July 13th, 2008
When watching Generation Kill, a miniseries event from HBO, it’s impossible not to draw the obvious comparisons to The Wire. While usually shows from the same creator bear moderate resemblance to one another, David Simon and Ed Burns have a style so distinctive that it’s hard to write a single sentence about this series without discuss the other. The Wire was a show about dropping the viewer into a world they didn’t understand without holding their hand about it, developing its own language, identities, and pacing. It wasn’t about telling a story about something, but rather telling the story.
That story, here, is the journey of a Marine Corps Battalion, and their embedded reporter Evan Wright (Who wrote the novel the series is based on), as they invade Iraq in the opening throes of the 2003 invasion. There’s a lot of people thrown around, and like The Wire you never really pick up their names so much as begin to identify them based on other characteristics. Although the first segment is not eventful in the traditional sense, the various bits and pieces we see give us enough of a background so that, when things do go down, we’ll know how people should or do react.
What makes Generation Kill compelling is not just Simon and Burns’ usual sharp writing and ear for realistic drama, or even the great cinematography/direction – rather, it’s seeing all of this play out in a context where we know the basic story at hand. In most stories, there would be attempts to shoehorn politics into this story; to not only show the wrong camouflage being sent to the army, but to show some stuffshirt politician making the decision so as to villainize. Here, the authority is a villain by omission – we as an audience have information they don’t, and that isolation is incredibly compelling.
It is also, however, intoxicating – when a show requires flow charts, you know that you’re not in for a normal television watching experience. Thus far, though? It’s a damn good one.