I grew up in a limited-television home, and didn't have a television to myself in college until senior year, when I was too busy to watch the free cable. Now that I'm paying my own bills, food and kitty litter have won out over those extra 40 channels, 35 of which I have little interest in. I've managed to acquire three different television sets for free, but for the first year or so they sat unwatched except on Thursday nights, when we would hooks up the antenna for The Office and its attendant Thursday night workplace comedies.
Even though I wasn't making my use of our television—televisions—I still had to watch my programs. But how could I? Where would I go? What method should I use? After ten years online, I knew that the Internet to be a many-splendored resource for media, but my tracking skills had gotten a little rusty.
The starting point was Hulu, which launched during my senior year and which I didn't pay much attention to at first. Its chief attractions are its non-expense and unquestionable legality. It's also getting more accessible by adding captions, and accessibility is always awesome! Free stuff kicks ass, and it's nice to be on a site free of viruses. Of course, I'm feeding into the media-industrial complex by watching its productions, if that's a thing. But that's kyriarchy for you—everywhere, as per usual.
Hulu does have ads, and they are annoying, as ads tend to be, but I don't mind them much. When I stopped watching TV when it was intended to be consumed, commercials became a fun novelty. But Hulu's sometimes shallow pool of episodic resources is pretty limiting. It's frustrating to sample a television show, get into it, and get stopped after the allotted five episodes. It does have some season of television in full—the first season of Buffy (which I still haven't watched!) and the first five of Lost—but it's best when used for its intended purpose: catching up on currently airing television shows.
Hulu's a good resource, but I am no stranger to the seedier or simply less legal sites. YouTube used to be a lot more fun before the folks in charge realized I was watching America's Next Top Model on there in five minute segments for free. But those days are gone—while I occasionally hear of someone watching True Blood on YouTube in the days after it airs, copyright infringement is the harshly-enforced law of the land.
Not every site is quite so concerned with maintaining the patriarchal structure of media distribution enforced by more legitimate sites. These websites, filled with links to streaming video that carry a high risk to your computer, seem to get shut down every six to twelve months, and I can't remember any of the the sites I visited before my current haunt. But like so many fictional entrances to magical worlds, these portals always exist—they just shift from place to place. I try to stay away from them these days, but sometimes I just gotta find my program and there's no other place for it.
This last one is my favorite, the best $9 I spend every month—Netflix. I am pretty broke all the time, but that sum is a non-negotiable part of my budget because it vastly stretches my entertainment dollar. The shows I watch there are as necessary as Internet—it's not food, but I get real frustrated if I don't have it.
Since I got it on my Wii (hello class privilege!) it is the one thing that's finally put my television to regular use. I watch the occasional movie on there—there are some terrific documentaries, and I cannot get enough Meryl Streep—but I mainly love watching shows on it, whether old (Arrested Development) or new (Bones). There are no commercials, or mail time—it's there whenever I want it. When X-Files ends on a "To Be Continued", I click "next episode", and BAM, continued.
Now, there are some problems with Instant Viewing. There are no captions anywhere on anything (except flicks that are foreign by U.S. standards). And again, it's a part of the existing patriarchal structure that we're all supposed to be smashing, and I encourage you to offer your critique of Netflix in the comments. Still, Netflix is kind of my best friend.
I love Mad Men, I love Weeds, I love shows that should just be on cable. And I'm thankful I don't need OnDemand. I don't need TiVo. I don't even need antenna. As long as I got Internet, my televisual budget is a fraction of what "the man" wants it to be.