HBO’s Band of Brothers: 13 Years and a History Degree Later…

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… and it’s still fantastic.

I watched most of the series when it first aired in 2001, but as an air-headed high school freshman, I must admit I wasn’t the most attentive. I watched much of the series clandestinely out of the corner of my eye, sitting on the couch pretending to read Bridget Jones’ Diary instead – because that’s what teen girls were supposed to do, right? Read chick-lit and roll their eyes at the bloodletting murderfest of a war show their father and brother are watching? I wasn’t supposed to like that stuff. I was supposed to like TRL, glitter makeup, and have a massive crush on a skinny lanky boy like [insert boy band member here]. I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to delight in the nick-of-time appearance of a Sherman tank, be fascinated by a scene of remarkable gore, or find the tough but somehow gentle swagger of Michael Cudlitz as “Bull” Randleman so confusingly appealing.

Let’s just say my teenage self had some pretty deep-seated self-acceptance issues and some weird concepts of gender mores.

But anyway.

As a result of my problems self-actualizing as a teenager, I didn’t pay the series the kind of attention I should have. I can easily explain why that was the case. What I have a much harder time explaining, however, was why I haven’t revisited it since exiting that horrible, awkward, self-hating teen phase.

Because seriously? This series is awesome.

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The Great:

It’s immensely difficult to even put to words everything that’s great about Band of Brothers, because there’s just so much. It’s visually stunning, the storytelling is often genius, and the chaos of war is portrayed in a way that really brings the anxiety and the fear home for the viewer. It does an amazing job expressing the randomness of the brutality, and the pointlessness that many felt so acutely as the war dragged further and further along. It even does a great job at displaying how many of the Germans were essentially in the same boat as a lot of these guys – young, battered, and caught up in the mechanisms of a war that has nothing to do with them personally. Damian Lewis is just beyond brilliant as Major Winters, and the men chosen to play the rest of Easy company are completely on point at pretty much all times. Honestly, I have very few complaints about the series. Even the “anticlimactic ending” that many apparently complained about at the time totally worked for me – because what I’ve learned in my studies over the years is that the end of war is often exactly that for the soldiers – anticlimactic.

So in assessing this series, the easier thing to do is to just tell you what about it I didn’t like, because telling you what I did would take weeks, and hundreds of thousands of words.

real life easy companyThe Real Life Easy Company Relaxing at the Eagle’s Nest

 

The Not-So-Great:

1) Not a huge representation of women in this series – you’ve got a nurse here and there, some civilians roaming around in certain scenes, one scene where some women who slept with Nazis are shaved and publicly shamed by the Dutch resistance, and offhanded comments here and there about the guys’ ladies back home. Now normally this would be a huge problem for me, but in this I can hardly get whipped up about it. I’d rather there be little representation than they warp the storyline and force it for the sake of diversity. Because to be honest, the front lines weren’t a place you’d generally find a whole lot of women. And at its core, this is a story about the front lines of combat.

2) Some of the CGI hasn’t held up so well over the last 13 years. Particularly some of the flight scenes in Day of Days look a little, well, CGI-y. But again, limits of technology have changed like crazy since 2001, so you can’t really fault it for this too much.

3) Carentan was not a terribly strong episode – the focus on Pvt. Blythe felt very out of place, and how it was executed just didn’t really work for me. Additionally, there are some inaccuracies in his story – he doesn’t die of his wounds after the war, but rather stayed in the military (serving in Korea, actually) until his death of renal failure (I think?) in the late 1960s. But again, you can’t really fault the series too much for this (beyond the fact that they haven’t fixed it in subsequent releases), since this one’s an error taken directly from the source material – which brings me to my next and last “Not-So-Great” point.

4) Bottom line is that this is a series that’s best viewed as a memoir of sorts rather than a factual account of the war. Why? Well, because the book it’s based on is, by all accounts, not well researched. Apparently Ambrose used his interviews with the Easy Company veterans as essentially his only source. That may provide for an amazing narrative, but without the use of further trusted resources, an unbiased work of history it does not make. So that’s a bit of an issue with the source material.

Now normally this would be a HUGE HUGE problem for me, not just a “not-so-great.” But for as problematic as that is for the book from an academic point of view, ultimately it’s not a huge issue for the mini-series. Because ultimately the mini-series does not claim to be the absolute truth. That’s not the function it serves. It is not a documentary. It is, at its core, a work of entertainment meant to convey the essence of the war experience. To communicate the brutality and the inhumanity of the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) by taking the viewer along for the ride with characters that they’ve bonded with and feel an affinity for. And in that, it does a beautiful job.

Did you watch Band of Brothers when it first aired? Have you watched it since? How do you think it held up over the years? Please share in the comments!

[Clicking on photos will take you to their original sources]
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One thought on “HBO’s Band of Brothers: 13 Years and a History Degree Later…

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose – Magpie Making Do

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