Watching the beginning of Fox’s Over There last night, I was struck by how much TV had changed since I was growing up.
We were allowed a limited number of hours to watch TV during the week – 10 hours in 5 days as I recall – and every Sunday night as we ate our graham crackers in milk, we would have to decide among the 5 of us what shows we would be watching for the entire week (day and night). Note: The strictures applied during the summer months as well with the exception that Cubs and White Sox games were not counted against the total.
Because of this, it wasn’t until years later that I saw The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, Gunsmoke, and a host of others. But there was one show that all of us in the family couldn’t wait to watch; a show whose gritty realism (we thought) made our wargames that much more compelling to play. Combat, starring Vince Morrow was always on the list.
Looking at the re runs today, I see how jaded we’ve become. Unless there are the sickening sounds of heads exploding like a ripe melons or torrential blood flows gushing from gaping wounds along with huge explosions that send people flying through the air, it just ain’t war. Nevertheless, Combat managed to hold our attention through what passed for action sequences as well as some characters that everyone who has seen a John Wayne war movie can relate to.
There was the tough, no nonsense Sarge who cared about his men more than himself. The soldiers were usually a colorful lot drawn from all corners of the country. There’s usually the street smart city guy, the farm boy, the quiet intellectual, and the one who always sasses the higher ups. Combat had all of this plus war on a much more personal level than John Wayne movies which were usually about grand themes like courage and patriotism. The men in Combat were always tired, always hungry, never took showers, and nervous about the enemy. To us, it was as real as it got.
I wonder if the kids today will take away a similar impression of Stephen Bochco’s Over There? Hell, do kids today still play “war?” The drama seems to have many stock elements of a war drama – the big change being a welcome addition of different skin colors and gender. And there’s actual foul language and lots of blood (a round from a grenade launcher hits a terrorist in the chest and blows the top half of his body to smithereens while his legs take a few extra steps). But at bottom, all I could think of while watching it was Combat for the 21st century.
I have no clue as to how realistic it was so I decided to gather some reaction for our best and bravest in the Shadow Media – the Milbloggers as well as some thoughts from a few non military types.
Blackfive checked out the website and found the characters “cartoonish” so he didn’t watch. But he opened the linked post to comments on the show, many of which are very interesting.
Charmaine Yost actually liveblogged the darn thing and has some comments both perceptive and snarky.
The Air Force Pundit saw it and had this to say: “Oh, did I mention this show sucks from a military perspective? I know in the USAF we don’t do alot of close in battle drill, but it would take a 4 year old to figure out we don’t all hide within 15 feet of each other, and then walk SLOWLY toward the enemy in a STRAIGHT LINE. Uh, didn’t we pretty much give that up about 1864?”
The Word Unheard couldn’t bring himself to watch for this reason: “Now, there are two things that the ‘Hollywood / television’ industry is incapable of doing with very few exceptions, and those are 1.) removing politics from any subject and 2.) accurately portraying any aspect of military life, the military experience or understanding anything accurately ‘through the eyes’ of military personnel.”
A Healthy Alternative to Work has some thoughts about past war dramas and this one:
In the movie M*A*S*H, and basically any other movie about wars set in Vietnam or before, one of the boons given to writers was the fact that the draft was in place. You could include a definitively non-military character like Donald Sutherland’s Capt. Hawkeye Pierce and explain his presence away by saying, “Oh, he was drafted.”
Now, however, times are different, and we’ve got an all-volunteer force (which, by the way, I don’t think is going to change, recruiting shortfalls notwithstanding).
This forces the writers to answer an important question for each character – Why is this person in the military?
Alarming News has something positive to say:
I highly recommend the show. I was pleasantly surprised to find that politics are kept to a minimum. The show focuses on the personal and daily lives of the soldiers, and the realizations they come to while fighting on the front lines. The battle scenes are done very well, and the small things that we don’t think about very often are brought to light in several aspects. Like what the heck you do when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the desert.
Argghhh has a great roundup both pro and con from milbloggers and adds this:
As for going down in flames… if the combat scenes and characters can suck you in, I suspect people will watch it. It plays to the low expectations people set for stuff like that. The more interesting part will be… does this set the Zeitgeist for the war… as M*A*S*H kind of did for Korea (and Vietnam, too)? The characters of M*A*S*H were generally likable, and we military types all knew Burn’s and Houlihan’s… but did the show represent Korea? Not really. Does it in the communal mind… arguably.
Interesting question – and I suspect this audience isn’t going to be diverse enough in outlook and opinion (no slam guys, but on things military and the war, we’re pretty much a cluster, it’s on things social where we have our spread) to answer this question well… but how many people’s perceptions of Vietnam are shaped by Platoon… or by We Were Soldiers?
Finally, Ace didn’t like it AT ALL:
Steven Bochco can suck my c**k.
This is the sort of glib liberal fool that Hollywood entrusts for this sort of project. No Donald Belasarius, no Steven J. Cannell.
And yes, I know Steven J. Cannell would have our troops assisted by cute robots and zooming around Baghdad in “Assault Ferraris,” but sh*t, I’d still watch it.
Well, no I wouldn’t. But I’d promote it.
Generally then, it would appear that our military for the most part doesn’t take to the show and righty bloggers ditto.
Me? I’m going to withhold judgment for a few more weeks before I declare the show a lost cause. I found the combat scenes compelling (if not realistic) and I’m curious to see if they’ll continue portraying the enemy as fanatics.
When advancing toward our heroes who have taken cover behind a berm, you can hear the enemy saying “Allahu Akbar!” Nice touch and one of the only times I’ve seen terrorists portrayed as religious fanatics. So for the time being, I’ll continue watching.