Thursday, August 25, 2005

"Over There" is getting better

I caught the latest episode in the much-derided FX Army drama "Over There" last night. I think the show may just be on its way to exonerating itself.

The action in last night's program centered around the inclusion of an embedded television journalist who had linked up with the main characters. He was played by Zack from "Saved By The Bell," which was distracting, because I expected Screech to pop up over a berm at any moment.

Zack is treated with suspicion from the onset -- mostly by the College Boy character, who calls him on his "interviewer's tricks" of leaving awkward silences for his subjects to fill.

However, Zack's character seems to have pure intentions -- he wants to show the American public the "truth" about what's happening. Unfortunately, the footage he sends back to the "wire service" of an assault on a village is cut together to show American troops killing an "innocent" boy and his mother, causing an uproar in Arab countries and a negative public opinion backlash in the states.

Zack tries to make amends with the soldiers of the squad after the footage airs, but when he enters their tent, he comes very close to having his ass kicked. It's here we learn that it was his editors who re-cut the footage he submitted to skip shots of the boy running out into the fire fight and throwing something that looked like a grenade at the American soldiers. His mother ran out to pull him away, but they were both caught in "Smoke's" automatic rifle fire from his SAW.

Together with the combat film, material from an interview with Smoke was included in the package -- where he hefts his weapon and says he's a "hardcore killa."

Smoke becomes an instant anti-celebrity, and a bounty of $500 is placed on his head by leaders of the insurgency. For the folks back home, he's the equivalent of a Lynndie England.

Later on, Zack somehow wrangles a face-to-face with the leader of the village's insurgency, and he talks back enough to get himself taken hostage. His own face winds up on television sets in the United States -- with him wearing an orange jumpsuit and surrounded by masked Jihadists with rifles and a machete near his neck.

For all its faults, "Over There" tried last night to show how the events in Iraq are distorted by media outlets interested in packaging the war into marketable chunks that'll boost network ratings. It may be slightly unintentionally self-referential, but I think the show as a whole is getting better and is working hard to redeem itself.

Furthermore, the show's exciting and entertaining, even if the characters are still stereotypical. The action sequences are well-shot, I'm always impressed to see correct uniforms and equipment.

It's not as if anyone should expect to get a working knowledge of the Army from watching "Over There," any more than one should expect to learn plastic surgery techniques from "Nip/Tuck." Sure, they're part of the show, but only insofar as they can advance the story or action.

One of the several soldiers watching the show with me said, "I wish Michael Mann had directed this show."

"Michael Mann?" I asked. "You mean the shithead who directed Pearl Harbor?"

"Oh, he directed that? Well, he did a good job on Miami Vice."

I wonder if the show could have been better if Don Johnson played their battalion commander.

Either way, I'll be tuning in again next week.


UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette. Thanks, Greyhawks.