Tag Archives: Hulu

Pandemic Binge Watching with More New Seasons

And we’re back with more TV that we have watched while the pandemic has kept us home… not that we would have gone out all that much, but we used to go out to dinner and a movie one in a while.  Anyway, some new seasons from older shows and some first seasons from new shows to talk about.

The Boys Season 2- Amazon Prime

I loved season one of this, with the super heroes as real people run by a corporation focused on profit and image and putting out the next film starring their heroes.  Heroes are not uncommon, and the prime group is The Seven, seven heroes who represent the top of the brand.  It is a gritty world where those seven all have their own personality issues and problems with the job, the public, and the company itself, while the company will do anything to protect their image.

I won’t spoil season one with too much detail, but it builds the world where a group led by Carl Urban… The Boys of the title… are trying to expose the whole thing for what it is.  And then, in season two, they have to kind of run with the big build up behind them and… it kind of falls a bit flat.

The problem is, after the first season, our ability to be shocked that, say, a super hero is a legit Nazi, has been expended.  We know they and the company are bad, we’re now just haggling over how bad.  I think the writers/producers knew this, because they dialed up the sex/violence/gore meter a few notches over season one, but that doesn’t really offset the fact that we get the situation already.  Meanwhile, The Deep joining a cult was a bit of a drag on the plot.

Still, the second season isn’t bad, and I’ll watch the third season to continue the crazy, frenetic soap opera that the show can be, but it is now hard for them to shock the audience after the first season.

The Mandalorian Season 2 – Disney+

Okay, I know, we’re not even done with the full season yet, but after episode 5 I am ready to pass judgement.  This is the way.

Unlike The Boys above, season one only laid the groundwork for the show.  There is a lot more to explore and discover in the post-Endor galaxy far, far away.  The season starts a little slow, but the show has already decided it moves only at a walking pace as we go from adventure to adventure.  We’re happy with that at our house as long as the quips are good and baby Yoda is cared for.  But then, in episode five, things get real and the connection to the rest of the Star Wars universe is well and truly establish.  And then episode six comes along and doubles down! This is the show that Star Wars fans deserve.   I don’t want to spoil it, but it is pretty cool.

Anyway, we’ll keep subscribing to Disney+ so long as they keep making this show.  I might also have to go back and watch Star Wars: Rebels while we’re subscribed.

The Crown Season 4 – Netflix

There was word that the royals were not fully happy with how they were portrayed in season 4, to which I respond with, “Are you serious? This monarchy porn isn’t fawning enough for you?  Try making your own!  Oh, right, you did that in season 3, didn’t you?  And it sucked, didn’t it?”

The lot of them should be grateful for the casting alone.  It wouldn’t take much for this to have turned into a live action Spitting Image.

That said, season four was kind of a transition for us, as we moved from “things I read about or knew from history” into things we remember from the news coverage at the time.  My wife got up at 3am to watch Charles and Diana get married.

The time frame is essentially the Margaret Thatcher era, who is portrayed by Gillian Anderson with a hard shell of hair and a back brace to keep her posture as rigid as possible. (That last bit is conjecture on my part.)  She looks and sounds contrived, but so did Thatcher at the time, so spot on I guess.  She is shown in the mix of her achievements.  She is a heartless conservative who could care less about apartheid or the poor.  But she is also of middle class origins, believes in her cause, and works very hard relative to the indolent royal family (and pretty much everybody around her), whom I honestly expected to reprise the Maggie Smith line, “What is a ‘week end’?” when the Thatcher’s are invited for dinner.  They disdain her and her middle class ways.

(And word is that conservatives in the UK want the show conspicuously labeled as a “work of fiction” because they too are not fully happy, this time with how Maggie was portrayed.  I suppose one could allow that many of them are experts on fiction.  Just look at the Brexit campaign.)

Much of the season is the poor royals, trapped in their roles and longing to be free… so long as they can keep their titles, wealth, and privileges.  The Queen, Anne, and Margaret are probably the most sympathetically played this season.

Charles and Diana make up much of the season.  Charles is probably the most likely to be aggrieved by his portrayal as they push his slouch and mannerisms to exaggeration, and he comes off immature, petty, self-absorbed, and uninterested in much beyond polo and Camilla.

