When you’ve redefined television and made what many consider the greatest TV show ever made your next step will be a tricky one. But Ed Burns and David Simon have taken on Generation Kill the adaptation of Evan Wright’s award-winning book recounting his experiences as an embedded reporter in Bravo Company of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in the early stages of the Gulf War. It ain’t World War II, it ain’t Korea, it ain’t even Vietnam, brother. A generation desensitised to violence, raised on South Park, video games and gangster rap. This is the New Model Army. This is Generation Kill.
Aerial Telly doesn’t really know where to begin with Generation Kill because it is insanely complex. There’s an entire platoon of characters to absorb. They are all dressed in uniform and all look the same. They speak in military jargon that nobody will take the time to explain to you. Everyone has an oblique nickname. At least in The Wire the characters were allowed different haircuts and different dress codes. Here, you’re on your own in the desert with no map and no subtitles.
But a useful focus is Sgt Brad “Iceman” Colbert (Alexander Skarsgård, )Team Leader of Alpha 1. The intelligent ultra-cool dominant male of the company, Brad has been in the recon community for many years and is one of the most experienced guys in the platoon. Brad is a voice of sanity in an insane world. A soldier by vocation rather than circumstance he plans his missions with, well, military precision and is a perfectionist to the point of nause. A Marine to his fucking core (and his fucking Corps), Brad is the kind of guy you want on your team when the bullets start flying.
Commands come from a man calling himself Godfather. Lt Col Stephen Ferrando (Chance Kelly) is Commander of First Recon, the highest ranking soldier in the field. He gets his nickname through his raspy Don Corleone voice (the result of throat cancer). Even though half his missions seem nuts and counterproductive the respect he gets from the men is total and unquestioning. Godfather refers to himself in the third person which Aerial Telly finds faintly ridiculous but what are you going to do?
“Godfather refers to himself in the third person which Aerial Telly finds faintly ridiculous but what are you going to do?”
One of the real-life Marines from Wright’s book plays himself in the show: Sgt. Rudy “Fruity Rudy” Reyes. Rudy is the world’s hottest Marine and the subject of much dreamy homoeroticism among the rank-and-file. He’s a metrosexual grooming-obsessed dude who plans a life in San Francisco after the military. Apparently they couldn’t find a Hollywood actor gay enough to play Rudy so they went out and got the real thing and, yes, the boy does a very good job of playing himself.
“The familiar themes of chain of command and how the penthouse and pavement of a hierarchical structure interact are all present.”
The familiar Burns/Simon themes of chain of command, systemic incompetence, morality of killing and how the penthouse and pavement of a hierarchical structure interact are all present. In The Wire it was the streets and courthouses of Baltimore. In Generation Kill it is the United States Marine Corps. Just like in The Wire idiots flourish and good men suffer as a result of their stupidity. Captain David “Captain America” McGraw (Eric Nenninger) will end up killing more men than Somerfield chicken. He’s just that dumb.
You’re going to watch this and be perplexed. At best you’ll have half a clue what’s going on. This is not passive television. You will work for every ounce of understanding you get. You’ll need to re-watch, hit the forums and the recaps, do some recon on military hierarchy. You’ll need to do the knowledge.
It’s a great show, of course. But you likely guessed that. Finding out why will be your mission.
The best thing about it: The challenging inspiring complexity of it all
The worst thing about it: The maddening baffling complexity of it all
The verdict on Generation Kill: Generation ILL.
Marks out of 10: 8