There is so much news, and so little time! When the issues begin to press in with their urgency, and the “common taters” sound ever more strident, I do what any right-thinking American does: I change the channel, and go looking for something divertingly entertaining.
Comes now Steven Bochco, Hollyweird producer extraordinaire
. Mr. Bochco has given us some outstanding television series in the past, most notably, in my humble opinion, “Hill Street Blues”. That was the first TV show I could remember where cops were portrayed as people, and not superheroes. As human beings, the cops of Bochco’s world were subject to the failings and weaknesses that plague us all. His preoccupation with mere mortals facing challenges both mundane and defining was riveting, coming at the end of the age of “Starsky & Hutch” and other bulletproof clichés. I had little time for TV in those days, but I made time for “Hill Street”. The pilot episode, where officers Hill and Renko were gunned down in a freakish encounter with junkies, is a classic cliffhanger. “Hill Street” went on to perfect the “arcing story line”, where the plot carries over from one episode to the next.
Now Mr. Bochco is embarked on an ambitious new project: a television series about the war in Iraq, simply titled “Over There”. Think “Hill Street Blues” meets “Combat!” That was my initial impression, and it still holds past the second episode. Like “Hill Street” and the more recent “NYPD Blue”, “Over There” features plots that are “ripped from the headlines”. Like “Combat!” and “Tour of Duty” [a failed Vietnam ripoff], it purports to deal with the individual soldier’s reactions to situations unique to the war du jour
. Like “Hill Street”, the show is an ensemble piece of mostly-unknown—at least to me—actors. The language is salty, and the violence is graphic, but not gratuitous. Bad things happen, but they happen in context, and for a reason.
Last night's episode was better than the first. A tense little vignette about roadblock duty in the middle of nowhere, with no backup, it raised some interesting issues and posed some problems that are unique to the situation in Iraq. (Some of it centered on the troopers' reactions to shooting up cars that came speeding at them in the darkness with no lights. The second time it happened, they hesitated, then lit up the car anyhow. A little girl was head-shot in the back seat when the troops approached cautiously. Much horror, screaming, and cussing. Without giving spoilers, nothing was what it seemed by the end of the hour. The story line “arcs” into next week.)
It looks like Bochco is trying to put a face, however generic, on our troops. In a time when our people look suspiciously like Imperial storm troopers out of "Star Wars" with all their gear, this is a laudable thing that's being attempted. The composition of “the squad” is as diverse as anything from a War II movie, with gender being the new ace-in-the-hole, and if the book of Ecclesiastes is true, there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to the dilemmas of situations back home when one is “over there”, wherever that might be.
I have to admit it; I’m hooked. Like the real war, I want to see what happens next. I want to see if the trooper who lost his leg to a roadside mine gets to rejoin his squad. (“Hey, a Marine did it!”) I want to see the reckoning between the college guy and his wife, who is shown having her pleasure with “Jodie” when his e-mail from the front is beeping for her attention on the home PC. I want to know where or how “Double Wide” got her nickname.
I started watching this because Mr. Bochco said in an interview that he has no political agenda. Thus far, he seems to be an artist solely interested in the human side of the contemporary situation he is attempting to portray. The credits suggest that this is a family affair, too.
What gives me pause is that we have been in Iraq long enough for Hollyweird to grind out a TV series about the war. I’m not a defeatist; I want us to Charlie Mike [Continue Mission] until Iraq is a free country, able to determine their own destiny. I’m glad Mr. Bush rejects any “let’s quit now” proposals by Those People.
“Combat!” came almost twenty years after the fact. So did “Tour of Duty”. The first wave of Vietnam flicks to hit the screen were also years after Saigon fell; “Apocalypse Now” was a resounding failure when it first hit theater screens in the mid-‘70s. Now, with imbedded reporters with cell phones, the pervasive influence of the Internet and immediate information, and 24/7 news channels, we have a TV series about a war that hasn’t reached a conclusion yet. The fact that this program doesn’t reflect Walter Cronkite’s defeatism yet is astounding; aside from any artistic accomplishment, Steven Bochco and his family, and producer/writer/director Chris Geralmo, deserve praise for this.
“Over There” can be seen on the FX channel every Wednesday at 2200; that’s 10:00 EDT for you civilians. There are repeats throughout the evening. Put the kids to bed first; this is not a show for children. The language and situations are salty and realistic. That being said, I like it.