Diana is a bit of a mystery.  Being from a similar background, she fits in with the royals initially.  She is one of them and her first weekend with the royals juxtaposes the Thatcher weekend.  But after the wedding that seems to stop.  She is lonely and the fairy tale is a sham, so she starts to find ways to fill her own needs even as she starts to outshine Charles in the public eye.

Anyway, it was all charming and well done and I await season five when the Queen orders the SAS to kill wayward Diana… or however they’re going to play that.  Didn’t we have a whole movie about the aftermath from the same person?

Roadkill Season 1- PBS via the UK

I am pretty sure I read somewhere that the stated objective of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is to get us to fawn endlessly like stricken colonials over all things British.  And it seems to be a viable plan, since it has kept going as a show over here since the early 70s.

This time we’re back with Hugh Laurie whom I think I first saw when Masterpiece brought over Jeeves and Wooster back in the 80s, long before he showed up in House which, when I first saw it, made me ask, “Why is he speaking with that horrible parody of an American accent?”  But I gather I was in a minority on that front.

Anyway, we like him around our house, so we decided to watch this when it came up and… it is kind of hard to peg.  We have him as Peter, a British politician in some political hot water who is part of the cabinet and everything seems to be working against him, including the Prime Minister, and then things just sort of work out in the end for him.  While the journey had its interesting points, it is sort of like House of Cards... original or remake, take your pick, right down to a dead female investigative reporter… with all the hard edges sanded off.

Is it a commentary on ruling class privilege, the nature of politics, how some people can get away with anything and still succeed?  And what does that title mean?  And what was going on with the Prime Minister’s right arm?  I really don’t have any answers.  I realize everything doesn’t have to have a universal message at the end, but you want something to hang your hat on.

Finally, while I liked Hugh Laurie in it, this did feel like more of a Hugh Grant role, where just a bit more charm would have had it all make some sense… maybe… but I guess he was busy using that charm to hide malice in The Undoing.

Away Season 1 – Netflix

This follows an international crew on the first manned mission to Mars.  There is the brash American who is leading the mission, because the Americans are clearly paying most of the bills for this, the salty Russian who has more time in space and feels he should be leading, the handsome Indian Air Force Group Commander who is also second in command, the unsmiling Chinese chemist there to represent the party, and the Brit botanist who was probably as surprised as the rest of us that the UK was even included.  But he makes up the majority who force English to be the language for the mission.

This is less science fiction and more space soap opera.  There are some science bits and problems to overcome, but the show is mostly focused on the personal strengths and weaknesses of the crew and how they cope together locked in a metal cylinder headed towards Mars.  Not a bad show, but it was cancelled after the one season, so you can imagine this as the prequel to some more exciting movie like The Martian or  Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Treadstone Season 1 – Hulu

Time to try and capture some more of that Jason Bourne magic, so Project Treadstone has been shaken back to life as we discover there are all sorts of other sleepers like Bourne out there, called “cicadas,” and somebody is waking them up for some sinister purpose.

On the upside, the show is well acted and has excellent production values.  USA, where it was original aired, and the crew that created the show can be proud of that.

The downside is that it the plot itself is a confused mess that has at least three major plot lines that never quite run together, including a diversion back to 1973 and the Soviet program that inspired the Americans to create Treadstone.  So you get tense situations and some very good action, but you’re left wondering how that connects with the guy back in the US and the woman in Korea and the woman in Russia on the farm with the missile that the woman in London was talking about and what that part from the 70s added to anything.

So the show was cancelled, though I am sure the real reason why it got shut down wasn’t its complexity, but its failure to adhere to the Robert Ludlum rule: Three Word Titles.

Honest Trailers Looks at Streaming Services

I just want to point out that I wrote my two posts about streaming services, yesterday’s and the previous one, before this video came out.

That said, the profusion of streaming services and their popularity now during the pandemic makes it a timely topic, and the Screen Junkies teams looks into services beyond what I have explored so far.

