Catch-22 Showcases Absurdities, Atrocities of War

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If I'm asked to summarize CATCH-22, the HBO miniseries adapted from the Joseph Heller novel, I would say, "It's M*A*S*H, but earlier and far more tragic."

The setting is World War II, the European theater, where John Yossarian (CHRISTOPHER ABBOT) is a bombardier who goes on missions into enemy territory over northern Italy during the end of the war when the Germans are on the defensive. His goal is to fly the number of missions he's assigned so that he can fulfill his duty and go back home.

But there's one small problem: the number of missions keeps going up, which makes achieving the total number of missions a Sisyphean task. And as things go further wrong, Yossarian becomes obsessed with getting out of his missions and going home. He feels the missions are making him crazy, and consults the medic, Doc Dankeeka (GRANT HESLOV), about it. He knows he cannot fly if he is crazy, and the doctor agrees: If you think you are crazy, you can request not to fly. However, Catch-22 states that anyone asking not to fly their missions is showing a sense of self-preservation, and thus is sane -- and is capable of flying their missions.

Yossarian's schemes involve multiple "sick" visits to the hospital and Nurse Duckett (TESSA FERRER), moving the bombing lines on a map so the Colonels in charge think the territory has already been taken -- and even flying all his assigned missions in a sprint, taking them from other bombardiers so he can turn them all in at once and be done. But the machinations of base commander Colonel Cathcart (KYLE CHANDLER) and his assistant, Lt. Colonel Korn (KEVIN J. O'CONNOR) always thwart him in the end, as the mission counts continue to climb past his ability to achieve without getting killed.

Not everyone is having a horrible time in the war, however. Milo Minderbinder (DANIEL DAVID STEWART) is a fast-talking deal maker, who swings himself a position as mess officer, and then leverages that into running a multi-country corporation, bartering goods from one country to another while bringing in his commanding officers in a pyramid scheme. And the new guy on the base, Sgt. Major Major (first name Major, last name Major, middle name Major) is accidentally put on a leadership council. When the officers learn he is an enlisted man, who is not allowed into the meetings, their solution is to give him a battlefield promotion...to major! In over his head, Major Major learns he can order his secretary to only allow people in to see him when he isn't there, and thus secludes himself entirely from the war effort going on around him.

CATCH-22 is not without its comedic moments, dark and satirical though they be. But overall, it's a bleak and subversive look at a military machine that runs despite the incompetencies of those who are meant to be in charge... an incompetency that goes all the way up to General Sceisskopf (GEORGE CLOONEY), who has it in for Yossarian for having slept with his wife (PREACHER's JULIE ANN EMERY).

Decidedly mature in terms of langage, sexuality, and gore, CATCH-22 is nonetheless captivating, drawing you in with every episode, and finding new ways to shock you in each episode. Not for the faint of heart, but heartily recommended.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0