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Case Number 09039

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Over There: The Complete Series

Fox // 2005 // 585 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // April 12th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Ryan Keefer has your review of Over There right here! On the Internet, of course.

The Charge

"We didn't come for your oil! We came to kick your ass!"

Opening Statement

Steven Bochco took a little bit of heat in 2005 for introducing a Gulf War show about a Gulf War that has yet to be resolved when he rolled Over There onto the basic cable buying public. Bochco's television bloodline is well-preserved among historians, with groundbreakers like Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue among his list of successes. But then again you have shows like Cop Rock and Philly, lesser known and loved shows that didn't have much shelf life. So where does Over There fit into that line?

Facts of the Case

Well, Over There is housed in two slim line cases, with two discs in each case housing the series run. Just like they say in the pirate world, spoilers may be ashore! Regardless, the episodes as follows:

• "Pilot"
This one isn't much more than an introduction to the characters that become the foundation for the show. You've got Bo (Josh Henderson, The Girl Next Door), the young gung ho Private, along with the intellectual Dim (Luke MacFarlane, Kinsey), the quiet Angel (Keith Robinson, Fat Albert), weed enthusiast Smoke (Sticky Fingaz, Gas), under the guidance of their Sergeant, named Scream (Erik Palladino, U-571). Along with Mrs. B (Nicky Aycox, Tom 51) and Doublewide (Lizette Carrion, Shackles), the soldiers run into a mosque where some insurgents are holed up. There's a surprise at the end which doesn't seem to make much sense, but at least it helped me stick around for the next episode.
Grade:B

• "Roadblock Duty"
Bo meets up with his father while in Landstuhl, while his squad gets volunteered for roadblock duty in a town where a key insurgent may be trying to leave. Some more of the relationships between the soldiers get defined, even while Bo's replacement, an Arab American named Tariq (Omid Abtahi) comes into the fold. There's also some more time focused on the families at home, like Dim's very dysfunctional wife and his cute as a button son. Even with missing a leg, Bo wants to come back to the fight which is admirable, but not realistic. The roadblock patrol does have some harrowing moments, including a moment that segues into the next episode, but it's not too bad.
Grade: B

• "The Prisoner"
The soldiers' prisoner is taken to a small town where an anonymous, high ranking officer (Michael Cudlitz, Band of Brothers) awaits to interrogate him about the disappearance of some stinger missiles. Meanwhile, Bo tries to kick morphine cold turkey (with a stump of a leg, that should be interesting) and Doublewide's husband Sergio (Lombardo Boyar, The Bernie Mac Show) shows up at a spousal support meaning, the only husband in the room. To see him talk about things that a military wife would normally talk about is quite striking, to be honest. Overall, a very good episode that covers quite a bit of ground.
Grade: B+

• "I Want My Toilets"
Well, the unit gets volunteered by a General to protect some toilets. If you really want to know how pointless the mission is, you should probably see it to experience how dumb it is. The sad part is that it probably happens more than we're aware of. There's more that occurs on the home front in this episode than on the battlefield, as Dim's stepson Eddie runs away from home but is found, and his wife Vanessa is revealed to be pregnant but has a miscarriage (and doesn't tell Dim about it). And Sergio starts to develop a rapport with one of the other wives named Anna (Ana Ortiz, King of the Korner), which should prove to be interesting.
Grade: B-

• "Embedded"
A television reporter manages to get some time with the unit (and yes, that is Mark-Paul Gosselaar from Saved by the Bell as the reporter) and he's there when Doublewide gets wounded by an explosion and another soldier is killed by a booby trap. In the midst of a firefight, Smoke accidentally kills a mother and her teenage son, and things get worse when he finds out his mother had a stroke after seeing the news coverage. Meanwhile, Bo gets a prosthetic leg and begins the hard road back in rehab. There are some scenes that are reminiscent of the Jill Carroll and Nicolas Berg sagas here that look a little contrived, but otherwise this episode is OK.
Grade: B

• "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding"
The unit goes back to the town where Smoke was involved in the shooting to attempt to rescue the news reporter, where they discover that Smoke has a bounty on his head. Bo goes back home and tries to adjust, where Vanessa's downward spiral continues after being part of a hit and run car accident off-post. There's a scene where the squad talks about better food to eat instead of MREs that anyone, anyone who's ever eaten one can identify with. That scene, in and of itself, is worth its weight in gold, even as the squad's platoon leader is killed.
Grade: B+

• "Mission Accomplished"
The unit gets dispatched to guard a makeshift prison where they have to quell uprisings of various sizes. In the meantime, Mrs. B goes home because her son is a recently diagnosed autistic, and we get to see what kind of dysfunctional surroundings she was in before the service, along with her growing more and more AWOL. Bo also makes his two-minute appearance about fighting being handicapped, which is growing tiresome. It's clear that the prison scenes were a lot better than the scenes at home.
Grade: B-

• "Situation Normal"
This unit is assigned to protect some contractors who are building a pipeline through a town headed by a tribal leader. At home, Eddy gets into a fight and is suspended from school, Mrs. B. still travels through California and Vanessa may finally have hit rock bottom. Beware, there are moments of Steven Bochco sensationalism in this episode, tread lightly! Ugh, why do I feel like this show may go downhill?
Grade: C

• "Spoils of War"
The squad has to clear a town out, including the house of a wealthy Iraqi citizen, while Bo and his wife start to have problems with Bo's determination to get back to two-legged health and her wanting to get Bo discharged. In the midst of guarding the house, the squad finds five million dollars in cash and gold and decides what to do with it. Sounds good, if Three Kings didn't do it a few years back.
Grade: C+

