by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Generation Kill & r & & r & (HBO, concludes Thursday, 11pm) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s Generation Kill opens, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the men of 1st Reconnaissance -- an elite Marine detachment that completes much of the same training as the Navy Seals and the Army Rangers and operates best behind enemy lines-- are spoiling to go to war.
Here at the border of Kuwait and Iraq, though, this battalion of spy/assassins is tasked with a job unworthy of their talents. They're being tucked four-deep into thinly armored, poorly equipped Humvees and tasked with overrunning and subduing enemy ambushes. The tinny point of a spearhead pushing through Mesopotamia.
In his first project since ending The Wire, David Simon has created a harrowing look at the stumbling start to a botched war. Based on Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright's book of the same name, Generation Kill is a seven-part miniseries that primarily follows Wright and his Humvee mates - Corporal Brad "Iceman" Colbert, Ray Person and Lance Corporal Harold Trombley - as they face a war on two fronts: the incompetent Iraqi army and insurgents on one end, and their mostly incompetent command structure on the other.
This tension emerges slowly. The viewer's perception shifts as the soldiers' does. Afghanistan had a purpose, and so did 1st Recon. The men had clear objectives and were allowed to do the job they were trained for. Here though, they're doing work that's a waste of their talent in a land with unclear enemies and even foggier objectives.
By the beginning of Episode Six, 1st recon has already noticed what will take the military and the administration years to admit. There are no WMDs. The insurgents (terrorists as they were called at the time) didn't enter Iraq until we got there. And they won't leave until after we do.
Like The Wire, the best moments of Generation Kill hiss with insightful, bitingly funny dialogue. Simon never loses sight of his characters' primarily blue-collar backgrounds, though, so these men never become Aaron Sorkin characters in battle dress.
"This is really interesting, Brad," says Person, in his smart-ass way, as 1st Recon lingers on the outskirts of Baghdad. "You know, Iraqis don't really seem good at fighting. But then, they never really completely surrender either."
How do you fight that kind of enemy? By Episode Seven, the men of 1st Recon are starting to get a feel for it, but they're constantly undermined by command. This cracklingly written, compassionately composed portrait of life in the Corps leaves us wondering if, five years in, anything has changed.
Almost two decades ago now, a little show called Beverly Hills 90210 helped make Fox a major player in the already shrinking market of broadcast television. Now, 90210 - its reimagined, karmic progeny - will attempt to do the same for the CW in an even bleaker broadcast climate. Expect the same drama, with marginally more variety in skin tone. Three cheers for diversity. (CW, premieres 9/2, 8 pm)
Imagine the paranormal phenomena of The X-Files plus the visual wizardry and labyrinthine storylines of J.J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield, Alias, etc.) but minus the brooding cool of David Duchovny ... and plus the doofy boy-next-door-ish-ness of Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson. Mixed bag, right? (Fox, premieres 9/9, 8 pm)
Do Not Disturb
Jerry O'Connell and a member of the Reno 911! cast as the principals behind "New York City's hottest and hippest" hotel? Now, that's some fantasy right there. O'Connell couldn't play hip if he got regular Justin Timberlake injections. Created by an Arrested Development writer and guest-directed by Jason Bateman, this show has a lot to live up to, and a lot to overcome. (Fox, 9/10, 8 pm)