By: B-Side (A Toast) –
Films utilize many art forms – writing, music, drama, composition, choreography – but television adds time. On its massive screen in a darkened room you come before a movie, like a supplicant, and you experience it. But you live with TV. It takes hours and hours of your life. It becomes a companion. That doesn’t make TV better or worse than movies, but it changes the ways that you can command all those different artistic tools. This is important to lay out because, on the surface, Spielberg and Hanks already buttered this particular piece of toast in Saving Private Ryan – honoring the sacrifice of those caught up in WWII with a noble ensemble combat film. What do they get out of going back?
What Band of Brothers, with its additional eight hours of storytelling, allows for is a truly democratic view of Easy Company, a unit within the storied 101st Airborne division, as it navigates the war. We have a sense of the whole of the unit, its integrity and pressure points, a sense of it evolving and changing. Its members are variegated in the way that platoons in combat films have been since The Big Parade. But what the show does is allow us to live in that variety and have those men not merely be generic signifiers – the country bumpkin, the college nerd, the brash kid from Brooklyn, etc. – but to be men. And they become meaningful in a way that feels very much on our level.
Band of Brothers, in addition to a kind of closer, more ensemble-oriented relationship between audience and characters, contains some of the best combat action sequences in television. Visual scale and intensity aren’t on the table as goals here. It’s clear at all times what the objectives are, there’s great spatial clarity – the show’s second episode features an assault that is, paradoxically, both breathless and clinical, as the men have to go after this gun, and then that one, and then that one. Equally great, however, are the brutality and shock. Amid all the noise and the momentum of the camera and metal death whizzing through the frame, the show focuses the action sequences at the exactly where they need to be for TV. We’re focused on these characters, on these guys we know, achieving a single objective inside a much larger game.
The show’s also turned out to have been an important breeding ground for the new wave of British stars in Hollywood. Damien Lewis, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and James McAvoy all had featured roles, while TV darlings like Neal McDonough, Michael Cudlitz, Jamie Bamber, and Colin Hanks participated to varying degrees; it inexplicably includes Jimmy Fallon and Simon Pegg in bit parts, Ron Livingston and David Schwimmer in significant ones. Band of Brothers balances its ensemble to be, as Spielberg and Hanks intended, a tribute to the generation that fought the War. One of the more moving moments in the whole series occurs at the end, when the producers for the first time reveal the names of the E company veteran interviewees, who have provided context to set up the fictional narrative. It’s so affecting because we’ve connected with these people as characters. Then they’re real, and all the emotion, and all the attachment to the series we’ve developed: it becomes real, too.
Band of Brothers is about as good as the WWII combat series gets: rich, mature, sneakily funny, and anchored by engrossing characters from beginning to end. Its legacy isn’t just honoring the generation who fought the war, but expanding the ambition of what combat can look like on TV. Game of Thrones‘ “Blackwater,” and True Detective‘s shootout are its heirs.
Band Of Brothers (2001) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anyone makes a 1940s pop reference.
Take a Sip: whenever anyone lights a cigarette.
Take a Drink: whenever a new character actor shows up.
Do a Shot: whenever there’s a combat jump.
Finish Your Drink: whenever Easy Company arrives in a new country.