Category: Miniseries


 SPOILER ALERTS

 There’s a famous French film maker named Francois Truffaut who says that it’s really impossible to make an anti-war film because any film that features battle sequences will inevitably glorify the violence and action its portraying even if its supposed to be horrendous and shocking. I’m not really sure if Truffaut is right as films like The Deer Hunter and Saving Private Ryan have proved to me that you can make incredibly effective anti-war films that in no way glorify the actions presented on screen. I’m not really sure why I’m bringing up that whole thing since Band of Brothers is in no way supposed to be anti-war and it’s totally trying to glorify the actions committed by the members of Easy Company. It’s trying to portray them as the heroes they were. So, really, that entire spiel I just went on was probably pointless. Also, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned The Deer Hunter since it has nearly no battle scenes, just the absolutely terrifying Russian Roulette sequences.

One of the stylistic touches of the series is that while integrating its huge ensemble cast seamlessly into the over-arching story, each episode tends to focus on one individual member of Easy Company. In “Carentan” the story focuses on soldier Albert Blithe, who became separated from the other members of Easy Company even longer after the parachute drop into Normandy than the rest of the company. Easy Company is tasked with taking the French town of Carentan, and amongst heavy casualties, they succeed. However, Albert Blithe begins to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which manifets itself as hysterical blindness. Although Albert eventually recovers from it at the urging of Dick Winters, Blithe is fatally wounded (though the death is much later and actually one of the rare instances of historical inaccuracy on the show) by a German sniper when the Germans mount a counter-attack to retake France. The episode ends with Easy Company returning to England only to be immediately called back to action in Europe (this time for good).

In “Replacements”, Easy Company finds out that they are to be parachuted deep behind enemy lines into Holland for Operation Market Garden which was the Allies plan to effectively invade Germany and to end the war by Christmas of 1944. It did not succeed. Easy Company is initially tasked with capturing the town of Eindhoven, which requires no capturing because there is no German presence when they arrive. Thinking that Holland will be a cake-walk, the Company heads to the town of Neunen (home of Vincent Van Gogh) where they encounter heavy German resistance that ultimately causes them to have to retreat and suffer their first loss of the war. This episode focuses on a sergeant named Bull who has been placed in charge of all of the new recruits who have joined since the Normandy Invasion. During the failed assault on Neunen, he gets separated from Easy Company and has to survive on his own without being captured or killed by the Germans. We also got a small cameo from Mr. Tumnus, also known as Professor X, also known as Wesley, also known as James McAvoy, which I had never noticed before.

The focus that the show gives to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in a time when it was called nothing more than shell-shock is one of the best things that the series does. Blithe is such a compelling character because he suffers from a nearly crippling sense of fear and shame at his inability to fight in the first battle and from the horrors he witnessed, but he is eventually able to overcome then and fight (although he gets shot in the neck by a sniper). Also, the performance from Blithe’s actor is absolutely superb. It’s one of the better one shot roles from the whole series. I also liked how the series examined the pecking order and/or hostilities between the men who had served in the initial combat and the green men that are brought in for Operation Market Garden. When the new men are given their baptism by fire at Neunen, all of those lines immediately disappear. Most likely because it’s one of the few battles they lose in the series, but Neunen always stuck me as one of the most terrifying and chaotic moments on the series.

I’ve really been enjoying my re-watch of this series (as much as you can enjoy watching a true story where people you get attached to die in large numbers), and so I’m glad that my dad rented this from Netflix for me since my queue is so full. I’m going to be slowing my reviewing of stuff on here down a little bit because I’m DM’ing a Dungeons and Dragons group and I’m working on creating a fun campaign for the group. Hopefully, I don’t slow things down too much, but I just wanted to point out that it was a possibility. D & D has always been a big hobby of mine but it’s damn near impossible to find a good group to play with so it’s always fun when I do finally find a group. I tend to put a lot of work into those rare sessions. So, my loyal readers should roll a D20 for me and wish me luck.

 Disc Score: A

 SPOILER ALERTS

 Maybe it’s my own intellectual condescension (which often runs rampant), but I often become terrified that any TV show that I enjoy is going to be immediately canceled because it isn’t accessible enough to the general public and no one will be watching I. Because of that, I often don’t even watch new pilots for shows that I might want to see since I’m assured that they’ll just get canceled. Excluding me from the conversation, there’s a website called TVTropes.org that has a name for that phenomenon which is “The Firefly Effect” where enough people were really interested in a program but had been burned by the networks so many times they decided not to emotionally invest themselves in the show and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I know a ton of people who never watched Lost because they feared it would be canceled prematurely (fortunately that never happened). Anyways, everyone who has any interest in intellectual and high-brow television really needs to give The Corner a try. It’s only 6 episodes long but it was a miniseries that got to tell its entire story and what an incredible story it was.

 

The last half of The Corner continues to follow the trials and tribulations of the McCullough family. Fran has entered detox and has finally cleaned herself up. However, her decision to remain on the straight and narrow is constantly tested and pushed by her ex-husband Gary, who’s still addicted to heroin, her son Deandre, who is still a drug dealer and experimenting for the first time with drugs himself, and all of her other former friends who are still crippled by addiction. If the first half of the series explored the life of an addict with an unflinching eye for detail, the second half shows just how difficult it is to be sober when drugs and poverty are all you’ve ever known.

 

There are two specific aspects of the last half that I want to hit on. The first is that Gary McCullough has quickly become one of the most interesting characters that David Simon has ever put on screen. It’s an even more impressive fact since Gary is a real person. The combination of his extreme intelligence with the tragedy of his addiction and the situation that led him to addiction is just one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen in years. He ranks up there now with Omar Little and Stringer Bell. If you know me, you know how big a deal that statement is.

 

The other aspect is the extraordinary bit of journalism that this show (and by extension the book its based off) is. Since I knew so many of the actors on the show and am so acquainted with David Simon’s particular style of story-telling, it was easy to forget that these were all true stories. Every person on the show is/was a real person. When the series came to an end and Charles S. Dutton tells you what happened to each of these characters, you’re struck with the gravity of every single terrible thing that you saw happen. You remember that this all really happened. Then, you see that it’s all still happening and nothing has changed in nearly twenty years. If David Simon’s shows aren’t a call to arms for us to help change our nation and to fight a war against institutional poverty and addiction but not an unwinnable war against drug dealers, then he should have never made his shows in the first place.

 

I think that The Wire and The Corner should be required viewing in every high school social studies department. They constitute the realest and most authentic sociological examinations of institutional corruption and American poverty to ever be produced. I mentioned all of that Firefly and Lost stuff at the beginning of this article because The Wire, when it aired, had an incredibly small, but rabidly devoted, fan base which has only grown and grown since it left the air. The Corner is the precursor to The Wire‘s legacy and it needs to find the audience it deserves as well. Television like this comes along once or twice a decade. It’s that important.

 Final Score: A+