In this column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another production equally worthy of attention and here we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
‘Peace sucks a hairy asshole, Freddy. War is the motherfucking answer.’ – Cpl. Josh Ray Person, Generation Kill
A seven-part miniseries that aired on HBO in 2008 and is based on the 2004 book of the same name by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright, ‘Generation Kill’ is a profoundly-insightful meditation on the state of 21st-century geopolitics and the American military-industrial complex.
It follows the story of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the US Marines, with whom Wright was embedded, when they lead the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Filmed predominantly in Namibia and Mozambique, it was adapted by Wright and David Simon and Ed Burns, the celebrated creators of arguably television’s greatest ever drama, ‘The Wire’.
Featuring a large ensemble cast, the most notable of which is Alexander Skarsgård, later of ‘True Blood’ and ‘Tarzan’ fame, it was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards and won three in 2009 and was met with critical acclaim.
With painstaking verisimilitude, ‘Generation Kill’ tracks the journey of the 1st Recon Marines into Iraq after a logistical mistake sees them spearhead the invasion – a job for which they are hilariously ill-equipped. It’s an existence that veers between life-threatening danger and mind-numbing ennui on a daily basis and the show expertly positions the personal struggles of the marines themselves as a meta-commentary on the war itself. The group are a mixture of wounded machismo, misguided idealism and gritty nihilism, a metaphorical melting pot of the warring ideologies and politics that have continued to split the US population since September 11.
You feel the visceral tension when they are ambushed in a war-torn Iraqi town, the exhilaration when they take an airfield and the draining monotony of every dusty mile they cover in their Humvees. It’s undoubtedly an exciting ride, but one which is always quick to juxtapose the thrilling action sequences with periods of excessive inactivity, as if guilting you for enjoying what was a horrendous ordeal for those involved.
The Marines themselves are an odd bunch of distinctive personalities and the actors are given the chance to breathe life into the real but often larger-than-life characters that made up the 1st Reconnaisance Battalion. Skarsgård is engaging as Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert, the coolly-intellectual Sergeant that leads Bravo Company, as is James Ransone, an alumnus of ‘The Wire’ who here plays Corporal Josh Ray Person, the chatty, hyperactive driver in Colbert’s Humvee.
‘Generation Kill’ is ultimately a fairly understated indictment of a war that history has proven to have been at the very least misjudged, if not outright disastrous. It aired at a time when sentiment towards the conflict in the US was beginning to turn away from blind patriotism. As such, it’s also a prescient time-capsule of a deeply controversial period in modern American history and surprisingly non-didactic in the way it handles its subject matter. As a piece of entertainment its rich in characterisation and detail – a provocative and resonant miniseries that remains as topical today as it did in 2008.
‘Generation Kill’ is currently available on Presto and iTunes, as well as DVD and Bluray.