Hulu finally released the first episode of Judging Springfield last night. Despite the lack of any specific ratings to confirm high viewership for the new series, critical interest in the show has been high over the past several months as filming wrapped up and more information was released to build excitement.
With the new series, it seems Hulu is taking a serious step toward starting a more direct competition with network television. The lines between original streaming shows and their network counterparts are blurring even further. But what specifically did Judging Springfield do that it’s competition, Battleground and Lilyhammer, didn’t?
When the Netflix original series Lilyhammer premiered, all episodes of the first season were added to instant streaming at the same time. This stayed in line with the typical Netflix cycle of waiting for a season to complete and then adding everything in one fatal swoop. Although this may not help Netflix addicts leave the couch, sticking with a format users were familiar with created a sense of congruency across their programming and avoiding a traditional network cycle.
The main difference that puts Springfield in the realm of traditional television is the planned release schedule. The first episode was released on the main Hulu site for any visitors and subsequent episodes will air every Wednesday evening exclusively on Hulu Plus. Not only does this fit more with the Hulu format of releasing episodes as they air, it borrows a lot from the traditional television format, hoping to draw viewers in for weekly visits and a subscription to Hulu Plus.
Judging Springfield also marks the first time that an original series from the site has been exclusively for Hulu Plus users. Battleground, the first Hulu original series, is available for streaming on the main Hulu site without a subscription. This could be for a number of reasons from genre to recouping funds, but most specifically seems related to hype. Although Battleground took more of an indie approach, hiring lesser-known actors to tackle a more dramatic subject, Judging Springfield takes the form of a more traditional comedy mixing some popular comedic actors with a few unexpected new faces.
So Judging Springfield is distinguishing itself from other online streaming competition while borrowing a lot from traditional network comedies, but is it any good?
The weekly episodic format isn’t the only thing Judging Springfield seems to have borrowed from traditional television. The tone and the content of the first episode shared some similarities with everything from Arrested Development and Parks and Recreation to the 1980’s comedy, Night Court.
Although the pilot episodes of many shows lack in comedy and are heavy on dull exposition, Springfield’s pilot episode wasted no time jumping right into the action. For the viewer this is really enjoyable and definitely held my attention the whole way through. The first segment alone contained more hilariously awkward dialogue, character introductions and physical comedy than a normal pilot episode could ever hope to achieve. Bringing the audience in at this moment of high energy really helped suspend my disbelief and jump right into the lives of these characters.
That said, I left the episode feeling like I didn’t really learn much about the characters beyond the surface. It would have been nice for at least one character to introduce his or herself more fully to get more than the general idea that Chris is a neat-freak, Julianna keeps things together and Cooper is a ladies man. At the same time, this builds a lot of tension for conflict and character development in future episodes. Teasers like the random unexplained flashback and the insane confrontation set the stage for a lot of inter-episodic completion of storylines, which should keep viewers coming back every week.
My biggest critique of the show was the over-the-top characterization of Springfield as a small town. It seemed like storylines with the pig and all of the focus on taxidermy may have been too much for a viewer to believe a town like this could really exist. That said, part of the fun was watching these hyperbolic stereotypes play out in stark contrast to the “city slicker” main cast.
Although Judging Springfield seems like a good launching pad to get streaming into direct competition with network TV, I can’t help but feel like there weren’t enough marked differences to convince people to decide that streaming television on Hulu is a better idea than cable or is worth an extra 8 bucks a month to have in addition to standard television service. High action and funny continuing storylines may get people watching, but there’s nothing really distinguishing it as a uniquely Internet show.
So at the end of the day, Hulu is hoping that you watch the pilot on their website and either subscribe to Hulu Plus or continue your subscription to keep up with the new episodes. Will that happen? Well it really depends on the style of programming you’re after.
Those in search of a drama may be better off with Grey’s Anatomy and those hoping to just catch the occasional episode of something funny online to pass the time may be better with next-day runs of The Daily Show. But those who tend to watch or would enjoy watching a situational comedy on their computer or tablet can expect to really enjoy Judging Springfield. If you don’t take comedies too seriously, you will enjoy the parody of formulaic lawyer dramas and find the show is more than worth the $7.99 subscription fee.
Check out the pilot episode on Hulu.com today for free and decide if you think you’ll fork over the cash for a Hulu Plus subscription.