Join 3,371 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


History Channel World War II programs reviewed as if they were scripted television
July 13, 2010 12:50 AM   Subscribe

(seriously, between calling the strongman "Man of Steel" and the Frenchman "de Gaulle", whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot). single-link LiveJournal via Making Light
posted by cgc373 (70 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Woah! Spoilers!!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:56 AM on July 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


Saw this early, it's really brilliant.

And Doctor Who is not unbelievable dammit, it just use a logic which goes beyond our puny human understanding!
posted by litleozy at 1:20 AM on July 13, 2010


I was just contemplating the other day how Doctor Who is literally deus ex machina.

That being said, I love the show.
posted by sbutler at 1:28 AM on July 13, 2010


A war in Vietnam that kills "tens of thousands" of people?
posted by stammer at 1:31 AM on July 13, 2010


Seriously. I'm a recent Doctor Who convert (seen all of the most recent, Moffat-led season and loved it, catching up on the recent stuff and sadly finding it hard to care much about the fourth season - I appreciate the concept behind Donna and Catherine Tate's work with the character, but as good as an actress as she may be, Davies just hasn't written much for her to work with, in my opinion) and yeah, there's a lot of paradox and deus ex machina. Especially in the Season Three finale, memorably dubbed by fans as "Tinkerbell Jesus." (I still love "Last of the Time Lords," however, because it plays into a trope I see too rarely which I always adore, wherein the charismatic super-villain has actually taken over, and what was earlier charmingly evil and fun becomes terrifying in totalitarian practice.)

Anyway, I won't spoil anything, but "The Big Bang" won't silence any detractors on believability grounds, but it still the best episode of television that I've seen in a long time.

Also, any discussion of the believability of WWII requires a link to this.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:36 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, I actually found Babylon 5 incredibly tiresome when it started replaying World War 2 historical episodes... It was all a little smugly self-congratulatory.
posted by lucien_reeve at 2:17 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Very funny, even with all the wrongness about Churchill.
posted by pompomtom at 2:27 AM on July 13, 2010


I think this is pretty clever. However, I wonder if the tropes of our modern fiction aren't pretty heavily influenced by our non-fiction history. Making this a little bit less surprising.
posted by ill3 at 2:40 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Arg! This guy TOTALLY MISSED THE POINT OF THAT ENTIRE SEASON!

Yes, of *course* the WWII episodes were a black-and-white battle of pure good versus absolute evil. Yes of *course* the superweapon was a Deus ex Machina. Taken out of context, it looks like the most hackneyed nuance-free plot it's possible to come up with. But that's the key -- taken out of context. Did he SLEEP through what happened next?

Immediately after the end of the war -- and I mean immediately -- everything is turned on its head. America becomes so convinced of its own rightness because of the war that it stops believing it can do any wrong. Almost instantly, it squares off again against its diabolical an untrustworthy former temporary ally Russia, who now also has the superweapon. So, it's going to be a repeat, another good vs. evil slugfest, right?

Wrong. America starts an internal purge of dissenters within its own ranks eerily reminiscent of the practices of its own enemies. Britain has won the war but its status as a world power is broken beyond repair. Germany and Japan undergo a stunning rehabilitation. Why? Let's take a look.

Let's just focus on America to keep it simple. First, there's the whole McCarthy purge I already mentioned. And all those huge buddy-movie scenes in the WWII episodes, where we saw the advancement of respect for working women? And minorities who fought and died on the front lines? They get told, thanks but now go back to your place. The resentment starts to boil. Two seasons later, it comes to its inevitable, legendary conclusion. Dissent, repression, social change, social backlash.

And, excuse me, he thinks the superweapon never comes up again? The next two seasons are ALL ABOUT the superweapon -- because it turns out, it's a superweapon so powerful it could kill *everybody*. Now, how do you handle that one? It becomes a tense, fraught, and intricate plot where there's a weapon everyone wants but nobody dares use. Did he skip the classic episode, "The Cuban Missile Crisis"? In that tightly written sequence, it becomes clear that a superweapon that can kill millions of people may not always be used for good -- if it even ever really can be. Possible it should never be used at all.

