Sunday, May 23, 2010

TV Stuff: Post-War England, War in the Pacific, and the War on New Orleans

There are several excellent series running on TV right now. Of course, I only mention it now that two of the three series are all about to conclude.

The first - and now concluded - series was the surprise (to me anyway) sixth season of Foyle's War. Foyle's War was a detective series set in Hastings, England during World War Two. I had thought it was finished when the war ended, but they decided to carry on. I previously posted about the series (second best tv show ever). Michael Kitchen is great, but the show struggles not so much because the war is over, but because they broke up the old team of DCS Foyle, his sergeant Milner, and his driver Sam.

Still, the series is not to be missed (now that you've missed it, look for it on DVD). Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle, you can watch the sixth season's episodes online for a limited time. See Foyle's War Now

Foyle's War was shown in the US on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery. Miss Marple takes over tonight.

The other two series are on HBO: Treme and Pacific. I have more ambivalence toward these shows. Treme is set in the eponymous New Orleans neighborhood, post-Katrina. Treme features generous helpings of jazz (New Orleans style) and mouth-watering food (one of the main characters owns a small struggling upscale restaurant. I find some of the characters to be highly annoying, but find I can speed through those parts thanks to TIVO. And New Orleans post-Katrina is an ongoing catastrophe; worth remembering, but it can be depressing. On the other hand, the show also features excellent writing (David Simon of the Wire) and acting (including a couple from the Wire - the best show ever).

Pacific is the attempt by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg to do for the Pacific theater of WWII what they did in Band of Brothers for the American war in Europe. The story of that war hasn't been told as often or as well as the European war (The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, and Saving Private Ryan are three from Europe that immediately come to mind).

The ten episode show is excellent in many ways with the same high production values as BOB. The story follows several different men (based on memoirs they wrote of their experience including the outstanding With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. As I watched the series, it occurred to me that it is the nature of the subject matter that has caused the story of the Pacific theater to be under told.

The war in the Pacific was just unrelentingly grim and terrifying with similarly persistent extreme physical discomfort, not to mention fighting an extremely experienced and determined enemy (OK, determined is a bit of an understatement). To their credit, the show's writers and producers did not shy away from some very disgusting behavior by Americans brutalized by their war (cutting out gold teeth of dead Japanese soldiers - and even one still living Japanese soldier. It makes for uncomfortable viewing and having read Sledge's book, I knew it happened. But more than that, the Pacific war was just about as godawful an experience as anyone could imagine.

In fact, it was beyond the imagination. Oppressive heat and humidity, bugs, bad water, mud, rain, nothing familiar and take-no-prisoners fighting. War is hell, but this war was one or two rungs worse than anything Dante cooked up. And there's very little to offset it - there's nothing remotely equivalent to the liberation of Paris.

One episode featured the charming whirlwind romance and wedding of Medal of Honor winner John Basilone. Basilone performed truly heroic deeds at Guadalcanal and was sent home to sell war bonds. Tiring of that work, he talked his way back into action. It is at this point that the courtship and wedding take place. In the next scene, Basilone again performs heroically at Iwo Jima - and then is gunned down, dead. By the sixth or seventh episode it became a struggle to watch (once I get started on an episode, the excellence of the production draws me.).

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