In 2007, NBC, ABC, and Fox created Hulu.com as a legal way for Americans to catch up on TV shows. Viewers can watch the five latest episodes of hundreds of programs on-demand and free of charge. Tossing in a few bucks a month unlocks entire seasons.
But this year, some of Hulu's best programming isn't shows that you missed – it's shows that you never had the chance to see.
Hulu recently pulled in several top-notch TV series from overseas. While acclaimed British dramas such as "Downton Abbey" and "Sherlock" air on PBS here in the states, another BBC gem, Line of Duty, is currently a Hulu exclusive.
The modern cop drama feels like the BBC's answer to "The Wire." After a counterterrorism bust goes terribly awry, officer Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) gets booted off his squad for refusing to cover up the department's mistakes. He lands in the anticorruption unit, where Arnott must investigate decorated detective Tony Gates (played wonderfully by Lennie James). Much like HBO's "The Wire," this tight, powerful show draws a surprising amount of drama out of bureaucratic machinations and hard-earned detective work.
When "Line of Duty" aired on BBC2 this summer, its five one-hour episodes became the channel's most popular new drama in eight years. The network has already approved a second season.
However, such a series has few options in the United States. The dialogue in "Line of Duty" is too raw for PBS. Its five-episode arc ends too quickly for basic cable. And the show's cliffhanger style of storytelling would reveal too many secrets by the time it attracts a sizable TV audience.
Enter Hulu. The website made its name by offering a little bit of everything. Its buffet of shows ranges from network megahits, Gen-Y cult favorites, kids' cartoons, online-only shorts, and now the American debut of several foreign hits.
In June, it snatched up HBO Canada's The Yard, a six-part mockumentary about elementary school kids who protect themselves from bullies by acting like a junior mafia. Last year, Hulu grabbed Rev., a kindhearted BBC comedy about a country priest who relocates to East London. And this summer, the website secured the American première of Israel's Prisoners of War, the inspiration behind Showtime's recent hit "Homeland."
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[Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the September 17 issue of the Monitor weekly magazine.]