 

Of course, since I just wrote about some of those services, it is interesting to see where my opinion aligns or diverges from theirs.  Also, I forgot that Netflix was no longer the place to watch Friends as HBO paid a bunch of money to have it on HBO Max.  I might know that if I could access HBO Max rather than whatever HBO service I’m allowed to have on the Roku.

Still, I feel solid with my own assessments.

And even Honest Trailers cannot plumb the full depth of channels out there.  My wife keeps asking me at bed time, when the lights are out and I have no electronics handy, if we can get Acorn or Britbox or some other oddball channel because she saw an ad for a show that we might want to watch and it is on that particular service.  And don’t get me started on trying to explain how the PBS app works.

If you are really hot on this topic, then you will probably enjoy the Honest Trailers Commentary video that goes along with the above, where they run through the trailer and talk about why they said what they did and expand upon their opinions.  I enjoyed it.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Channels

Previously on Pandemic Binge Watching I wrote about the three long established streaming services that have been staples of our watching habits, even before the current series of unfortunate events.

Hulu is the little channel that could.  We originally got it in order to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, then cancelled.  But it is the service I keep coming back to.  I had to get it to get through all of Archer after that fell off of Netflix.  At one point a year of so back I had a plan to simply replace our Comcast cable lineup with the local channel and sports package you can through get through Hulu, but was brought up short on the details.

My wife is a hockey fan, and we can get the channel that carries all the Shark’s games, but on Hulu it runs 20-30 seconds behind the cable broadcast and my wife was quickly annoyed that her game night texting buddies would announce somebody scored before it ever made it to our screen.  That is literally a deal breaker here it seems.  A pity, because I was good with every other aspect of it, especially picture quality.  Comcast put in a really bad compression algorithm a year of so back, so their HD service barely looks like HD anymore.  The streaming services look much better.

Hulu has a lot going for it.

Upside:

Some very good original content.  I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale already, and did a post previously about Catch-22.

The channel really excels at being the place to go watch seasons of things once they have wrapped up on cable channels that do not have their own streaming service yet.

Hulu has a bunch of subscription options.  You can go cheap if you can handle some commercials, or opt to pay a bit more to remove them, and add on a number of additional options, up to and including a basic cable replacement.

Downside:

Their interface hides the depth of the channel more so than some competitors I could mention.  If Netflix is a hyper puppy trying to get your attention, Hulu is an old sheep dog that can’t be bothered some days.

Not so much original stuff as you might imagine.

Really needs some of the features that Prime and Netflix have adopted to skip show intros and the like.  I realize this is related to the relationship they have with networks and what not, and that they are getting some of the features going, but still.  I do get a bit pissy when content from other networks won’t even let you fast forward past promos.

Current Status:  Subscribed and using the service to subscribe to Showtime rather than get into Showtime’s app.  Also still watching Bob’s Burgers.

 

On paper Disney+ should be a subscribe and never leave channel for our family.  It has all of the MCU movies, all of the Star Wars movies and (almost) all the shows, all of the Disney catalog that they’ll still admit to, and it has every episode of The Simpsons.  I should literally be parked in front of that channel forever.

Upside:

Inexpensive at $7.00 a month.  Can get it bundled with Hulu.

Literally everything 14 year old me could want.

The Madalorian was pretty good.  We watched that every week through its first season.

Downside:

The Hulu bundle made you take the ad sponsored version of the service last I checked, plus you have to take ESPN as well, in which I have no interest.  The faux seasons pro sports are putting on now are not enticing at all.

I’m not 14 any more.  I have seen almost everything on the service already.  Hell, I have a significant fraction of it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Not much new/original content

No Star Wars Holiday Special?  Are you kidding me?

Current Status:  Currently not subscribed, but another season of The Mandalorian is coming up soon.

Starz came to us when they had an offer back in March to get 6 months of their service for $30.  The thought was that we could finish up Outlander, but that stopped clicking with us after a couple seasons.  We came for that, but stayed for The White Queen and its follow on series, which I mentioned previously.

Basically Starz is a lesser version of HBO, an old school cable movie service that has expanded into some original content and its own stand-alone streaming app.

Upside:

Always has dozens of movies available to watch on demand.

Some very good original content

Downside:

Really a lesser version of HBO in too many ways.  Not so many movies you’d watch, not so many original series that you’d stick around for.