And the Vietnam War (which he didn't understand in the slightest) bookends the entire story arc like a photonegative of the WWII episodes. Once again America goes to war, convinced it is in the right and fighting a terrible enemy -- but is it? Why is it there? What does it ultimately achieve, other than death and destruction? Just who the enemy is becomes ambiguous. The goals and purposes become elusive. And from the home front, the message rings loud and clear -- we have met the enemy, and it is us.

And that -- THAT is the point. The same reason that Germany, who seemed a fairly good guy in some of the early seasons, begins an abrupt slide into hell just before the WWII episodes. And then becomes a relatively good guy again later on. And I could also, if I wanted to, talk about the incredible changes in the story arcs for Japan, for Russia, for England, for France. Not to mention the newer character Israel!

The point is that good and evil are not fixed constants, with a clear hero always staying the same. Good is not something that you are -- it is something that you earn. You cannot sit back and bask in past glories. If you were on the right side once, it does not mean that you will always be in the right for all time. You must always stay vigilant, always assess yourself, and especially always be on the watch for self-righteousness. Or you will become the very enemy you fought so hard to defeat.

And THAT is the meaning of the History Channel.
posted by kyrademon at 3:04 AM on July 13, 2010 [122 favorites]


One of the things about plots, and everything is that someone needs to be acting at least a little irrationally. If everyone always acted rationally and in ways that made sense, there would hardly ever be any conflict.
posted by delmoi at 3:08 AM on July 13, 2010


Real people just aren't that evil.

He hasn't noticed Dick Cheney.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:25 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know, I can kinda see the point of what kyrademon's saying (yes, the later seasons were a little more subtle than the lj guy makes them out to be), but honestly, a lot of that sounds like the same tired apologia from the viewers who want it to make sense just because they liked the JFK character.

Which is not exactly top-notch writing, itself. I mean, seriously: Camelot? Camelot?
posted by Greg Nog at 4:37 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


A war in Vietnam that kills "tens of thousands" of people?

American:People::Vietnamese:????
posted by milarepa at 4:40 AM on July 13, 2010


Not to mention that terrible ham who plays this Hitler dude.
Talk about overacting...
posted by Omnomnom at 4:43 AM on July 13, 2010


In V ietnam, the North Vietnamese were all generated with that Weta Workshop program for massed battle scenes.
posted by wilful at 4:44 AM on July 13, 2010


My God, it's as if... as if truth were stranger than fiction, one might say.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:48 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I LOLed when they hung the italian guy and his girlfriend up by their heels and her dress rolled down and revealed she was wearing this old fashioned underwear.
posted by digsrus at 4:59 AM on July 13, 2010


Wow, so our televised entertainment is based on history. Who knew???
posted by Eideteker at 5:22 AM on July 13, 2010


What I hate is the repetition. Every single bloody time there's going to be a war, everybody says it's going to be over in three months, and everybody believes it! Every time! Lazy writing.
posted by Trochanter at 5:44 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


the worst part about the series is how they resort to Godwinning in EVERY EPISODE.

but I just don't hold with folks who call the Holocaust storyline unrealistic...haven't they ever been to High School? It's all about cliques you know, and some people never really outgrow that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:46 AM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I just can't watch the History Channel war docs. Their super serial tone doesn't match with the obvious relish with which the Foley effects are larded in. What is a production meeting like at this place? "No, no, the Browning rifles are much less 'pew pew pew' and more 'POW POW POW'...there's a difference, Lars. And my coffee is cold."
posted by bovious at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2010


So I know you guys are having fun with this, but seriously, an epic 1 year per season WWII movie done in the style of Lost or Heroes or Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 would be pretty amazing.

You could incorporate all the stuff that's been declassified recently, do riffs on Anne Frank, Slaughterhouse Five and Catch 22, have a storyline on Bletchly park with the creation of computers, and so on. It would be amazing.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I thought that one episode about the Italians was weird. It totally didn't fit with anything else. Fucking guest directors, coming in with their auteur bullshit. Just skip to the action.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:03 AM on July 13, 2010


You know, at least they were trying back in those seasons. Okay, sometimes things didn't always make sense, but there was something in the way of a plot.

