TV O.D.: Generation Kill
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 17, 2008
Summer TV is Hell
It’s been so long since I watched a serious, dramatic TV show for the first time that I’ve almost forgotten what the experience is supposed to be like. The only shows I’ve been keeping even the loosest of tabs on this summer have been Weeds (surprisingly consistent) and The Venture Brothers (getting grotesquely self-referential), and now all of a sudden I’ve got this tell-it-like-it-is show about the early days of the Iraq War to contend with. Produced by David Simon, he of a show I might’ve written about once or twice on this blog called The Wire, Generation Kill is definitely 4 Real, but based on the first episode at least, it’s possible I might be better off keeping it light with my TV watching this summer after all.
It’s immediately clear that Simon is in comfortable territory dealing with a Marine outpost in the Iraqi desert–with the heavily-coded, nearly impenetrable soldier dialect, the high concentration of dudes offering their cynical and rough but highly verbose opinions on the matters at hand, and a decided scarcity of women at hand, it seems to be something of a promised land for Simon. And as with the beginning of The Wire, Simon refrains from giving the audience any sort of primer or decoder ring for the fairly difficult-to-grasp proceedings, preferring instead to drop them in the middle of the action and let them fend for themselves. It’s an approach that generally worked for The Wire, but on the other hand, that show had 60 episodes to work with, while Generation Kill is already 1/7 of the way over.
Not to say that there’s nothing to work with in Generation Kill–Simon even gives us a fellow interloper to relate to as an outsider a Rolling Stone reporter, played by Oz‘s Lee Tergesen (who must have “Innocent New Guy” tattooed on his forehead by now). It’s just sort of hard to keep the soldiers straight, what with all the fatigues, the code names, and the huge number of characters introduced without any sort of formal introduction. The only one to really stand out thusfar is Corporal Ray Person, mainly because he is played by one James Ransone, better known to Wire junkies as S2’s Ziggy Sobotka. Ray and Ziggy are likeminded individuals, to say the least–both loudmouthed, antagonistic and highly opinionated, although Ray appears to be tolerated slightly more by his peers–a sad commentary on the mentality of the American soldier to begin with.
See, and that’s the real problem for me, not just with this show, but with the idea of doing a military-based TV show in the first place. American Soldiers, at least as generally portrayed in recent movies and TV shows, are generally quite unlikeable people–very possibly well-behaved Joes in day to day life, but introduced to an environment where the pecking order seems to be determined solely by who can act the most racist, homphobic, horny, and generally psychotic. This isn’t so much of a problem over a course of a two-hour movie (Jarhead being the most obvious point of comparison), but has potential for being an issue when you’re expected to keep coming back to these characters to see what happens to them. But why would you really care for characters that you never see doing anything but acting like jackasses?
Of course, judging anything about this show after one episode isn’t really fair, since Simon has never been one to hit the ground running, and tends to create properly emotional story arcs out of characters you’d never think you’d end up giving a shit about when first you meet them. There was definite promise to be had towards the end of the episode, as well–Ziggy’s (err, Ray’s) monologue about how the entire war is based on a lack of quality, readily available Iraqi pussy is a great hook speech, akin to D’Angelo’s drug-chess analogy or Stringer’s “shit is weak all over” speech early in S1 of The Wire. Plus, it looks like the GK boys are actually starting to see some action, which has far more potential for compelling drama than seven episodes of watching dudes trade dick-swinging insults and copies of Hustler.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think Wire comparisons are gonna do this show any favors. As good as Generation Kill could possibly be, it really can’t be expected to function as more than a stopgap EP after an epic, career-defining double-album. I’ll watch at least for another episode or two, though–even if it goes nowhere from here, I’ll take a stopgap EP from Simon over just about anything else out there right now. In the meantime, though, September really can’t get here soon enough. Those Fringe previews really look like something, huh? Lance Reddick!