The UI design of their app always leaves me feeling I need to press the button to start a show or movie one more time that other apps.

Easily the hardest app for me to read text on from the couch.  They expect you to read the show/movie titles from the thumbnail.

Current Status:  Just lapsed, but The Spanish Princess 2 is coming up, so could return I suppose.

Apple TV+ is the latest channel we’ve tried.  I have been wary of it in the past because Apple has run it like the iTunes store in the past, where it is essentially a store front to sell you content, and there are a lot of other options in that market.  Also, it required an Apple device in the past.  Recently they have made it an app that I can get on our Roku and they have added a subscription and some original content.

I have been tempted to try it if only to watch The Morning Show, which has gotten good buzz, but my wariness as to what else one gets with their subscription has left me cold.  It is easier to figure out the difference between HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max that to get that info out of Apple.

But then Long Way Up was announced and my wife is a big Ewan McGreggor fan and watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down, so suddenly we had to give it a try.

Upside:

At $5.00 a month, the cheapest subscription service so far.

Available soon in a bundle deal with Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and iCloud.

Some original content, including Greyhound.

Some additional content from other sources available as well.

Splashy fresh UI.

Apple has the cash to fund content worth watching.

Downside:

Easily the most annoying service to sign up for in my experience so far.  You cannot sign up through Roku… somebody tell Epic Games… their web site is barely functional, and it is unclear to me if you can even sign up if you don’t have an iOS device.  I mean, I think you can, but my experience suggest it won’t be easy.

The original content is extremely limited.  I think I’ve named most of it already.  There is not a lot of “there” there.

Plays like an old school service, metering out an episode a week for their shows… though I suppose they really need to, given how little of it there is, in order to keep people subscribed.

The additional content is nothing special.  I think it is literally a subset of what I get on Hulu as part of that subscription.

98% of the service is there to offer you up rent or buy options.  It is the iTunes store on your TV.

That splashy, fresh UI is overwrought and unclear at times and doesn’t always render correctly on the Roku.  But their website doesn’t always render correctly on anything besides Safari, so go figure.  But at least it mostly works on the Roku.  Apple does not make a Windows or Android client.

Hard to tell if it is a work in progress that needs more time or if Apple arrogance levels have exceeded their eWorld peak, back when I heard Apple execs saying they would own the online experience because they could rebrand a literal copy of AOL.

Current status: Subscribed at least until we finish up get the last episode of Long Way Up.

Pandemic Binge Watching Part One

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept many of us at home for more than four months now.  All that staying home has led to a demand for entertainment.

Oddly, video games haven’t proven quite the outlet for me that you might imagine.  The problem is that I have also been working from home for more than four months, so I spend 8-10 hours a day sitting at my desk in front of a computer.  When work is over, I often feel strongly that I need to get up and go somewhere else in the house rather than switching over to play a game at that very same desk.

So, for my wife and I, with no movies, no going out to dinner, and not even any sports, the television series has become the entertainment outlet for us.  We are subscribed to a few streaming services which offer us up full seasons of shows, and so we have spent time binging on those.  I’m often tempted to write something up about each as we finish them, but that means going back to my desk again, so I have been slacking on that.

Now, however, I am going to sum up some of what we watched both as a public service as well as a reminder to myself as to what we have watched.  This is in some sort of order close to chronologically related to when we watched them, but there was some overlap.  The bullet points are the title and the service on which they are currently available.

That is a three-fer right there.  Based on the books by Philippa Gregory, they cover the War of the Roses and its aftermath, spanning a time frame that covers a few of Shakespeare plays.  They represent and ongoing story, though each series was filmed independently and is a complete story on its own.

A good set of tales, if not fully historical at times, they point out the key problem of the War of the Roses, which was too damn many people named Henry, Edward, Elizabeth, and Margaret.  Seriously, at one point I think there were four Henrys, three Edwards, two Elizabeths, and two Margarets in play, and more came and went.  We had to pause to establish which Henry or whoever was being referenced at times.

Also, a completely new set of actors takes over for each series, which can be a bit of a test when the same characters can span series.  Still, some good fun, if you like that era.  I enjoyed watching the 1995 film version of Richard III after this to see how many of the same people were treated by the two perspectives. (Also, that movie is a must for the casting alone.)

