It should be clear at this point that FX is the network of brain-dead social commentary: Like 30 Days, in which Morgan Spurlock makes common sense difficult, and Nip/Tuck, a soap operatic skewering of the world of cosmetic surgery, Over There is all grand gestures and very little consequence. Every week, the show follows a group of disparate soldiers who form a team in order to fight their way through the harrowing conflict in Iraq. Using Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down as a model, the show’s creators work overtime to paint Iraq as a sandy hellhole and its characters as a band of eccentric non-heroes, yet they also seem intent on not stepping on any Republican toes. None of the soldiers ever necessarily disapprove of their situation or offer a political contextualization for their agony. Instead, Over There lays on the melodramatic relationship unravelings and personal confessionals thick, sometimes within the same scene as a brutal dogfight—which is how many of the more embarrassing and hyperbolic setups are born. In episode one, while the unit is being shot at and bombed, a frustrated sergeant nevertheless finds time to lecture his men on everything from his job (“I’m not a faggot officer; I fight for a living”), to the red tape that stops them from doing their real job (“We’re going to wait, taking fire for some general 75 miles away, to make a decision about goddamn public relations—about how it would look if we did this, or how it would look if we did that. Does that sound like war to you?”). Yes, but who’s fault is that? (On this subject the show is unequivocally bashful.)
Indeed, most of the politics and class barriers of the show come solely from within the main unit, most of it being pretty laughable. A Texan deadbeat dad squares off with a smart-talking black man from the ’hood and a fellow troop has to break up the fistfight during routine guard duty. Never without a schmaltzy moment or bad line to sum up a whole lifetime of emotions (my personal favorite: “I grew up in a goddamn combat zone”), Over There comes off something like The O.C. set to gunfire, fused with the aggressive aesthetic of an MTV movie. However, it would be much easier to write off the show as harmless if its images of violence weren’t so disturbing. It’s almost blasphemous that many critics find it appropriately sobering, given the reprehensible desire of its images to numb the audience into submission rather than enlighten. Indeed, the show’s aim always seems to be to one-up its shock quotient: In the first 30 minutes, an Iraq soldier’s upper body is blown off and his legs continue to walk a good three seconds. Physical possibility (or lack thereof) aside, it’s a moment that sobers one up to something else entirely: In this or some confrontational reality show, certain networks don’t feel the need to justify depravity for thrills.