Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Generation Kill: 'Get Some' (1x01)

Like pretty much everyone else who watched the show, I loved The Wire, and have been eagerly anticipating the start of David Simon’s followup, Generation Kill. Generally, I don’t like war stories, I think the basic elements are all so similar, it’s become virtually impossible to do a war story that isn’t clichéd. Outside of Apocalypse Now, I’ve never really liked the genre. What made Apocalypse Now so amazing was the way it abandoned any pretense of objectivity and delved entirely into a psychological haze, an acid trip journey through the dark side of the human spirit that’s as much surreal mythological odyssey as it is the story of a war.

But, that’s not David Simon’s M.O. He’s all about objectivity and realism, presenting events without comment or context, just letting you get into the world. It worked wonderfully in The Wire, but I’m not sure the same approach will be as successful here. For one, there’s only seven episodes. After seven episodes, The Wire was a really good series, but I think the moments that most people remember are from the second half of the show, the longer it went on, the more complex and emotionally engaging it became. And, it’s going to be tough to give any of these characters real depth in only seven episodes.

Now, it’s not necessary for the characters to be really developed to tell a good story. It’s just I don’t feel like I’m really seeing anything new here. It probably doesn’t help that I watched Brian DePalma’s Redacted last week, a film that covers similar territory as the series. I didn’t feel like I was getting any real new insights into this world in the way that I did when watching The Wire.

I think part of the problem with the series is it has a much more traditional structure than The Wire did. The Wire used multiple perspectives to construct an entire world, and play our emotional attachments to the various characters against each other. We wanted the detail to catch Avon, but at the same time, we didn’t want Avon to be caught. Here, we don’t have that other perspective, so it’s only the viewer’s innate respect for human life that brings ambiguity. The Iraqis in the series, at least so far, are just conceptual, not people.

That’s not to say the show is bad, I think there are some interesting insights into Iraq, and the everyday, not combat-centered approach, is welcome. But, the show just didn’t jump out to me in the way that even the very first episode of The Wire did. The Wire made every cop show cliché feel fresh and real in a way I’d never seen. And, notably, it did so without the usual visual signifiers of realism. It was all in the performance and writing. Here, we’ve got a lot more shaky cam, close-ups and the like, but it feels less fresh, more what you’d expect from a show about Iraq.

Still, a lot of my issues with it stem from a personal bias against war stories. I’m hoping that the more unique elements come to the fore later on. I loved the scene where Person and the crew rip apart the letters from school children, and the drive into Iraq was amazing on a visual level. I’m hoping that it’ll just take some time to get past the expected elements and into something more emotionally engaging.

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