Thursday, July 28, 2005

"Over There" - A Review

FX premiered Stephen Bochco's new Iraq War drama, Over There, last night and I have to say, the show is intense. As we've come to expect from Bochco, Over There definitely pushes the envelope. Not only do "shit" and its variations make regular appearances in the dialogue, but the show does not shy away from portraying the violence of war. In one memorable scene, an American soldier shoots an insurgent with a bazooka, shattering his entire upper body but leaving his legs intact to walk 2 or 3 steps before dropping to the ground.

Despite the fact that Over There is airing on Rupert Murdoch-owned FX, I didn't expect the show to be pro-war propaganda as some on the left feared. There seems to be a distinct separation between the news divisions and the entertainment divisions of the huge conglomerates that produce and air our television entertainment. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone may have voted for Bush and may want Republicans to win so there will be less and less media ownership regulation, but it didn't stop CBS from airing an anti-war tirade by an Iraqi-American houseguest on Big Brother.

What I did not expect, however, was that the show would portray the war in Iraq as nothing less than hell on earth. In Bochco's hands, Iraq is a place where no one in his right mind would want to go. The young soldier protagonists of Over There confront unseen deadly enemies, constant fear of death and roadside IEDs, all within the first week of being there. An Army recruitment video this is not.

That's not to say the show lacks a pro-military point of view. One character, bright-eyed born leader Bo, is obviously thrilled to be there; at one point in the heat of battle, he goes off about how much he loves being in the Army. But as if to blunt his enthusiasm, an IED blows off his leg at the end of the episode. Another character clearly derives a perverse thrill from killing the enemy, announcing patriotically "we're not here for oil, we're here to kill you assholes!" But this character is one of the less sympathetic: the gruff sergeant nicknamed "Scream" who scolds one character "you put one of my men in harm's way again, I'll shoot you myself." A third soldier, a Cornell graduate nicknamed "Dim" (the idea being that only an idiot would end up in the Army after such an elite education), seems to rail against the war, calling himself and his fellow soldiers "monsters" for what they're doing but then his dialogue takes a strange turn...he begins to talk of the "honor" in what they're doing and the "privelege" he feels to be there. I think the point was to show the true force of the sense of mission soldiers feel and perhaps even the sense of mission one must feel in such a circumstance just to get through the day; but to me it felt forced, it felt as though the hand of the writer was in full view, perhaps even responding to a studio executive's note to make the show more evenhanded. But that was the one false note in an otherwise solid first episode.

I actually hope the show does not turn out to be explicitly anti-war -- for it to be truthful and complex, it should explore both sides of the argument; I'm not interested in watching propaganda of any stripe and it would be refreshing to see an honest debate take place in the media about this war, even if it is in the form of fiction.

Over There airs on FX Wednesdays at 10pm E/P.


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