30 Day Television Challenge: Day Sixteen

Favorite Mini-series: Band of Brothers

According to the official schedule, today is supposed to be “Guilty Pleasure Show” but I couldn’t think of something good so I skipped ahead to the next to avoid getting stuck. I’ve never really been a fan of the “guilty pleasure” concept. Why feel bad about something you enjoy (except, you know, killing people, etc.)? I’ll come back to it later.

Anyways, let’s do this.

Band of Brothers is a HBO mini-series that aired back in 2001. It depicts the exploits of “E” (Easy) Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division during World War II. It’s historical fiction and features an enormous ensemble cast based largely on real people and events. Developed by Tom Hanks and Spielberg, it uses Saving Private Ryan as a template, taking creative liberties with first and secondary sources to fit as much historically accurate as possible into an 11-hour, ten-part series.

While it makes use of the Saving Private Ryan aesthetic, Band of Brothers is superior; it doesn’t teeter into war-porn as the former often does. Instead of a meditation on the heroics of war, Band of Brothers is more of a re-creation of the life of WWII soldier. By narrowing its gaze on Easy Company, Band of Brothers really fleshes out the vicissitudes of the European front. There’s a great deal of battle and preparation for fighting, but there’s also a great deal of tedious hurrying up and waiting, and grinding it out in the trenches, which is often the cruelest for of torture war can inflict.

The story begins at boot camp and follows Easy Company through training, into D-Day, various battles across Europe (notable, the Siege of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge), the defeat of Hitler, and finally the capitulation of Japan. Although shifting focus regularly on the various characters, the series mostly centers around Dick Winters (Damien Lewis), a real life super-soldier who rises through the ranks to eventually become Major.

There are numerous smaller and more ancillary characters who are introduced and killed off as the narrative progresses. In fact, the series features early performances from many now famous actors, such as Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Colin Hanks, and James McAvoy.

My favorite episode is the first, “Currahee”, which depicts the rigorous training Easy Company endured to become paratroopers. The cruel Captain Sobel (David Schwimmer) (no, seriously) makes them run up the mountain Currahee repeatedly, trying to break their spirits. “Three miles up and three miles down!” However, this strengthens their resolve and binds them together.

I like to watch “Currahee” every spring to motivate myself for running season.

The one problem with Band of Brothers is the scope can, at times, overwhelm. Besides Winters, there are at least a dozen or more minor characters that are featured regularly, not to mention the myriad ancillary characters that come and go with each episode. By the end, it is positively Tolstoyan.

Upon first viewing, the issue with so many characters is that the viewer can easily lose track. This is especially so in the larger scale battle sequences, such as the invasion of Normandy. The viewer is confused and sometimes doesn’t know who to follow.

Also, there’s a sense that the show is all backdrop and no forefront. Band of Brothers seems to be building a stage but there’s nothing under the spotlight.

Finally, the show’s greatest strength is sometimes its weakness. What makes Band of Brothers such a great show is its commitment to accuracy and verisimilitude. However, this can sometimes alienate the viewer. The dialogue plays fast and easy with military jargon, which can leave the viewer’s head spinning. “What the fuck is an ordnance?”

However, Band of Brothers rewards multiple viewings. Watching the series a second time erases many of these issues. After the first go around, the viewer is acquainted with the slew of characters and the show’s slightly off-beat rhythm.




~ by braddunne on October 11, 2012.

2 Responses to “30 Day Television Challenge: Day Sixteen”

  1. Preach. I believe I had Band of Brothers for my fave mini-series as well (I could go back and check but literally no one cares). I agree with everything, especially that BoB (lulz) requires many re-watching to truly appreciate how amazing it is.

  2. Best Show Ever! Well, definitely in my top ten!

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