Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bunch of Dudes: Midseason Report

When I learned that Steven Spielberg was producing The Pacific, a new HBO miniseries about the Pacific theater of World War II, I was ecstatic. It was Spielberg, after all, who had produced Band of Brothers, a 2001 HBO miniseries that is one of the greatest programs I've ever watched. I, along with most other people, saw this series as a follow-up to Band of Brothers. Hell, "From the Producers of Band of Brothers" was front and center at the top of its promotional poster. The comparisons couldn't have been more clear. But it is exactly for this reason that halfway through its run, this show is suffocating under the weight of its own expectations.

People remembered how great Band of Brothers was. In fact, it's still great. Occasionally, Spike TV has a day-long Band of Brothers marathon. Provided that there's not something current on, like a baseball game, I'll watch. And even if there is a baseball game, I'll most likely DVR several of my favorite episodes from the series to watch when the game is over. If you've never seen Band of Brothers, immediately go out and buy/borrow/steal it. It's that good.

So why has The Pacific disappointed people? The main problem lies in character development. Band of Brothers followed a company of soldiers through the entire war, beginning with boot camp in Georgia. The first two episodes of the series focused on these soldiers preparing for war. There was no battle action, but at least to me, this didn't matter. I got to know the characters. I grew to like the characters.  And most importantly, I came to understand how this group was so close-knit that they considered themselves a true band of brothers.

The Pacific had none of that. The first episode takes place on the South Pacific island of Guadalcanal. The series begins with brief shots of soldiers leaving home, and then, just like that, they're on the island. Within the first half hour, there's a battle scene. They kill a lot of Japanese soldiers. Some Americans get killed. Then the episode ends.

Fifty minutes had passed, and I didn't really know any of the characters. There was the guy from The Departed. There was the guy who I think looks vaguely like Mark Teixeira (although no one else I've talked to seems to agree with me on this one). But to me, this group didn't seem like a band of brothers. It seemed like a bunch of dudes. Which is why to me, Bunch of Dudes would make a much better title for this show, at least so far.

In episode two, one of the supposed "main characters" died, but I didn't really feel any sympathy for the characters on the show; I didn't feel like I knew the group that well. In Band of Brothers (I'll try to avoid spoilers here), when Soldier A and Soldier B got blown up while sitting in their foxhole, or when Soldier C got his leg blown off, I felt sympathy for the entire group over their loss. I felt like I'd known these guys since boot camp, and to see them come this far only to get blown up by was incredibly saddening. I also experienced the highs with this group; after Germany had surrendered (whoops -- historical spoiler alert, sorry), it was incredibly satisfying to watch these guys celebrate in one of Hitler's old mansions, especially since we'd seen what they'd all gone through to get there.

Yes, I know that two episodes doesn't really give me enough time to grow emotionally attached to these characters. But now we're halfway through this show, and I haven't been given a reason why I should like any of the characters on it, except for that Japan is bad and America is good. If any of the main characters died in next week's episode, it would be disappointing for sure, but it wouldn't affect me the way that it did in Band of Brothers. (Incidentally, it was right around the halfway point of that show that the aforementioned foxhole incident happened.)

It hasn't been all bad, though. The Pacific does a much better job dealing with the psychological aspect of war than Band of Brothers ever did. Plus, he battle scenes are pretty cool, and incredibly intense. I'd actually give the edge in actual battle scenes to The Pacific over Band of Brothers. You would hope this would be the case though; I'm guessing they have more to work with now in 2010 than they did in 2001.

Still, if Spielberg had just wanted to make another war movie, he could have. I'm still wondering why he needed to create monumentally high expectations for this by creating something that he knew people were going to compare to one of the greatest series ever made. He had to know that this was inevitable, yet he still went ahead with it.

If this show wasn't on HBO, if it wasn't produced by Steven Spielberg  -- basically, if the comparisons weren't so obvious -- I think people would be considering this a good show. And that's exactly what it is. A decent show, and nothing more. I'm going to keep watching, if only because it is mildly entertaining. But if Spike TV is showing a marathon of The Pacific five years from now, I'll watch something else, unless, hopefully, the final five episodes show me why I should do otherwise.

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