Starz had a $25 for six months deal on their streaming service, and these three made that worth the money.

Good for: Tolerant history buffs, people named Henry, and people keen for drinking games related to spotting actors from other shows.

More historical tales, this one is a comedic look at Catherine the Great and her early time in the court of the Czar.  I had to double check that this was a US produced series, as we’re not usually that big on European history that doesn’t involve us directly.  Very funny at times, often crude, and feeling no need to adhere to any particular historical accuracy, it can be quite a ride.  The main problem was it felt like about 8 episodes worth of content in a 10 episode series, so it flags a bit towards the end.  Still, I was good with it.  Huzzah!

Good for: Really tolerant history buffs and people who kind of miss Blackadder.

I don’t think I have laughed out loud as much in a long time as I did during the first two seasons of this series.  Hank Azaria’s character is relentless.  This humor is often crude and rarely strays from sex, drugs, alcohol, and his character flaws.  Very much not for children.  Gets serious at the end of season two and into season three, then completely flies off into a bizarro future history in season four, but is still pretty damn funny.

Good for: Hank Azaria fans, baseball fans, and anybody who might like a Filipino knock-off of Hart to Hart.

A solid interpretation of the novel by Nick Hornby, transplanted to New York City in the current era, so mix tapes are out and play lists are in.  Vinyl though, that is eternal.

The cast is very good and the story flows well enough.  My main problem is that this series exists in the same universe as the 2000 film version of the novel which is a favorite of mine.  The series seems tame and a bit flat compared to the manic energy and comedic rhythm of Jack Black and John Cusack in the film.  Also, the characters in the TV series are not even half as obsessed about music as the film cast is, and that obsession really drives the characters at times.

Basically it is the same issued I had with the Catch-22 series; if I already like the existing film version a series really has to work to get away from that comparison.

Good for:  People who haven’t seen the movie… or read the book probably.

I think Hulu is our best value for streaming services at this point.  Also, another series that is based on the same work as an already existing film that I like.  A Terry Gilliam film no less, so you know I have it on DVD on the shelf already.  Oh, and the series is literally based on the film so, while I don’t know how that works legally, it certainly qualifies as a great big “Danger Will Robinson.” (Which reminds me, I need to put Lost in Space on the list for next time.)

That said, the series didn’t just copy the movie.  I suspect the lack of a popular novel as the original source material meant that they didn’t have to go scene for scene to meet expectations and could run with their own plan.  And that plan seemed to be to illustrate that no simple plan ever ends as expected.

The first season is a non-stop roller coaster of “if we just jump somebody back in time to save a person, kill a person, or stop an event, then our problems will be solved.”  That never happens.  I mean, of course it doesn’t or it would be a very short series.  But you do end up with a lot of plans and time spent figuring out what they missed and the jump back in time to fix that only to find there is some other complication.

Season two is a little less jumpy on the timeline, but still full of paradoxes and unanticipated results.  We haven’t started on season three yet.  We’re still a little dizzy and needed a break to watch something else.  The acting is good and I like most of the cast.  It will hold your attention.  Just don’t expect resolution, or even answers half the time.

Good for: People who like their time travel shows to be complicated.

Next time: Maybe something not on Hulu.

Catch 22 on Hulu

I was interested to see the opening of the just released Hulu series Catch 22, and was not disappointed.

The thing is, Catch 22 is a complicated topic.  There is, of course, the sprawling 1961 novel by Joseph Heller which I first read in high school and have re-read several times since.  Clocking in at 472 pages in the 70s pocket paperback version I still have on my shelf (published in the UK under the Corgi imprint) and over 500 pages in the 50th anniversary paperback version I picked up a few years back (the German language version I set myself to read one summer in the late 80s is only 441 pages, but it is in the smallest font size I’ve ever seen in a paperback, so would probably swell to 600 pages in a legible font size), the novel wanders through a series of characters with intertwined stories and strange players who come and go and the whole thing is told out of chronological order. It is not a work that lends itself easily to other mediums.

Not that it has not been tried.

