Band of Brothers
A company of heroes.
Series summary: The story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, and their mission in World War II Europe, from Operation Overlord, through V-J Day. (IMDb)
I've watched through Band of Brothers multiple times and each time I think I'm prepared for what's to come, it turns out I'm always proven wrong, from the relatively humble beginnings of "Currahee" through the adrenaline rush of "Day of Days", the exhausting double-punch of "Bastogne" and "The Breaking Point", the mind-numbing horror of "Why We Fight" and the often-bittersweet denouement of "Points".
Leading the way, literally and figuratively, is Damian Lewis as Dick Winters, who continues to prove the that the best leaders are good men who have their shit together and can keep those around them from falling apart. The role often feels understated at times, because so much of what Winters does feels like common sense, but then you start wondering if you could keep as clear a head under fire as he does and truly appreciate just how incredible a leader he is.
The rest of the core cast are almost as good, making you forget at times that you're watching a bunch of actors and instead wholly believing that they are instead a group of soldiers and friends thanks to how well-developed their relationships are with each other. It's very easy to believe the friendships are real because of how natural it all feels - helped I'm sure by the boot camp training they all undertook with each other prior to filming.
Each episode tends to be focused around one of the main members of Easy Company, with the only weak link - although by no means anything less than another excellent hour of TV - being "Carentan", which centres on Albert Blithe, played by Marc Warren. The only reason it doesn't work as well as the others is because he only has any relevance in this episode, so there's no real connection to him - that connection, and attachment to, the other characters is what makes the rest of the series hit so hard.
Then there's the parade of big name actors making their first - or one of their first - appearance in a full production, including Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. There are plenty more to discover, and probably a great drinking game to be made out of spotting someone and going "wait a minute, is that ___?" and realising, yes, that's exactly who you think it is looking far younger than you've ever seen them before.
There's only one quirk of the characters that doesn't get explained and can feel a little weird at times, which is how particular roles and responsibilities were assigned. Why was Eugene Roe made a doctor? How did Nixon get his Intelligence role? Why were certain people given command roles and others not? You can google to find out the answers, but just feels a little strange at a couple of points and even a single scene explanation would've been enough.
Regarding the actual combat, Band of Brothers still stands up as an incredible example of warfare on-screen, putting shows and movies today to shame with ease. The production design is one thing, but the incredible direction and cinematography is another - this was 2001 after all, so CGI use was far less prominent at the time than might be the case these days.
The battles themselves are incredible to experience, with 'experience' being the key word because of the difference between them all. Some can be tense affairs with intermittent bursts of violence, some are constant noise and sound and some can develop from one type of fight to another and back again - and all have their bloody aftermaths shown on-screen.
If there's one thing that Band of Brothers doesn't do, it's glorify the conflict. Serious wounds are shown without warning, so you better not be squeamish - there's no shrugging off injuries here, with even ricochets leading to a trip to the doctor for treatment - and there's a lot of blood. Just about every victory feels more like a welcome relief or even a thought of 'was that effort worth it?' than something to be celebrated or cheered, even if the end result is worthwhile in the end.
It's also worth noting how desaturated a lot of the show is, draining a lot of colour from each scene and often meaning that the red of blood and injuries stands out all the more. In "Bastogne" and "The Breaking Point", the fighting takes place in a snow-covered forest and there's so little colour at times that the show ends up not that far from becoming black-and-white.
Despite all the hardships that the members of Easy Company are forced to endure, it's the camaraderie that stands out. Again, this show doesn't hold these men up as ultimate badasses but very tough, very determined men fighting for good, even if they aren't saints themselves. It's clear that these guys care a hell of a lot for each other, with them all looking out for each other regardless of what they might think of them - this is shown even better with the surviving members of the company who have interview snippets in each episode, which can be tough to watch as these brave guys tear up regularly as they remember those who didn't survive the war.
It really is difficult to talk about Band of Brothers without sounding like a fanboy, because it really is that good and I can't help but love it to such a ridiculous degree. It's twenty years old this year and - in my opinion - has never been bettered. My minor, minor issues with the focus on Blithe in "Carentan" aside, it's otherwise flawless and everyone should watch it at least once - it might be hard to get through some parts because of what's happening on-screen, but it's so worth it.
Band of Brothers is one of the greatest limited series ever, with what has to be one of the most in-depth looks at what those fighting had to go through, while not shying away from some of the darker sides of the protagonists either. The cast is incredible, with some who would be considered big stars these days doing some of their earliest work and playing second fiddle to the outstanding main cast.