Hulu's 'Catch-22' is the cynical war series we need right now

Entertainment
Catch-22 Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original

Catch-22 is not a heroic war story. But nearly six decades after Joseph Heller's legendary 1961 novel was first published, it remains a poignant and timeless satire of wartime military service.

Catch-22 recently picked up a screen adaptation on Hulu in the form of a six-part miniseries directed by George Clooney, Ellen Kuras, and Grant Heslov, with each director overseeing two episodes. Ahead of the series premiere on May 17, Task & Purpose had a chance to screen Hulu's Catch-22.


Watching the show, I was reminded of a specific passage from Heller's original novel, which I read sometime in 2011 between my first and second deployment to Afghanistan. After a mission, the story's unwilling protagonist, Capt. John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier (played by Christopher Abbott in the show) tells his friend and part-time foil Clevinger (Pico Alexander) that the Germans they're bombing are trying to kill him:

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.

"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.

"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.

"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."

"And what difference does that make?"

When I read that I burst into a fit of nervous laughter and hoped nobody would ask what was so funny. In the U.S. military, putting one's own self-interest before others is rarely acceptable, and for good reason: No one wants to serve alongside those who think of themselves before their brothers and sisters in arms.

But Yossarian, I realized, was on to something: trying to kill someone is personal, even in war — and you tend to take that shit personally if you're on the receiving end.

Before I read that passage, I'd never seen that sentiment expressed openly. And while that scene didn't make it into Hulu's Catch-22 in its entirety, the show reminded me what it felt like to take war personally. This is probably the series' greatest achievement in terms of how it portrays the wartime experience to a broad audience.

Well, that and its no-holds-barred mockery of the top brass.

Christopher Abbott, left, stars as Yossarian in Hulu's 'Catch-22' alongside Pico Alexander as Clevinger. Hulu

For those who haven't read the book or seen the 1970 film adaptation starring Alan Arkin, Catch-22 follows Yossarian during the height of World War II in Europe as he does everything in his power to avoid being a hero. But it's not just the enemy that's out to get Yossarian: it's also his command, and in particular his commanding officer Col. Cathcart (Kyle Chandler), who repeatedly raises the required number of missions that have to be flown before the soldiers can rotate home. Every time Yossarian gets close, the number goes up.

And there's the titular Catch-22. In the show, when Yossarian asks Doc Daneeka (played by director Heslov himself) to ground him for insanity, the good doctor explains that, "anybody who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy. Catch-22 specifies that a concern for one's own safety in the face of danger, real and immediate, is the process of a rational mind."

Yossarian can do nothing but marvel at this masterstroke of military bureaucracy: "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he says in the first episode.

Catch-22: Making Of (Featurette) • A Hulu Original

Hulu's miniseries goes out of its way to portray and then exaggerate the insanity and hypocrisy of war, and the little acts of rebellion that occur when soldiers believe their commanders are just as likely to get them killed as enemy flak or fighters. In one instance, the night before a dangerous daylight bombing raid on a German-held city, Yossarian sneaks into the command tent and moves a line of red string on a map up a few inches, signifying that everything below the marker now belongs to the Allies.

The next day, the camp is filled with joy. They no longer need to embark on the mission. Why? Overnight, Allied forces took control of the area they were going to bomb. How? Nobody asks. All they know is that a piece of string moved.

The series, like the book, has a rolling cast of characters, too few of whom survive the war, but each is a source of amusement, and often, disdain. Major Major (Lewis Pullman) is promoted to major because it's simply easier than trying to remember that a man named Major Major isn't actually a major; there's Clevinger, whose heartfelt belief in the mission makes him blind to the madness all around him; and of course, we have Clooney as Scheisskopf, a general who believes that a column of soldiers marching neatly with crisp and clean uniforms is the key to winning the war.

The show, like the book, is satire, so it's important to take all of its mockery and cynicism with a grain of salt. The characters on screen are caricatures of heroic archetypes, and we're immediately immersed in their flaws, their naivety, insanity, cruelty, and fear.

But while Yossarian's desperate attempts to get out of combat duty may seem cowardly, it's hard to blame him for trying to stay out of harm's way. After all, they — the enemy and his command — are trying to kill him. It'd be hard not to take that personally.

New London — Retired four-star general John Kelly said that as President Donald Trump's chief of staff, he pushed back against the proposal to deploy U.S. troops to the southern border, arguing at the time that active-duty U.S. military personnel typically don't deploy or operate domestically.

"We don't like it," Kelly said in remarks at the Coast Guard Academy on Thursday night. "We see that as someone else's job meaning law enforcement."

Read More Show Less
Photo: Iran

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Yemen's Houthi rebel group, part of a regional network of militants backed by Iran, claims to be behind the drone strikes on two Saudi oil facilities that have the potential to disrupt global oil supplies.

A report from the United Nations Security Council published in January suggests that Houthi forces have obtained more powerful drone weaponry than what was previously available to them, and that the newer drones have the capability to travel greater distances and inflict more harm.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Air Force has selected two companies to make an extreme cold-weather boot for pilots as part of a long-term effort to better protect aviators from frostbite in emergencies.

In August the service awarded a contract worth up to $4.75 million to be split between Propel LLC and the Belleville Boot Company for boots designed keep pilots' feet warm in temperatures as low as -20 Fahrenheit without the bulk of existing extreme cold weather boots, according to Debra McLean, acquisition program manager for Clothing & Textiles Domain at Air Force Life Cycle Management Command's Agile Combat Support/Human Systems Division.

Read More Show Less

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran rejected accusations by the United States that it was behind attacks on Saudi oil plants that risk disrupting world energy supplies and warned on Sunday that U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region were in range of its missiles.

Yemen's Houthi group claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks that knocked out more than half of Saudi oil output or more than 5% of global supply, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the assault was the work of Iran, a Houthi ally.

Read More Show Less
Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

Nearly a decade after he allegedly murdered an unarmed Afghan civilian during a 2010 deployment, the case of Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn is finally going to trial.

Read More Show Less