• "Suicide Rain"
Angel is wounded when an old woman detonates a suicide bomb, and one of the medics at the scene is rather outspoken, and doesn't hesitate to yell at officers (when he isn't one). A young boy is wounded in the blast, and his father takes one of the others hostage, so the medic (and Angel) go into the house where the father is holed up to treat the son. Vanessa starts her road to recovery, climbing every one of the 12 steps, while Anna makes an advance to Sergio which he reluctantly accepts. Of the episodes so far, I'd say that this one is the best of the bunch.
Grade: A-

• "Orphans"
Scream's enlistment is about to end and he's offered a good chunk of money to re-enlist, but he refuses. The squad runs into an orphanage run by an abrasive French woman (a little redundant, I know, but still) as they attempt to do some work for the Iraqi government. Meanwhile at home, Sergio and Anna's friendship advances into something more, while Bo's wife attempts to reclaim some missing salary. Scream is the focus of the episode, and there are some fairly powerful images he has to take home before he's discharged (or is he?).
Grade: B

• "Weapons of Mass Destruction"
The squad is put in charge of training a squad of Iraqi soldiers, and Tariq bumps heads with one of the soldiers in that group, while Scream and the new platoon leader continue to clash. Back home, Sergio gets lured over to the dark side and almost does the deed with Anna, while Vanessa questions her sobriety. Bo finally gets to Texas and talks to his father, who's been cashing his Army paychecks. Tariq reveals some interesting thoughts about his family during the show, which makes for some pretty compelling viewing, even if the first half of this episode was slow.
Grade: B

• "Follow the Money"
Scream goes above the lieutenant's head to get him reassigned, and the lieutenant compensates by giving them a gung-ho assignment. During the squad's assignment, they are ambushed by some insurgents. Sergio tries to stay close to Anna, but after getting the bad news about her husband, she wants no part of him. Bo gets a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his work in Iraq in a very emotional scene. Not the type of cliffhanger that some may want or expect, but it did the trick.
Grade: B+

The Evidence

The reason why Over There may have fallen victim to possible cancellation is that while there is the understandable need to give time to the stateside characters, some of those characters are either repetitive (like Bo) or involved in a convoluted way to find one's self (like Mrs. B.). The only characters that are worth any real interest (Angel and Scream) don't have nearly enough face time associated. But what they get is really good, for different reasons. "Orphans" is a nice look inside the stoic façade of a squad leader who does possess a small comic book element to previous cinematic non-commissioned officers, right down to the cigar smoking. Angel's role in "Suicide Rain" was well-complemented by other good performances, but his is another interesting story to tell. If Over There does manage to come back for a second season, hopefully they can trim some subpar B and C storylines and cast away some poor characters in place of stronger ones.

For all the talk of this being a political series, there wasn't too much to be worried or concerned about for Red State voters. Granted, it's clear that Dim is the liberal of the bunch, particularly in "The Prisoner," but aside from a couple of sophomoric references to Abu Ghraib, I didn't really see anything to freak out over, and admittedly I was kind of looking for them. Those other troops that could be perceived as "anti-war" really want to be home on post more than anything else, which is more than reasonable.

There are a couple of featurettes here that are pretty brief, and the commentaries are OK. The first, with co-creator Chris Gerolmo (Citizen X) and his wife, is pretty bland, and sounds very poorly recorded, as they discuss the usual thoughts on the cast and production. The commentary on disc two with military advisor SSG Sean Bunch and Iraqi Advisor Sam Sako is markedly better, as they discuss how they made the actors' performances better, but they also share their experiences on being (pardon the pun) over there, and their insight is valuable. The cast commentary is cordial, but lacking any real conversation. The most valuable of the supplements is a one hour look at the filming of the final episode. It starts off by Bochco stating that the show was actually pitched to him by the network (F/X in this case), and not the other way around. And everyone goes out of their way to say that the show isn't political, honest to God. There are interviews by just about everyone that's a major cast or crew member and they talk about the attempts to "keep it real." And the inclusion of the actor's boot camp is nice as well. All in all, exhaustive things like this should be required on every disc or television set of substance.

There's various different angles and general camera trickery involved for the show, and some of it was done a little bit better in Three Kings and Saving Private Ryan, but for TV it's almost as impressive. Equally impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound that may not be as good as other larger-scale war films, but very respectable. Some of the battle scenes do get a chance to show it off with some gusto.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Some of the supporting characters, specifically Smoke, are a little tired. And the sensationalism that Bochco employs on the show occasionally borders on sophomoric. When you consider the first shot of the show is of Bo and his wife having some furious sex before he's deployed to Iraq, you know some of that nonsense is going to come, but it's still disappointing. I'd like to watch a Bochco show that was good and didn't employ some of these dumb tricks.

Closing Statement

Those of you that will expect some dramatic license will see it, but not in gratuitous strokes that you sense coming. There are some good stories that are told, and the show sticks very close to the real-life experiences that some soldiers have had. So, on the level where it helps provide some insight into what's going on "over there," it's worth checking out.

The Verdict

The creators are found not guilty and are free to go, as their devotion to the soldiers fighting in Iraq is solid. However, Bochco's occasional creative touches are tired and slightly pathetic, and he is found guilty for corrupting an idea that originally had good intentions.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 84
Extras: 85
Acting: 83
Story: 79
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 585 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Television
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Selected Episode Commentary
• Weapons Debriefing Featurette
• "Tour of Duty: Filming Over There" Documentary

Accomplices

• IMDb








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