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Over There is an ensemble drama about the members of an Army unit on their first tour of duty in Iraq. It focuses on the challenges the soldiers face, examining the effects of war on them and their families at home. The series explores the physical, emotional and cultural issues they face on a daily basis. It is the first scripted television series set in a current, ongoing war involving the United States.

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      01.11.2006 06:52
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      The type of program that should have been a wake-up call.

      When the TV show M*A*S*H started running in the USA while the Vietnam War was still an American national sore spot, people thought that this was a huge breakthrough for American television. In spite of the vaguely veiled Korean setting, everyone knew what the producers were trying to say, and about what war they were saying it. There is no such camouflage used with the newest war based TV show, "Over There". This is a show about soldiers in today's conflict in Iraq. What's more, there is nothing being glossed over here – it isn't even a comedy. This is a real-life drama, set in a controversial and painful setting and is probably America's most amazing television breakthrough to date.

      While many people have said that much of this show isn't realistic, I don't think it is fair to judge this show on that level. If we want 100% realism, we can watch the news – censored as it may be. This is a drama, and as such is fiction, and the writers needed enough leeway with reality to make the show more compelling for the watchers. Compelling is certainly the right word for this show.

      You may not recognize most of the actors, and that's perfectly fine – only one actor had a familiar face to me, and that was Erik Palladino, who I remember mostly from his stint on ER as Dr. Dave Malucci. This does lend itself to the realism, since although you might realize that a few of the main characters you've seen elsewhere, you'll get the basic feeling that these are more like real people than actors, since they feel like strangers to you – and most of the fighters in Iraq are strangers to us.

      Of course, the realism makes this show all the more poignant. What you'll see is not just the horrors of war (but don't worry, you'll get lots of that, too), and in particular some of the truly unique situations that soldiers in Iraq are facing, but you'll also see some of the people underneath the uniform as well. We get to understand their relationships as a unit of individuals as well as their personal backgrounds as the shows progress. We even get to see what happens when one soldier is so badly wounded that he must return home and leave his unit. This combination of job-related basis for the complexities of off-duty lives, and how these boundaries sometimes blur is something for which producer Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue, L.A. Law, and Commander in Chief) is famous. Moreover, there's no shying away from showing how inept the officers can be, and how they endanger the lives of their own soldiers for the sole purpose of satisfying their inflated egos.

      With this premise, you might think that the reason this was pulled after only one season was that it didn't work, as far as direction and acting is concerned. I certainly didn't find that to be the case. I saw some amazing acting going on here and was truly impressed with how solid these little to unknown actors performed. The directors also made sure that the more central characters didn't overshadow the others and made this group of soldiers really feel like a combat unit that just happened to be put on screen. The direction also didn't abuse the graphic ugliness of war, and allowed just enough of those gory bits to be included to make it feel like the harsh environment that it really is.

      One might wonder, then, if the script was its downfall. Here I'm willing to admit that this might have been the problem – but not that the episodes weren't well written. I found the situations and dialogues to be very human and realistic with probably the best-written script I've witnessed in a very long time. It also couldn't be that the material ran out or ideas went dry – as long as the war in Iraq continues, there's fodder for this show in spades. Moreover, the writers did everything in their power to keep anything anti-Bush out of the script and focus on the conflict itself – thereby not bringing down the wrath of the present American administration (otherwise known as being "Politically Correct"). Lastly, it's not like the soldiers are portrayed as monsters, and I feel that as we came to care for the characters here, we also come to understand – and thereby support – the efforts of those fighting so far away. So why was this cancelled?

      If you ask me, the "problem with the script" was that the USA just wasn't ready for this type of show. Perhaps the subject matter was too close to home (especially for those with family in the conflict) or maybe the American public was just not interested. This may sound stupid, but I personally think that Americans really don't care that their sons and daughters are dying by the hundreds half-way around the globe. If they did, this show would have gotten huge ratings, raised awareness, and with any luck, sparked off some protests against the war. Since this didn't happen and the show was cancelled, what other conclusion can I reach?

      But you see, I care – even though I know no soldiers there. To care, one needs to see, or at least attempt to see, the closest thing to the reality of the situation. Living in Israel, and having a son in the army here, I know that many of the situations written into these episodes were very close to the truth, if not downright accurate (or so he tells me. Thankfully, his information isn't first-hand, but many of his close friends were involved in the latest war with Hezbollah in the north). I appreciated seeing the inhumanity that comes out despite the soldiers' humane personalities, and how they fight their inner devils in order to attempt to remain feeling, caring people. This is what happens to soldiers. This is what war is about. Because of all this, I can only shake my head in disbelief that this series only had one season to make its point. What more can I say?

      To sum, this is a gritty (if slightly gory), realistic, well acted, directed and written TV series about the war in Iraq, and if you care about the conflict there, I highly recommend that you borrow (or buy) the DVD, or at least – like me – watch (or record) it faithfully in re-runs, if it gets to your TV programming again. I give it a full five stars and hope you'll agree that this should be required watching for anyone in any country who hates war and this one in particular.

      Thanks for reading!

      Davida Chazan © October/November 2006

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      Technical Stuff:
      The first (and unfortunately only) season of Over There was aired on Thursdays at 22:00 on the Sky One channel. The webpage for this show can be found at http://www.skyone.co.uk/programme/pgeoverview.aspx?pid=68

      The full series is available on DVD through Amazon via the marketplace (only) from £15.25. Note: this is a region 1 DVD and for playing in the UK requires a multi-zone DVD player.

      You can also get details of this show on the Internet Movie Database site at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0446241/
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