There are lots of dramatizations of World War II that really ought to be seen. But if for some reason you could only ever see one, make it Band of Brothers. There’s no artifice, no false drama of any kind. It’s every single staple of every WWII story you’ve ever seen, given full attention. Training, parachuting, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, the concentration camps, even the comparatively mundane aftermath as Germany surrenders. All with the appropriate amount of depth and texture, and given just the right amount of time to breath. Band of Brothers is ancient in Peak TV terms, but in terms of production values and economy of storytelling, neither Netflix or Hulu has put out anything of this calibre. Neither has HBO since, come to think of it.
The eleven hour runtime allows me to identify with the soldiers. One problem with movies depicting war, they’re not long enough to let me put names to the soldiers. Everyone is in the same uniform, they’re often wearing helmets, and in a chaotic battle scene, I may lose track of who lives and who dies. Not the case in Band of Brothers. You spend a lot of time getting to know Easy Company by face if not by name, and every time you lose one of them, even if it happens in the blink of an eye, you really feel it. The impact is even more heightened by the knowledge that these are actors playing real people who really died.
It helps today that Band of Brothers seemed to be the ultimate career boost for every young man who appeared in it. Future A-Listers like Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and Simon Pegg are in tiny roles, and a dozen character actors whose names you don’t know but whose faces you recognize. If it had been a bit distracting in 2001 to see Ross from Friends as a hardass drill instructor, imagine watching today and seeing Moriarty from Sherlock and The Trickster from Supernatural going into combat. But once the little game of “It’s that guy!” is over with, you buy all these actors as members of Easy Company. And it hurts you all the more to lose a lot of them.
It’s been said that a problem with anti-war movies is that filmmakers can’t help but make war look glamorous. Not the case with Band of Brothers. It’s a noisy, cold, miserable affair. Not that it’s an anti war mini-series, exactly, large parts of Band of Brothers feel outright fond as we see the kind of camaraderie that exists between Easy Company members in their downtime. That, along with every other facet of war, is treated with the gravity, the seriousness, and of the depth that it deserves.
In all honestly, subjectively this is likely the best and most resonant series on this list, but I don’t put it at the top because it’s not really a series I can just pop in and enjoy. War is hell.
If I Had to Nitpick…: I used to see the Blu Ray everywhere, but now that I actually want to buy it, it’s nowhere to be found.
Notable Episodes: “The Breaking Point.” If I ever feel miserable on a cold winter day, I think back to this episode and put it all in perspective. To say nothing of “Why We Fight,” a deeply disquieting episode in which Easy Company discovers a concentration camp.