Catch-22

It doesn’t happen often but occasionally an adaptation of a book is dragged to watchability by the sheer greatness of that book. As it was with the 1970 movie, so it is with Hulu’s miniseries. A show based on a property so good, I get teary-eyed just thinking about reading it again.

If you don’t know Catch-22, I will recap for you. America is deep into WWII and John Yossarian (Christopher Abbot) wants nothing to do with it. In fact, he’s positive it’s insane to keep fighting when the war will clearly be won, so he’d like to go home alive thank you very much. Only, he can’t. Because every time Yoyo completes a successful bombing mission, bringing his mission total ever closer to the number that will allow him to go home, they raise the mission total requirement. As his friends begin to die around him he will try anything to get out of the war.

The book is all about the absurdity of war. And the show certainly captures that feeling. Dumb drills, insane requirements, a man promoted to the rank of major because his first name is major and it’s just easier to pretend he is a major than fix the paperwork. But then there’s the dark side of the war – the death, the destruction, the emotional wounds that will never heal. The show does a good job of capturing those as well.

The absolute best part of the miniseries is the casting of Christopher Abbot as Yossarian. His deadpan delivery and just outstanding scream is remarkable. He deserves an Emmy nod at the very least. With material that could have covered at least ten episodes, Abbot is the grounding, guiding force that keeps the series from flying off into the sun. A worthy successor to Alan Arkin.

Catch-22 does an admirable job of smashing in almost every unique situation from the book (and a hilarious, original one of their own involving testicles). Which is hilarious for me, someone who has read the book. But for viewers not familiar, I would bet it’s confusing. They do a terrible job of setting up Orr, never really showing that he crash lands every single time he flies. Milo also, despite being hilarious, is hard to grasp. As is his syndicate. I feel like only because I know the book, did I enjoy the show.

Which is a bummer because it is a great show. It doesn’t pull any punches, it’s gorgeous, and George Clooney makes an ass of himself. Maybe a few more episodes to develop the characters so that when they died, the audience might feel it more. Or some more time setting up the emotional climax of Yossarian’s service better, so that the impact hits even harder?

I just don’t want the only viewers of this miniseries to be people over 40. I’m worried younger people will skip it or try it and not get into it. Because this book and material is important. The greatest anti-war fiction ever written. A novel so good it literally spawned the term Catch-22. Please read it.

3 out of 4 stars

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