The good news for those who are sick of the hype over HBO”s latest acclaimed miniseries, “Band of Brothers:” It will all be over in just two months. The good news for fans of the show, which debuted with two episodes last Sunday: There will be another new episode every Sunday night for the next two months!
By now, probably everybody with cable or “People” magazine knows that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the driving forces behind “Saving Private Ryan,” are executive producers. But few know about the actual hardships of the Army upon arriving in Europe.
Based on the book of the same name by World War II author du jour Stephen Ambrose, the ten episode series follows the exploits of Easy Company, in the 101st Airborne Division. The company is but one that cleared the way for the immortal invasion of France.
The first two episodes, “Currahee” and “Day of Days,” followed the training and deployment of Easy Company over Normandy.
David Schwimmer showed he could act outside of “Friends” (although probably too late to resuscitate a film career) when he took on the role of brutal Lieutenant Sobel, a man intent on making Easy Company the finest band of men in the Army.
As he nags and drills and makes them run, they band together, but use Sobel as their common enemy. Lieutenant Winters (Damian Lewis) emerges as a bona fide leader, and when the men mutiny against Sobel, Winters steps up to the challenge. That”s all for Mr. Schwimmer. Perhaps Jimmy Fallon will have better luck in episode five.
On what is supposed to be “the day of days” for Easy Company, late June 4, 1944, the men, already in camouflage, learn that the drop is cancelled due to weather. The next day, they begin their airborne arrival in advance of the full-scale attack only a few hours away.
The smoothly efficient Lieutenant Winters, now in charge, executes a textbook attack on German artillery (so well, in fact, that the attack is still analyzed at West Point to teach proper execution), but loses his first man. This will no doubt haunt him for the rest of the series, but he will surely go on to glory (he did, according to the epilogue to episode two, received the Distinguished Service Cross). The talented Lewis is well cast as the soft-spoken Winters.
With stunning imagery surpassed only by the first 20 minutes of “Private Ryan,” viewers watch with horror as a number of planes are lost to German fire and a large proportion of Easy Company fails to make it onto the beachheads. Watching the remains of the company storm the fortified German position (and not have to worry about finding Matt Damon in the process) is awe-inspiring.
Coupled with recent works such as Tom Brokaw”s “The Greatest Generation” and awful movies (“Pearl Harbor” anyone?) this series may seem like World War II overkill. But assuming this denies the opportunity for Hanks and company to prove themselves capable of honoring the heroes of World War II, and it further prevents the men of the 101st from telling their stories on the air.
It is understandable if some people didn”t think this series, with few stars (unless you include Donnie Wahlberg or Ron Livingston from “Office Space”) could not make it off the ground. But Lewis, as well as the other grunts, quietly fulfill their acting duties. With the firepower of Hanks (who will direct an upcoming episode) and Spielberg, the next eight episodes (tracking the men through France and into Germany) should continue to be things of beauty.