PASADENA, California (Reuters) - George Clooney, who returns to TV for the first time in 20 years with an adaptation of classic novel "Catch-22," said on Monday the Hulu series set in World War II aims to tell a timeless story about the "insanity" of war.

At a preview for reporters, Clooney said he initially resisted the idea of taking on Joseph Heller's 1961 book about a U.S. soldier fighting the higher-ups in the military bureaucracy.

"It's a beloved novel," Clooney, who also served as executive producer and directed two episodes, said at a Television Critics Association event. "I didn't want to get into the middle of that."

But he said he was drawn in because the writers "did an amazing job unspooling these characters" for the six-episode series that will be released on Hulu on May 17.

That allows the series to expand on Heller's story, which Clooney said was meant "to make fun of all the red tape and bureaucracy of war and the ridiculousness of war."

"I think it still plays," he added. "All of us spend our days and nights worry about those situations. This story is just reflecting on the insanity of it."

"Catch-22" follows a U.S. soldier named Yossarian who is infuriated that his own army keeps raising the number of missions that a soldier must complete to be released from duty. Yossarian's only way to avoid the missions is to declare insanity, but the only way to prove insanity is a willingness to embark on dangerous missions, thus creating the novel's absurd 'catch-22.'

"I think we all wake up every morning these days in this kind of shared global anxiety condition, and this novel is a beautiful distillation, or a prophetic distillation of that," said co-writer Luke Davies.

Christopher Abbott stars as Yossarian and Kyle Chandler plays his commander, Colonel Cathcart. Clooney originally planned to play Cathcart but instead took a supporting role as training commander Scheisskopf.

Clooney, 57, last appeared on television 20 years ago as Dr. Doug Ross in hit medical drama "ER." He then built a successful film career with movies including "Ocean's Eleven," "Gravity" and "Up in the Air."

The actor said he was happy come back to television.

"I don't care about the medium," Clooney said. "I really don't. I just care about the quality of the work and what we're able to do."

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)

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