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A series I missed the first time around

Thanks to Netflix I found Over There, a 2005 series produced by Steven Bochco about the war in Iraq. I gave the pilot episode a try and I was hooked. As with all good war dramas we follow an infantry squad –technically a “fire team” I think — five guys. De rigueur for war dramas we see the hard-bitten good sergeant, the cynical LA black man, the college dropout, the religious marksman, and the Arab American who translates. Add to that two women who drive them around or fix their Humvee, and three of the families back home including a husband. The 21st Century allows for female soldiers, an angry beauty from West Virginia (her ex is in prison) and an Hispanic mechanic pining for her a husband and child.

If you can stand the violence and the language, you will find good Bochco here. The sergeant could be Andy Sipowicz. The characters have room to develop and make their bad decisions, and you care about them. The kid from Compton bonds in an odd way with the one from Cornell. A wife falls into a bottle. A husband is distracted by another war widow. One regular is subtracted from the squad in the first episode when he loses his leg to an IED (in the 60s this was a booby trap). He and his wife take a journey through the Army system and into life after a war. The people are completely engaging and I’m reminded of The Wire or The Shield. I think the writing is exquisite.

I understand that Iraq veterans trashed the series for its accuracy (“you don’t take your helmet off!” “You don’t pull off to the side of the road!”), but they missed the point. Drama is a story about people in a situation, not a training film. The principle character is war — insane and cruel, always — and particularly this war. There is no discussion of policies. Every day is Ground Hog Day, always the same. But the people don’t stay the same and I want to be there to see how they turn out. Alas we know how it turns out for them.

Over There lasted one season, 13 episodes, and I can see why. It’s very graphic and very intense. American viewers in 2005 probably didn’t care to be reminded of the mire they were stuck in. The mournful score contributes to the sense of hopelessness. But there is hope as the characters do the best that they can. Perhaps on the verge of a new administration and some prospect of an end, Over There might find a new following. It’s available at Netflix.

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