Over There: Season One
is simply a revelation, a new way to look at a drama about a new kind of American war. Told over 13 superb episodes, in which a handful of soldiers go through a great many changes to arrive at their own flawed, beautiful humanity, this series by prolific producer Steven Bochco (
) has nothing to do with the politics or decreasing popularity of the Iraq war. The show is consumed, instead, by the logistics of U.S. troops staying alive from hour to hour against a campaign of masked insurgents, roadside bombs, and clever lures into unforeseen dangers. Many of
's most gripping moments are concerned with the fallibility of soldiers trying to decipher the sometimes inscrutable actions of men, women, and children who may or may not be the enemy. It's hard to tell, for example, if the Iraqi man who stepped out of his house to kick a soccer ball with his son is, in fact, grabbing a moment of happiness with his child or trying to deceive the Americans with a false veneer of normalcy. There isn't always a way to be sure of intentions, and the show's major characters are often forced to make split-second judgments fraught with moral ambivalence and potential tragedy.
In the Bochco tradition, individual episodes juggle several storylines that can take an entire season to play out, frequently in unexpected ways. The wounding of a young private named Bo Rider (Josh Henderson) in the series pilot leads to a protracted story of personal valor back home and a showdown with a monstrous father. The embedding of a television journalist with the major characters touches on media spin in the modern age, as well as the phenomenon of hostage-taking in Iraq. The training of more-or-less hapless Iraqi security forces to take over for the Americans does not inspire confidence that the U.S. can get out anytime soon. Issues of infidelity, loneliness, female soldiers in battle, the incompetence of some commanding officers, conflicts between supposed comrades-in-arms, and much else bring a gritty honesty to the show. But it's the striking visuals that take one's breath away: the disorienting perspective from within a truck that's just been shelled, the strange look of a firefight waged almost eyeball-to-eyeball between enemies, with neither side ducking for cover. There's never been an American television show based on a war currently being waged, and Over There certainly makes one realize how much survival in Iraq is an end in itself, far away from ongoing debates about the war's justification. --Tom Keogh