GENERATION KILL is yet another reminder of how terrific the programming is at HBO. Coming from the guys who did THE WIRE, I was expecting something of quality. Granted, I haven't seen THE WIRE yet (I feel like an ass-hole for not being up to speed with it), but I have heard only the best of things about that Baltimore-set crime drama. GENERATION KILL, which premiered tonight on HBO, is adapted from a series of articles in Rolling Stone, and if I am not mistaken, a book based on those articles as well. And even after only an hour, it's safe to say that it's the best thing I have seen on the small screen in months.
Opening without any formal character introductions and essentially plopping the audience right in the middle of the action with the soldiers, GENERATION KILL centers on a Marine battalion who are one of the first groups of soldiers to enter Iraq from Kuwait during the in ital stages of the most recent Iraq war. The "shock and awe" campaign is featured through night-vision goggles but much of the first hour was relatively action-free. In a BLACK HAWK DOWN fashion, the characters exist as names, faces, and voices; the show is all about the soldiers' experience, not necessarily the soldier. You get to know the group quickly, and once the Rolling Stone reporter shows up, it's time to load the humvees and set out for Iraq. Because of the setting (an unstable war zone), the show has many moments of genuine tension, which begin almost immediately. Their mission is to cross the Euphrates river and take control of the bridge, then entering into Iraq. After an interesting encounter with a group of Iraqi civilians (friends or foes?), the Marines set off for their final destination.
GENERATION KILL is certainly pro-soldier, but I haven't made up my mind if it's an anti-war or pro-war statement overall. Frustration is shown on the part of the soldiers when laws and codes are bent or broken, and the military certainly comes off as a little disorganized. But I have no reason to think that any of this is made up. The whole issue of our Marines not having enough batteries to work their night vision goggles is scary and unacceptable. They've got packages of Pop-Tarts and Combos pretzel snacks, but not enough batteries to work their gear. That's pretty fucked up in my estimation. It's obvious that the show's creative team have respect for the Marines and the soldiers they're depicting. Just from the premiere episode, GENERATION KILL seems to be the sort of entertainment that's going to present something as fact, and allow the audience to make up their own mind as to whether or not something is right or wrong. Some of the characters are instantly likable; others not so much. And that's probably exactly how it is in the military; there has always been a giant cross-selection of educated and uneducated men and women serving in the military, some with strong moral codes and others who just assume shoot you then talk to you. Putting machine guns in the hands of 18 year olds will always make me scratch my head.
Stylistically, GENERATION KILL is refreshingly old-school. Little to no camera tricks were employed, camera angles weren't flashy, and stable cameras, rather than hand-held, were used. This isn't a Bay/Bruckheimer type thing. And it's not a Paul Greengrass pseudo-documentary either. What the writers and director have created is an utterly believable landscape that feels immediate and intense. In its own simple way, GENERATION KILL makes you feel like you are observing these guys up close and personal. There are a handful of excellent lines of dialogue, the production values are first rate, and what action set pieces that were featured were top notch. This is yet another feather in the hat for the programming team at HBO. I can't wait to see where this show goes.