Review: Generation Kill 1×1

War gets gritty

In the US: Sundays, 9pm, HBO

Is there much point reviewing the first episode of a mini-series? No. With Generation Kill, there’s even less point, since it’s the creation of David Simon and Ed Burns, who also created The Wire – and we all know that reviewing that is like reviewing a chapter of a book.

All the same, I think it’s worth giving a taster, just so you know whether to start watching the remaining six hours of the series.

‘Generation Kill’ follows the highly trained Marines of First Recon Battalion through the first 40 days of the Iraq war. The seven-part miniseries portrays the true story of the young Marines’ experience at the tip of the spear of the American invasion, as they contend with equipment shortages, incompetent commanding officers, ever evolving Rules of Engagement and an unclear strategy.

‘Generation Kill’ is based on the award-winning book by Evan Wright, who was embedded with First Recon and originally reported the story in a series of articles for Rolling Stone.

Is it any good?
It’s certainly interesting. But unlike the trailblazing The Wire, there’s a certain element of "been there, done that" to the show. War is hell apparently; soldiers don’t always act their best and aren’t always politically correct; making decisions on the ground is messy; and commanding officers sometimes give orders that don’t make sense to those who have to implement them.

Any of this news to anyone?

It shouldn’t be, if you’ve be reading newspapers, watching movies and the news or browsing the Internet at all. True, television drama has been a little slow to catch up with the war in Iraq, despite shows like Army Wives, Ultimate Force and The Unit. But TV drama isn’t exactly the be all and end all of public education.

All the same, if you ever wanted the realism of The Wire extended to the army, Generation Kill‘s your boy. It’s very much a warts and all depiction of the invasion of Iraq, focusing on the various marines in first recon, their dilemmas, the racial tensions and their love of pornography. If you’ve seen season two of The Wire, you’ll notice a few familiar faces among the ranks as well.

Episode one is mainly about the preparation for the invasion in Kuwait and gives you a sense of the marines’ concerns, backgrounds and their humour – in particular, with regards to the dress code. There’s little by way of action, but it feels authentic, from the awe-inspiringly bad language and use of unexplained military slang to the utterly believable performances and little flourishes, such as the commanding officer with a bad voice, something he owes to throat cancer rather than combat. At this point though, there are few characters who are likeable, yet that’s bound to change if The Wire‘s anything to go by.

Surprisingly, Generation Kill is also very apolitical. Burns and Simon have so far failed to pass comment on the war or its implementation. Whether the show will remain neutral on the subject or whether it’ll demonstrate by example rather than overt commentary remains to be seen.

It’ll be a while before we can tell whether this is something that’s largely going to be forgettable in time, or the military equivalent of The Wire. At the very least, it won’t be a waste of your time to watch it.

Here’s a 14-minute long "Making of" for your enjoyment.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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