These days? They've got a budget the size of the freaking moon and every episode is just WOO LOOK AT US IN EXOTIC FOREIGN DESTINATION OF THE WEEK and I can't help but think that the prior seasons just had so much more depth, back when they couldn't just show off how much money they have to burn. The original production staff self-financed the early seasons. Actually lived on rice and beans to make it happen. And now they're just NEXT WEEK: WATCH US BLOW MORE SHIT UP!

At least I hear that before long they might be getting rid of some of the uncomfortable implications and embracing the slash, but I'm not holding out hope for that improving things much.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:16 AM on July 13, 2010


Hitler Channel does WWII documentaries and truth is stranger than fiction, film at 11.

I had no idea he was talking about WWII episodes of B5, because B5 lost my interest long before they got to the war. I struggled through part of the first season and ended up walking away because I realized I didn't have to watch it; if I really needed to know for conversational purposes, someone would tell me. That's apparently been this thread. Thanks, guys!
posted by immlass at 6:26 AM on July 13, 2010


totally jumped the shark when they hired reagan to play the president.

i don't mind when a show goes meta but it just devolved into self-parody.
posted by Hammond Rye at 6:29 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was under the distinct impression that the History Channel was all about exploring the archaeology, mythology, and mysticism of the Bible.

Hrm.
posted by grubi at 6:55 AM on July 13, 2010


I was under the distinct impression that the History Channel was all about exploring the archaeology, mythology, and mysticism of the Bible.

You forgot about ice road trucking, swamp logging, shooting stuff, Nostradamus and monsters. You know -- classic history.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:06 AM on July 13, 2010


You know -- classic history.

I'm going to drive a truck in the Yukon, work as a logger for a summer, shoot at watermelons during my offtime, and stalk the Bigfoot. ANd then try to get my credits transferred to a university and get that history degree I desire.

With enough Nostradamus, I could be a PhD!
posted by grubi at 7:24 AM on July 13, 2010


Nostradamus and monsters.

Very few monsters were around in Nostradamus's time, which is lucky for him, frankly. The reason for this is that monsters prefer to live in thousand-year-old castles with battlements, and there were very few of these 500 years ago.
posted by Mister_A at 7:26 AM on July 13, 2010


"So I know you guys are having fun with this, but seriously, an epic 1 year per season WWII movie done in the style of Lost or Heroes or Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 would be pretty amazing."

The BBC and HBO are actually in discussion about this. But it's still stuck in planning because the BBC want seven seasons, but HBO will only commit to five.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 7:50 AM on July 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


the BBC want seven seasons, but HBO will only commit to five.

Heh. And the BBC wants only six episodes a season.

WHICH IS INSANE.
posted by grubi at 8:01 AM on July 13, 2010


It's true WWII was pretty lame and unbelievable but that's ignoring the great subplots. How about the little bit during the testing of the superweapon, when that aging archaeologist guy, forget his name right now, gets caught in the middle of it and has to hide in the refrigerator. And then he's blown up but still lives. That was awesome.
posted by storybored at 8:02 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's true WWII was pretty lame and unbelievable but that's ignoring the great subplots. How about the little bit during the testing of the superweapon, when that aging archaeologist guy, forget his name right now, gets caught in the middle of it and has to hide in the refrigerator. And then he's blown up but still lives. That was awesome.
posted by storybored at 11:02 AM


Dude that was a documentary, not part of the continuity. Get yr stories straight!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:04 AM on July 13, 2010


Like seriously, start it the day after the stock market crash of 1929, watch the rise of Hitler, FDR, Churchill, Stalin and Mussolini, and so on. Maybe the first few years just focuses on the trials and tribulations of the depression, maybe explore racism in the US and anti-semitism in Germany, British Imperialism in Africa and Asia, and so on. Spend 10 full seasons just on setting UP the war.

And yeah, making it a joint HBO/BBC production would be the best.
posted by empath at 8:05 AM on July 13, 2010


Also, get David Simon to write it.
posted by empath at 8:07 AM on July 13, 2010


Not to mention the newer character Israel!

"One, Isreal needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Isreal's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Israel"?

