An illustration of soldiers in Band of Brothers.
"Band of Brothers" isn't just your average World War II story. (Illustration by Olivia Luo, The Ohio State University)

‘Band of Brothers’ Should Be the Next Show on Your Watch List

The limited series deals with the realities faced by American soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.

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An illustration of soldiers in Band of Brothers.

The limited series deals with the realities faced by American soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.

If I were to compile a list of media that everyone should view at least once in their life, “Band of Brothers” would be at the top of it. The HBO limited series won six Primetime Emmys, one Golden Globe and is approaching its 20th anniversary in September. While the show is two decades old and takes place 70 years ago, it still timelessly portrays the lives of American soldiers serving in World War II. As one of the best pieces of nonfiction media ever made, “Band of Brothers” tells a story that demands to be heard by every generation.

Context

“Band of Brothers” documents the lives of paratroopers from Easy Company, a unit of American soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division unit that served in the European campaign of World War II. For a little context, World War II had started in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland, causing Poland’s allies — the United Kingdom and France — to declare war on Germany. This conflict continued for two more years with Germany taking more territories like France, but that wasn’t enough for President Roosevelt to get involved.

It took the destruction of Pearl Harbor for FDR to declare war on Japan, and Germany soon after. However, it wasn’t even then that the 101st was deployed; they didn’t enter Europe until June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. It is regarded as one of the biggest and most important operations in the history of American warfare. At dawn, U.S. Airborne Paratroopers dropped into France behind German lines. In the morning, American, British and Canadian forces landed on a series of beaches on the coast of Normandy, France. Eleven months later, the German army would surrender, followed by the Japanese four months later.

Review

The series has 10 episodes, each one hour long that follow certain events of the war. Among these are D-Day, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany. The show has similar vibes as the film “Saving Private Ryan,” as both productions are a more realistic take on war compared to other war movies that come out of Hollywood. In fact, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who were the director and lead actor of the film, respectively, were producers for the show, so it makes sense that there are some similar creative elements.

Each episode is rich with compelling narratives and exquisite shots. My favorite scene is probably at the end of the first episode, which shows the 101st boarding planes to take off from England and start the trip across the English Channel to invade Normandy. The music is ominous when they are boarding, and the shots of the soldiers show their fear. The episode puts you in the shoes of those paratroopers — you feel their anxiety. They know that their mission is extremely dangerous, and it is possible that they’ll get blown up before they can even jump out of the plane.

But once the turbines start up, the music switches to a powerful, uplifting rhythm, and the planes line up to take off. Troops on the ground stare in awe at the fleet of aircraft above them. Nightfall hits and we are left with a beautiful shot of hundreds of planes carrying soldiers across the channel. You get the sense of how important D-Day was. Invading France was to be the turning point in the war. In spite of the fear coursing through their veins, each of the soldiers understood the importance of their mission.

“Band of Brothers” has some of the best performances I have ever seen. The series won a Primetime Emmy for its cast, among many others, and it was well deserved. The showrunners didn’t pick people who look like Rambo or anything to play the soldiers; they wanted people that looked ordinary because Easy Company was made up of ordinary people. This makes them much easier to connect with when you see them on screen. Each cast member does a phenomenal job at embodying a soldier, but I especially thought Damian Lewis and Donnie Wahlberg excelled at their roles.

A key part of casting soldiers is making sure that the actors have a real chemistry and bond like that of true soldiers. “Band of Brothers” perfectly encapsulates all the other factors of being a paratrooper on the European front. Many scenes are of the soldiers just talking, making jokes with one another and playing pranks on the drill sergeants that even make me laugh. These scenes reinforce how the soldiers were normal people just like us, which makes them much more relatable than the characters we see in Hollywood action movies. The showrunners take some artistic liberties and don’t tell some things the exact way that they unfolded, but despite these inaccuracies, the show still manages to keep the realistic tone of soldiers in a warzone.

When it comes to the horrific experiences that the men went through, “Band of Brothers” censors nothing. Intense barrage sequences will lead to soldiers crawling on their hands and knees, cowering in foxholes, hugging each other for dear life. These scenes, while gruesome and difficult to watch, keep you on the edge of your seat as you pray for these men to survive, just like they were.

On top of the explosions and hard battles, there is also severe emotional trauma. Throughout the show, many soldiers are shown to suffer from shellshock and post-traumatic stress — there’s even a distressing episode in which Easy Company finds a Nazi concentration camp. It’s hard to put into words how difficult those scenes are to watch. One thing the show makes clear is that war leaves many casualties, even among those who were not hit with bullets or shrapnel.

Now, some may be hesitant to watch “Band of Brothers” because they don’t want another glorified retelling of how some white guys invaded a foreign country in the name of freedom. Without getting too political, I’ll just say that I’m there with you. There are too many movies and TV shows like “The Patriot” and “Independence Day” that pretty much exist just to reinforce American patriotism through violent scenes of Americans shooting anything that moves.

However, “Band of Brothers” isn’t like that — it doesn’t glorify violence. The show successfully tells a comprehensive story of Easy Company, and it should be seen by everyone. On top of highlighting an important group of individuals in American history, the show’s excellent writing and performances move viewers. In my most recent viewing, I did not watch a World War II show about guns, tanks and explosions: I watched an intelligent production that left me with everlasting messages about leadership, friendship and hardship.

Writer Profile

Elliot Jackson-Ontkush

Skidmore College
Economics

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