‘Generation Kill’: The Best HBO Mini-Series Many Didn’t See

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Generation Kill was a mini-series released in 2008 on HBO. It is based on the 2004 book of the same name by Evan Wright, who spent time as an embedded reporter with the US Marine Corps during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The book was adapted for TV by The Wire team David Simon and Ed Burns, who worked in conjunction with Wright. The series had a total of seven episodes, all spanning around an hour in length. It received plenty of critical praise and won three Primetime Emmy Awards, however a lot of people seemed to have missed this gem.

Yes, this piece is about a show released nearly a decade ago, which spanned a meagre seven episodes and was about a topic that has been done to death in Hollywood. So, why should you care? The answer: it is done right, and right is right.

Image via HBO

In an era that is all about superheroes, fantasy and make believe, this show remains a refreshing counterweight to all of that. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the aforementioned genres and topics ““ I mostly do ““ but sometimes it’s nice to wallow in some hard-hitting reality, and Generation Kill doles out plenty of that.

The show follows an ensemble cast in their portrayal of the 1st Reconnaissance battalion of the US Marine Corps. It is the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, 2003. Wright (played by Lee Tergesen), a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, is stationed with Bravo Company to catalogue life on tour within the Corps, and this juxtaposition of citizen and soldier is one that offers many of the most poignant, intriguing and confronting moments throughout the series.

A lot of the characters are based on real people, as too are the missions and outcomes that arise. Such an undertaking requires a keen eye and expert guidance to ensure such realities are captured faithfully and captivatingly, and here’s where the show really kicks into gear. The casting is superb, with the subtleties and nuances to each of the many characters captured organically and deftly, a common element when analysing the works of the creators behind this show.

Image via HBO

Being a Simon/Burns joint, the realism captured is “on-point”, from the lingo and jargon used by the troops, through to the oft grating “chain-of-command” politics that defines, and at times disables, the Corps, right down to the eclectic, of-the-time pop music sung by the men as they unwind after a campaign (from Avril Lavigne to Willie Nelson to N.W.A., and that’s just the first episode).

As a viewer, you are sucked in right away by the realism, feeling as though you are sitting in on a large, dangerous and occasionally confusing campaign as a nervous, invisible spectator. Far from alienating the viewer, the military jargon within the dialogue only serves to aid the overall feeling of immersion and reality. Whilst some of the meanings behind specific terms and words are likely to escape the viewer, it never errs upon confusing.

Another major arc, as touched upon above, is the politics that churn away in as far as defining the missions, the conduct and discipline of the men, and the overall directives of the Corps and their campaign in Iraq. The show never moves into preachy or damning territory, that is not the modus operandi of its creators, but it observes and reports in warts-and-all style. Resultantly, and just like many a machine, we are informed and shown that the Corps has its weak spots, redundant parts and winning components.

Image via HBO

There are also superb, bordering humorous, plot developments resulting as much from the things that are left unsaid by some of the soldiers in certain scenarios. The viewer is kept on the inside of differing opinions via brief and furtive glances exchanged between the men, often the result of receiving orders that appear at odds with what is logical or reasonable. For the viewer, this may be the most effective, moving and telling part of the series; such is the frustration and head-shaking confusion that comes from some of the “strategies” being implemented by the top-end.

You don’t have to be a military aficionado, a war buff or a gun nut to enjoy this show; you simply have to devote some time and energy toward it. It is a great many things, but “casual viewing” it is not. It is a deeply rewarding, richly layered, intelligent and, at times, terrifying document of a dangerous, confusing and alien world that many of us will never experience firsthand: military combat.

In a time where we see and hear the term “war” used every day by national and international media, mainly to define the differences in ideologies of national political parties (and to sell a few more papers or get a few more clicks on a website), this show stands as an ageless, taut and realistic account of what life can be like in an actual war.