Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You do that Hulu

I've been sampling the wares at Hulu, the new web-video effort by the NBC and Fox TV networks. So far, I like it. There's a bounty of full-length television and movie offerings -- though many titles are, unfortunately, available only in short clips. Who wants to watch mere excerpts of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"? Someone with a very short attention span and a love of Mariska Hargitay, I suppose.

The site has its critics. Compared to the bounty of YouTube, the offerings can seem scant. Episodes of the wondrous "Simpsons" are available, for example, but only five of them. The site is free, but unlike other web offerings, the clips come complete with commercial spots that can't be skipped. All of that adds up to an experience that may not appeal to web-video fans.

My Hulu experience has been positive, though, in part because I've been watching old television shows not on a computer monitor but on a television. Sometime back I connected a spare PC to the TV in the bedroom, and I've had great fun using the machine as a TiVo-like device, thanks to the Beyond TV software. So it didn't take a great leap of imagination to try watching web video on that TV, too.

Which brought me to Hulu. The site is easy to navigate, even using the PC-based remote control that came with Beyond TV. (It's an awkward method, but it works.) Hulu's full-screen moving images look fine on my standard-definition set. And although Hulu's offerings are pretty slim when it comes to new programming, the site is rich in the sort of classic -- I use the term loosely -- TV programs that in some ways I enjoy the most of all.

So I spent my first hours on Hulu sampling shows like "Dragnet 1967". (One "Dragnet" episode I watched featured the LSD-addled hippie kid known as Blue Boy. Let's hear it for Blue Boy!) I also watched the first episode of the 1979 sci-fi series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century", which I loved when I was 8. It's not holding up well. And I was pleased to find a show I've been meaning to catch up with: "Picket Fences", whose 90-minute pilot proved gratifyingly quirky. I'll be watching more of that -- the entire first season is available on Hulu -- and also some of the episodes of "Hill Street Blues" Hulu offers. That show has been on my list ever since Terry Teachout blogged admiringly about it a few months ago.

All of this I watched, not squinting at a computer display, but reclining in bed. It's a good place to enjoy the mildly narcotic effect of old TV shows, whether they're coming in over the airwaves or via the cable modem.

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