There is, of course, the 1970 film version that attempted to take on the novel, compressing it down into just two hours.

I love the film.  It is, at best, an imperfect vehicle, a sketch of what the book contains, but a beautiful sketch.  The audio commentary on the DVD version I own of director Mike Nichols talking to Steven Soderbergh about the trials of making the film is an epic tale on its own.

In video you can capture a sweeping landscape or a vision of chaos with a pass of the camera, summing up in seconds what might take several paragraphs.  But a film has trouble telling the audience things, passing on relevant details, without having characters say them aloud.  The importance of a breathtaking vista or a harrowing bomb run can be lost without somebody explaining aloud what is going on.

And since the characters cannot possibly speak every line in the novel and keep things in a reasonable time frame… I had an abridged audio book version of Catch 22 that was six hours long… huge sections of the novel had to be lopped off for the film version.

But here is the thing.  For all its faults, the film is my baseline for everything.  This is because long before I ever picked up the book I had seen the film.  Or at least part of the film.  After its theatrical run it made its television debut in… by my recollection… 1974 on a Sunday night.  This was back when showing newer movies on TV was kind of a big deal and would get weeks of ad spots on the network to herald its coming.  And my dad, ever the poor judge of what was appropriate, let me sit up and watch part of it.

This is probably why Alan Arkin is Yossarian in my head.  Well, that and the audio book I mentioned was read by him, which no doubt reinforced the whole thing.  Seeing just the first half of the movie set most of the characters in my head, so when I think of them I think of the people who played them in the film.  This was helped by the fact that the cast was an ensemble of well known actors.  So when I read the book I already had faces in my head for many of the roles.

Which leads me back to Hulu.  A mini-series has more time to deal with a book as complex as Catch 22, and so I was glad to see that it started somewhere besides the isle of Pianosa, the central location where the film grounded itself.

Instead it starts at the US Army Air Corps training base in Santa Ana with Yossarian and Clevinger and Lt. Scheisskopf (and his wife) and the obsession with marching in formation.  This is a major story arc in the book that is alluded at the very end of the film when you see the base turned out to march as Yossarian runs for the ocean.

We were going to get more of the story than the film gave us.  The mini-series was going to find its own way through the novel.  They even avoided using the name Yossarian, which is uttered, mumbled, and shouted throughout the film, referring to the lead character as Yoyo, his nickname.  I was good with that.

The whole thing emphasizes different aspects of the story than the film does.  Chaplin Tappman is a passing character.  The relationship with Orr is not as key.  Lt. Col. Korn has a much less aggressive role.  And they decided to include the tale of Maj. ____ DeCoverley and the great big siege of Bologna and the bomb line.

On the other hand, I was a bit dismayed at the introduction of the cast standing in formation in Santa Ana.  They were a series of actors so similar in appearance that I could not tell one from the other.  This was, perhaps, intentional, in order to emphasize the interchangeability of men in war, where  death leads to a replacement, where turnover in the squadron in the book highlights Yossarian’s alienation.  The only person who stood out was Christopher Abbott, who plays Yossarian.  I can see the point of that, signalling right away the main character.  And Abbott does a credible job in the role, though his version of the character is somewhat more subdued that the sometimes manic Alan Arkin performance in the film.

Christopher Abbott as John Yossarian

And things start off well.  After training Yossarian and his class from Santa Ana all end up in the Mediterranean theater together, during which the mini-series can tell its own version of the story, even throwing in early on the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, something an avid fan of the book will no doubt remember.

But it cannot stay away from scenes covered by the film as well, and at times it comes off poorly in comparison.  Yossarian and Doc Daneeka talking about the circular logic of “catch-22” on the flight line is one of the great early moments of the film.  The same exchanges has to take place in the mini-series.  In cannot go anywhere without setting that down.  But it doesn’t have the same punch.

Likewise, the story leads up to the scene with Yossarian and Arfy, where Arfy has raped and murdered the housekeeper and the sirens are blaring and Yossarian is telling Arfy they are coming to arrest him for this horrible act as the MPs are pounding on the door.  But the scene in the mini-series doesn’t live up to the same one in the film, in part because the mini-series hasn’t built up Arfy enough, but mostly because it simply couldn’t top the performances of Charles Grodin and Alan Arkin.