[NOT POOCHIEST!]
posted by vibrotronica at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


empath: yeah that's just what HBO needs, more histrionics.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:13 AM on July 13, 2010


Bah! Fuck WW2. it's got enough flimic representations to last a lifetime and a day. I want big-ass deceptions of truly anicent and/or underexploited worlds. Intricate Mayan power-plays! The cult of Ahkentaten! What a Water Empire really means! Motherfucking MONGOLS. Hell just go all The Baroque Cycle and devote 24 episodes to a time-peroid and call it THE 17TH CENTURY: THE MOVIE. Call the prop department for something other than rifles and realistically weathered medical bags.
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 AM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Look, if it's on HBO, there's gonna be cursing and titties.

I'm all for this idea.
posted by grubi at 8:29 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just interest my last comment as someone sitting on the floor of a bar throwing a bottle at the wall screaming "I WANNA ANOTHER SEASON OF ROME GODS DAMN IT!"
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on July 13, 2010


Although, to continue your idea, The Whelk, I think I'd like to see an epic miniseries about WWI. I really don't understand as much about that war as I do about WWII.

But, from what I *do* understand, the backstory required to understand the context of WWI would go back to the French Revolution or thereabouts.
posted by grubi at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2010


Metafilter: Motherfucking MONGOLS
posted by grubi at 8:49 AM on July 13, 2010


go back to the French Revolution or thereabouts.

You could probably get away with starting in 1870. Germany winning the Franco Prussian war scared the shit out of everybody.
posted by Trochanter at 8:52 AM on July 13, 2010


You could probably get away with starting in 1870. Germany winning the Franco Prussian war scared the shit out of everybody.

See? That's what I want. Where do I start? "Germany winning the Franco-Prussian War." I need stuff like that.

ON TV!!!

But seriously, that does help. And it would then lead to the bizarre circumstances and treaties and alliances that confusingly crossed Europe like a discarded "Lost" plotline.
posted by grubi at 8:56 AM on July 13, 2010


They've got a budget the size of the freaking moon and every episode is just WOO LOOK AT US IN EXOTIC FOREIGN DESTINATION OF THE WEEK and I can't help but think that the prior seasons just had so much more depth, back when they couldn't just show off how much money they have to burn.

Yeah, somebody has success with a cop drama and we get a million of 'em. Then someone has a mid-east war...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:16 AM on July 13, 2010


Or, another take on my feelings ...

I'd watch a series about any of these civilizations way before I'd watch another WWII thing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2010


All I know about WWI can be summed up in 3 words: Archduke Franz Ferdinand, 2 of which are now associated with some band the kids listen to on their phono-pods. So all I've got left is Archduke, which doesn't give me much to go on.
posted by Biblio at 9:42 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


WWI was horrifying and amazing and all sorts of other -ings. It was a war that combined cavalry charges with machine gun nests (GUESS HOW THAT WENT?), artillery with medieval hand-to-hand combat, brutality with cameraderie, and also featured some HOT AIRSHIP ACTION. The politics are fascinating too, but even if you just focus on the fighting, it's an incredible mix of the old and the new, of manpower vs. mechanization. It was also stupid and brutal and horrifying, don't get me wrong.
posted by Mister_A at 9:55 AM on July 13, 2010


It's a great story. Bismark, conciliatory and reassuring, Kaiser Bill, bellicose and pompous, compensating for a withered arm. Generals making battle plans based on muskets and sabres, when their men would be facing machine guns. Towns in Britain learning that ALL their young men were dead.

Trouble is, nobody'd believe it.
posted by Trochanter at 9:57 AM on July 13, 2010


Sorry Mister_A. But, yeah surely one of the most fascinating parts of history. Really, it led to (or at least set the tone for) the whole mad 20th century.
posted by Trochanter at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2010


No need to apologize, I think we tag-teamed it quite nicely.
posted by Mister_A at 10:02 AM on July 13, 2010


Mister_A, you had me at "airship".
posted by grubi at 10:14 AM on July 13, 2010


Now that I think about it, based on the stuff Mister_a and Trochanter are telling me, a WWI miniseries would KICK ALL THE ASS that one might have available. Since it's halfway between between the Victorian era and the Depression, it sounds like a series like this would appeal to steampunk and pulppunk fans alike.

