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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Friday, July 11, 2008

War. Uh. What is it good for?

Free glazed doughnuts?

Nudie magazine day?

The "Full House" gang is getting back together?

Nope. The sweetest words in the English language are "From the creators of 'The Wire,'" and the tagline comes just in time as summer TV continues to dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole of unforgiving blackness.

Starting Sunday, HBO is airing "Generation Kill," a seven-part mini-series that "documents the profane, and sometimes profound, experiences of an elite Marine reconnaissance battalion leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq." David Simon and Ed Burns -- who teamed up on the greatest show in the history of mankind, "The Wire" -- reunite for "Kill," which is adapted from the prizewinning book by Evan Wright, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who was embedded with Bravo Company for the duration of the assault.

Reviews seem to indicate it'll be very "Full Metal Jacket"-ish and open a window into the war experience beyond just intense battle scenes. Not surprising when you consider Simon's M.O. is to deal with subtlety, nuance and slow character development that leads to explosive, unexpected payoffs.

The New York Times writes, "The main people in “Generation Kill” are numerous and hard to distinguish, and even the most basic story lines are blurry and difficult to follow. It’s as if the creators wanted to resist any comparison to HBO’s classic World War II series “Band of Brothers,” by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. That could stem from a desire to stake out a different kind of wartime storytelling. But it is also a way to avoid condoning or romanticizing a war that most Americans no longer view as necessary, or even wise.

"Yet no matter how flat or diffuse its affect, “Generation Kill” is at its best a tale of battle-forged camaraderie, a “Band of Brothers” set not at Agincourt or Normandy, but Iraq in 2003.

"Mr. Wright’s opening conceit in the book, and it is an understandable one, is that these highly trained troops, raised on hip-hop, video games and “South Park,” are somehow a different species from the men who fought in World War II and even Vietnam. He describes them as the disenfranchised orphans of a post-Monicagate society, a generation desensitized to violence, captive to pop culture and more disaffected from authority. “Culturally, these marines would be virtually unrecognizable to their forebears in the ‘Greatest Generation,’ ” Mr. Wright wrote in his prologue.

"It’s a different war, but warriors don’t change that much from one conflict to the next. The men who fought at Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge would probably feel right at home."

The Kansas City Star writes, "the result is almost uncannily the same in “Generation Kill” as it was in “The Wire.” Once again, Simon and his producing partner, Ed Burns, plunge us deeply into the culture of foul-mouthed men, many of them barely out of their teens, who have ready access to firearms and agendas that have little to do with the American dream you and I understood it growing up. And, as before, you can't stop watching it.

"The drama centers on the dozen or so men Wright rode into Iraq with. They are among the most extreme Marines at the disposal of the U.S. These men (they are all men) are trained to run for miles in the desert with 150-pound packs, then jump in the ocean with full packs and swim a few more miles. They are eternally bulking up and beating up on each other, even playing psy-ops mind games on each other (think ethnic slurs on steroids), in an never-ending effort to remain tough and ready for anything. They are what you get when you spend a million dollars training one man to kill. They are, as one of the First Recon puts it, what you get when you breed a pit bull to fight. They cannot wait to get off the leash."

It isn't light summer programming, that's for sure.

Finally, my TV viewing has purpose again!

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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