Those are, of course, my problems and not the problems of the mini-series.  A normal person probably wouldn’t be drawn to those.  But the mini-series has its own issues.

First, there is a seeming need to compress the set by putting characters from the books in different positions in the planes so as to cram everybody into the same scene.  The book is primarily about a group of offices, pilots, navigators, and bombardiers.  But they need to get Nately in the plane with Yossarian and so he ends up as a tail gunner.

While they visually references some of Orr’s quirks… he is clearly fiddling with the gas stove that so infuriated Yossarian in the book… they never establish any real relationship between Orr and Yossarian and, while they set up Orr’s eventual fate, it lacks any real punch.

The mini-series also eschews any attempt at non-linear story telling… even the film kept that aspect of the book in its two hour run… and bowls through events chronologically.  This takes a bit of the bite out of the changing number of missions to be flow, used as a marker in the book to keep the reader sync up with where the story lay at the moment.

Not very far in Milo starts to overwhelm the story.  In the end Yossarian is the cornerstone of the story, and while Milo plays into it, it feels like Milo gets about a third of the mini-series.  And, while it is fun to see his ever expanding empire and the inevitable contract bombing raid for the Germans, in the end he is a metaphor and not a key player.

Meanwhile George Clooney was an odd choice for Scheisskopf.  He is the big name in the production and his being in that role causes somebody who is at best a secondary character in the book to suddenly overshadow those around him.  I know he wanted to be in the mini-series, but that wasn’t the spot.  He is also too old for the role, starting off the whole things as a Lieutenant in the army.  He was originally supposed to be cast as Col. Cathcart, which I think he could have pulled off well enough.  Instead we have his outsized presence in an unsuitable role.

Then there is Maj. ____ DeCoverley, who is bizarrely played by Hugh Laurie.  I am a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, but he is a man of words and some sophistication, and plays his character as such, while Maj. ____ DeCoverley is so named because he is gruff and intimidating to the point that people are afraid to ask him his first name.  He is, as readers may recall from the end of the loyalty oath crusade in the book, not a man of subtlety or sophistication.  So I appreciate the inclusion, which is pretty much required as part of the great big siege of Bologna story line, which the film omits, but I am not sure it was well cast.

And finally, the whole story goes off the rails somewhere in episode five, leaving the original tale behind to forge its own story, stopping every so often to cram in some scene from the book to ground its otherwise odd turns.  It reminds me a bit of the end of Game of Thrones on HBO, only the team doing the mini-series had the ending rather than having to make it up.  That they chose to make it up seems… worse maybe?

Add in some unnecessary stumbles… when a man with sergeant’s strips on his sleeves shows up and introduces himself as Lieutenant Newman I rolled my eyes so hard I may have detached a retina… and the end, the whole thing feels unsatisfying, leaving off with Yossarian’s essential problems unresolved.  He still has more missions to fly and people are still trying to kill him.  I don’t know.  Maybe they are planning a season 2.  But they’ve already pass through so much of the book that I don’t know what they would do with six more episodes.

It isn’t all bad.  I was certainly on board with it for the first three episodes and had to sit on my hands and not spoil thing for my wife, who watched that far with me, as I spotted this and that from the books while the story moved along.

It was certainly adequate visually.  I suspect that the production had access to maybe three actual B-25 bombers for the filming… well short of the full squadron of flying examples the film had… in addition to a T-6, a C-47, and a JU-52.  From that they were able to CGI the flying scenes well enough.

The choice to keep the story line completely linear was probably correct.  Cutting back and forth in time is jarring enough without having to keep track of where you are across multiple episodes.

And Giancarlo Giannini as the old man in the brothel was an inspired choice.  Maybe the only right choice for that role.

But overall I am not feeling it.  I binged through it in an evening and morning and am not thinking about a re-watch.  Clearly many of my issues are because of the lens through which I viewed the series, a lens distorted by familiarity with both the book and the film.  I cannot see it independently of that context.  And the reviews for it seems to be overwhelmingly positive.  So maybe it is good and it is just grumpy old me who cannot see it.