I think WWI may end up being favorite war, like, of ever.
posted by grubi at 10:21 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It has the benefit of being ABSOLUTELY POINTLESS too, lets go and murder millions of people for seemingly no discernible reason. The excesses of the 20s make more sense as a hedonistic chaser to that blood-soaked nihilism.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on July 13, 2010


The Whelk, of course. I'm not discounting the horrors of the war. I'm just saying that it seems like it would be a fascinating story played out on a screen and on top of that, show the final leap from one era to another, stylistically and politically. Hell, the actions of WWI (and surrounding events) led directly to WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and even the wars involving Israel, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and everything war in between, as well as the rise of fascism, communism, the concept of Realpolitik, civil rights, etc.

As a student of history, I find turning points (the points in history that have the biggest influence on future events) to be the most fascinating. It seems there was almost no greater turning point in modern history than WWI.
posted by grubi at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


a WWI miniseries would KICK ALL THE ASS that one might have available

It could start by following a newly formed unit, who are cheered to war by their families, and then charge a machine gun nest and all die.

Then it could follow a completely different unit, who are cheered to war by their families for king and honor (or equivalent), and they charge a machine gun nest while being bombarded by artillery, and all die.

Then it could follow a third unit, who are less cheerfully sent off to war, get to the front, get set in their trenches, and are gassed and all die.

And all the while, it could follow a fourth unit. The fourth unit shows up, gets into its trenches, and sits in mud and squalor for four years, getting all manner of horrid diseases. About a third of every episode could be devoted to them being alternately terrified and bored while being filthy. Then they go over the top and almost all die. A few come home physically and psychically smashed to bits and spend the rest of their lives having profound nightmares about it, sometimes beating their wives and children.

Over the end credits, they could show the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and the purges of Stalin.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh I'm with you, it's a thrilling and not-well covered (in the US at least) part of history that put the props in place for the rest of the screaming and bleeding that was the 20th century.
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2010


You know, folks, just because I don't like war, doesn't mean it wouldn't be interesting to learn more about 'em. My "kickass" comment was more about, given all the terrific storytellers (directors, actors, writers) that cable TV is giving significant influence to, a well-produced miniseries about an under-reported war would be fascinating. And I got a little enthusiastic about the possibilities, and made a little joke based on my enthusiasm.
posted by grubi at 11:22 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this something I'd need a TV to understand?
posted by jabberjaw at 2:23 PM on July 13, 2010


"a WWI miniseries would KICK ALL THE ASS that one might have available"

They already made it. It's called Blackadder Goes Forth.

Bonus! It features House. From House.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 2:28 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It features House. From House.

Who does House play on this 'House' of which you speak?
posted by grubi at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2010


"a WWI miniseries would KICK ALL THE ASS that one might have available"

Like this?

I'd've thought Americans would get bored, seeing as it starts at the start.
posted by pompomtom at 2:41 PM on July 13, 2010


Who does House play on this 'House' of which you speak?

He's the Lupus guy.
posted by Trochanter at 2:44 PM on July 13, 2010


He's the Lupus guy.

From "Bad News Bears"?
posted by grubi at 2:46 PM on July 13, 2010


Something like that, I don't really follow it. He may have had that catch phrase: "Whatchoo talkin bout lupus." like I say...
posted by Trochanter at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2010


My favorite ever explanation of World War I came from John Goodman at the end of the fourth season of The West Wing:

"Franz Ferdinand, who was the nephew of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, was killed by a group called the Black Hand. And because they were a Serbian nationalist society, the empire declared war on Serbia. Then Russia, which was bound by a treaty, was forced to mobilize which meant that Germany had to declare war on Russia. Then France declared war on Germany, and that was World War I. Because the emperor's nephew was killed."
posted by Navelgazer at 5:05 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


They already made it. It's called Blackadder Goes Forth .

The line that started my love of Blackadder, before I knew ANYTHING about it and all it's previous seasons was

"So General, this is the land we captured his week." *displays a foot-log table of earth"

"Wonderful! This represented how much?"

"This much sir! This is actually the land we grabbed."
posted by The Whelk at 5:12 PM on July 13, 2010


They did all of this stuff back in the Peloponnesian War.
posted by ovvl at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2010


ANOTHER HBO SHOW I'D RATHER SEE THEN MORE WWII.
posted by The Whelk at 5:24 PM on July 13, 2010


« Older Brought to you by the letter Y:...  |  Helen Petts is a filmmaker who... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments