NBC won’t officially launch Peacock, its entry into the streaming wars, until July 15. But early access is now available for free to subscribers to Comcast, the Twin Cities’ dominant cable provider.
Don’t get too excited. You have to wait until later in the year for the launch of original programming, which will include reboots of “Saved by the Bell” and “Punky Brewster.” (Who exactly asked for these?)
Smoothly navigating the site currently requires a pilot’s license. The library of movies and TV titles pales in comparison to what’s offered on Netflix.
But there were still enough attractions to help me kill some time last weekend.
I started by binge-watching the first season of “30 Rock,” one of several sharp sitcoms available in their entirety. Every time Tracy Morgan commands the screen, he transports you to Disney World, one where Mickey Mouse wants to take you behind Magic Mountain and get you pregnant.
If you think you’ll also have access to NBC classics that are almost impossible to find elsewhere, you’ll be disappointed. No “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Late Night With David Letterman” or “L.A. Law.” Repeats of “Seinfeld” and “Friends” have already been snatched up by other services.
But you can see every episode of “Columbo,” the great detective series in which every suspect underestimates Peter Falk’s title character right up to the moment he busts them. It’s great fun to explore the rogues’ gallery, which included Dick Van Dyke and Ruth Gordon. Johnny Cash performs “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and gets punched in the face during an episode directed by Nicholas Colasanto, who would go on to play Coach on “Cheers.”
“The Office” won’t be available on Peacock until later, but for the time being, viewers can enjoy an exclusive section of short clips. Even better is the channel that runs a random selection of “Saturday Night Live” skits. In just one hour, I got Eddie Murphy in whiteface, Alec Baldwin peddling his “Schweddy balls” and Debbie Downer disrupting dinner.
Purists can dive into complete episodes of “SNL,” as well as “Law & Order” and “Friday Night Lights.” But too much of the library consists of shows that weren’t all that great the first time around. You know you’re in trouble when “21 Jump Street” and “The George Lopez Show” are cataloged under “Timeless classics.”
For film fans, there are a number of crowd-pleasers such as “Jurassic Park,” “E.T.” and “The Sting.” But choices are limited. Alfred Hitchcock is well represented, as are B westerns from the 1950s and ’60s.
I settled on 1969’s “Death of a Gunfighter,” if only because of the historical significance. It’s the first film to be credited to the pseudonym Alan Smithee, a sign that the director didn’t want his name on the picture (for the record, the filmmaker was Don Siegel, who would helm “Dirty Harry” two years later). The oater is far from an embarrassment, especially if you can appreciate Minnesota native Richard Widmark taking on a corrupt town while looking like he’s got a permanent case of hemorrhoids.
Discovering other surprise delights is about as challenging as picking up toilet paper from the store after 6 p.m., but I did stumble across 1965’s “McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force,” a feature made in the midst of the sitcom’s TV run without star Ernest Borgnine. His absence gives Tim Conway more of an opportunity to put on a master class in physical comedy. At one point he literally hangs from a chandelier.
I wish there were more unexpected delights at Peacock. They may appear down the line. In the meantime, enjoy the sneak preview. Who knows? By Week 14 of the Big Lockdown, “21 Jump Street” may start looking like must-see TV.
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin