sports cars. Long tied to the explosive, intensely audiovisual aesthetics of popcorn auteur Michael Bay, the franchise broke away from its prototypical sound and fury for this surprisingly rich, nostalgic entry. Set along the California coast in 1987, it focused on the unlikely friendship forged between a grieving teeenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and the titular, yellow Autobot camped out in her garage. Led by a jukebox soundtrack of pop-rock hits, slick direction from Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), and Steinfeld’s stirring performance, the movie’s an unlikely refresh for Transformers—and the franchise’s most family-friendly outing to date.

Fast Color Superhero stories don’t get much more thoughtful or refreshingly humanistic than Julia Hart’s Fast Color, about three generations of strong black women grappling with the extraordinary abilities each possess. Unfairly ignored upon release (after being more-or-less buried by its distributor), it’s a visually vivid and conceptually daring work that deserved a bigger audience, powered by the sensational performances of its three leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney) as well as a story that’s more concerned with the ties binding its characters together than city-decimating CGI spectacle.

Additional picks

Missing Link
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Free Solo
Super 8
Adventure Time

For thrills and chills:

Border Strange, sad, and wholly original, this Swedish fantasy noir didn’t quite make the cut for an Oscar nomination in the unusually competitive year of Roma and Cold War, but that’s (if anything) just a credit to how thrillingly hard to pin down the Ali Abbasi–directed film really is. Blending together elements of folktale, star-crossed romance, and social commentary that smarts like a wound, it’s broadly about culturally constructed conceptions of normalcy and aberration, how the process of othering can gradually become internalized by the person being othered, denying them knowledge of and compassion for the self—and the tragedy that can wreak. It’s also about trolls who sniff out contraband at border security, police investigating a ring of pedophiles, and the radical politics of sexual acceptance. Border’s about a whole lot—in other words, all of it fascinating to consider and brilliant to behold.

Pyewacket For fans of Hereditary and Goodnight Mommy, this little-seen horror gem follows a teenager (Nicole Muñoz) whose age-appropriate anger at her mother (Laurie Holden) for uprooting them to a woodland cabin couldn’t come at a worse time, given her recent discovery of a book of occult spells. Before you can say “necronomicon,” she’s unleashed a murderous demon on her unsuspecting mother, only to later regret this rather extreme instance of acting out and race to reverse the ritual. Creepy, atmospheric, and armed with a killer twist, it’s a terrific and unnerving watch.

Starfish This stirring, surreal debut from writer-director A.T. White, of the British band Ghostlight, follows a young woman (Virginia Gardner) feeling her way through an emotional apocalypse suddenly literalized in the world around her, as Lovecraftian monsters attack on the morning of her best friend’s funeral. Grief can settle into us as a kind of phantasmic haze, muffling and muting our surroundings even as it promises to transform them in frightening and unfamiliar ways. Starfish, which is deeply specific and at times endearingly scrappy, explores that trickiest of human emotions while satisfying on other fronts as a tale of science-fiction reckoning, otherworldly terror, and healing from a wound so impossible it threatens to end the world entirely.

Additional picks

Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Pitch Black
We Need to Talk About Kevin

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What to watch on Disney+ while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
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What to watch on Netflix while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
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