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In the months since President Donald Trump took office, military shows have been sharply on the rise. Ignited by the success of History’s Six and USA Network’s Shooter as well as a desire to appeal more to middle America, more networks are looking to those in the armed services as inspiration for the next great TV drama. The major broadcast networks will take their own swings with three new military-centered series, all of which are set to premiere this fall. With the forthcoming influx of military-themed series hitting the small screen, the obvious question is: How accurate are they? The Hollywood Reporter asked a six-year veteran of the U.S. military to assess just that.
Before we delve in, let’s get two things straight.
Firstly, I am not an entertainment critic or reporter. I love movies and TV as much — maybe more than — the next guy, and would love to expound at length on the quality of these shows. Sadly, I’ve been told repeatedly and emphatically that is not my lane. Thus I can only comment on the military accuracy of the shows and offer no commentary on how ridiculously attractive the CW’s actors/actresses are or how weird/cool it is to see Angel as a SEAL.
Secondly, the lawyers mandate I explicitly state these opinions are my own and do not in any way, shape or form reflect official views. Personally, I’d go one step further and say these views are just based on my experiences and aren’t definitive. Any service members or vets that want to chime in with their own stories should do so. (But keep it classy guys, we all know about the guy who married the stripper, don’t blast that out online.)
Already there are millions of veterans rolling their eyes, but rest assured, it’s not that bad. Some things they did pretty well on and other things they got wrong … very wrong. (Hint: it’s beards. Has no one heard of Harry’s Shave Club?). Without further ado …
The Brave (NBC)
Premise: A heart-pounding look into the complex world of the country’s bravest military heroes, who make personal sacrifices while executing the most challenging and dangerous missions behind enemy lines.
What They Got Right: Al Baghdadi, a central character in the pilot episode, is the leader of ISIS, and he was allegedly wounded/killed in a Russian air strike in June 2017. If true, that would be a big deal. Beyond that … well, the soundtrack was pretty good.
What They Got Wrong: One of the most glaring issues is a logical error. At one point, the hostage is being moved to a new location and tracked on a drone feed (believable), when they see that it is driving toward a compound that is a known enemy location. If that location is so well known as a compound for the enemy, why didn’t they just start looking there? Chasing a guy, picking him up, faking an escape to follow him to a place YOU ALREADY KNEW WAS FULL OF BAD GUYS makes little sense. Especially when every other question is easily answered by the magic computers.
Equally confounding is how Anne Heche’s character, a deputy director at one of the largest intelligence agencies in the United States, has time to personally get this down in the weeds. Deputy directors are like senior vp’s in the civilian world — crazy busy — but without the stock options. (On the plus side, the dental is pretty good.) And let’s talk about that micromanagement for a second. Only on TV would Heche’s character and her team get such an absurdly well-funded and -decorated Joint Operations Center. Literally no one has trendy blue lights all around their stations. In reality, think cubicle farms housed in buildings that are more Office Space than NASA a-la-The Martian.
Even more ridiculous is the communications — it never fails! You can call 150 percent shenanigans on that one, folks. What magic computers are they using that never lag and never stall? I’ve literally spent entire days on hold with tech support. (For those reading this who know the hold desk music, I’m thinking of doing a remix album of it.)
Last but not least, there’s the composition of the team, which includes a highly capable female sniper named Jaz. Over the last few years there has been renewed debate on women in combat roles. Whatever the outcome of those discussions, at present there would likely not be a woman on the team.
SEAL Team (CBS)
Premise: Follows the lives of the elite Navy SEALs as they train, plan and execute the most dangerous, high-stakes missions the country can ask.
What They Got Right: This show did a much better job of pacing, and the result is a somewhat more nuanced picture of its subject matter. “Special Ops” guys in movies and TV used to get portrayed as cowboys. To a certain extent that rep is earned, but an equally earned reputation is that of the consummate professionals. They take time and care in planning what they do to leave as little to chance as possible. On top of that they train, over and over and over again.
The action sequences are also strong. It may seem obvious, but it is very bad to point your weapon at your friend. Not only is it unsafe, it is sure to get you a firm ass-chewing by any salty NCO in the vicinity. Clearly the show had a good consultant. Moreover, it looks like the actors themselves made a genuine effort to get their movements right.
Equally nice to see is that not everything went right for the good guys. Smoke obscured their aerial surveillance, radios didn’t work underground, helicopters broke — all kinds of things you can’t control. Granted it all worked out in the end, but hey, it is still TV and people don’t want to be depressed watching TV — that’s why we go to work. The dumb joke about CIA analysts not being able to confirm nor deny their affiliation to the new guy was funny. Dad joke funny, not haha funny. Use more please.
What They Got Wrong: The most common complaint: beards. Why does every special forces guy have a beard? I am not a SEAL, so perhaps the relaxed grooming standards apply to them differently for certain reasons. Nevertheless, I share the jealousy of all non-special forces guys who desperately want to sport grow a beard. Seriously, I’ve gone years without real facial hair — the No Shave November/Movember/Mustache March mustache competitions are not enough.
Valor (The CW)
Premise: Set at a U.S. Army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions. The drama unfolds in the present as well as in flashbacks to a failed mission involving one of the first female pilots in the unit, ultimately uncovering layers of personal and government/military secrets, and leading to a season-long plan to rescue a group of MIA soldiers.
What They Got Right: Right off the bat, it is worth highlighting an aspect of the Army structure that is rarely portrayed in entertainment: the role of Warrant Officers. Warrant Officers are officers with highly specialized skill sets. The Army uses them to be the subject matter experts in a field (i.e. aviation). The theory is it takes a lot of practice to fly helicopters that well, and while traditional Officers will eventually promote out of a job, Warrant Officers can keep on keepin‘ on preserving those skills in a unit. And yes, women can be helicopter pilots.
The drama also gets a lot of little things right, like their salutes, their formations throughout the episode and their commands. Sloppy drill and ceremony is among the most frustrating parts of military portrayals in entertainment. Were they perfect? No. Yet, if the cast of Valor keeps at it, they have the potential to prove that it’s really not that hard to get it right.
Another easy place to score points is the uniforms. These were actually worn reasonably well by all the actors. Everyone wore the current Operational Combat Pattern (OCP) and they had their badges/name tapes sown on properly. It’s not critical, but it’s nice to not have to see everyone with a collar popped.
What They Got Wrong: Nevertheless, that kind of attention to detail in some areas makes the show’s errors that much more glaring. To start with, the berets needed a little love. Some were a bit too poofy on the left. If they spent a few hours shaping them, they’d be good. Also — and this may just be me — where the fuck were their physical training (PT) belts? At least two shots of two formations did not have PT belts. Unacceptable. (For those of you who don’t know how important a PT belt is, please watch this video.)
But the single most glaring error is once again grooming. Pilots have been known, on occasion, to push the limits of the “3 inches on top” rule, but the main character’s hair is out of control. With the beard, he looks like a surfer. This was a complaint in the other two shows, but with all the little details Valor clearly made a real effort to get right, it’s mind-boggling that they would throw it all away for some luscious locks and action hero scruff.
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