By Dave B.
Based on the classic satirical novel of the same name, Catch-22 (Hulu) follows Yossarian and his bomber squadron as they fight their way up through Italy in the final act of the European campaign of WWII. For Yossarian and his compatriots, it seems as if the war will never end as the number of missions they must fly in order to be sent home is constantly raised. Yossarian tries every trick that he can think of (except for some of the most obvious ones) to try to avoid the missions and postpone what he sees as a pointless death in a war that is nearly won.
Here’s a little known fact about me: “Catch-22” is my favorite novel, bar none. I had a great teacher in undergrad who taught us how to read it (an odd concept, but if you’ve ever read the book, you know that some instruction in the proper way to understand and interpret it is a definite plus) and opened up the world of literary satire and absurdism to me in a way that I’ll forever be thankful for. The six episode Catch-22 miniseries does a decent (but not exceptional) job of capturing the spirit of its source material.
The parts of Catch-22 that I appreciate the most are the performances (which are excellent) and the cinematography, which manages to goregeously contrast the horrors of war with the beauty of Italy. From a production standpoint, Catch-22 is a great show. My main issue with Catch-22, however, is that it comes of as more of a tragedy than as a satire. The two genres can certainly go hand-in-hand and often the best examples of one include hefty dollops of the other. But part of what made the novel so great (and what the show doesn’t convey as well nor as consistently) is that hierarchy, and the bureaucracy that enables it, have been and continue to be, two of the biggest sources of human misery. In the show, Yossarian comes off as more of a coward that can be empathized with, than as one of the few people in the world who have retained their sanity and ability to reason and can make audiences laugh at his (and our) existential predicament. Plus the show’s efforts to capture the book’s macabre/absurd humor often fall flat due to being dramatized instead of allowing viewers to draw their own mental and emotional conclusions.
In short, Catch-22 doesn’t fully capture the spirit of the novel. In no way does that make the miniseries bad, but it places it in an awkward position: those who have read the book are likely to come away disappointed and those who haven’t are unlikely to recognize the story for the epically subversive gem that it is. Nevertheless, I recommend Catch-22. It’s beautiful, both in scenery and acting, and is worth the five hours or so of your time that you’d have to give to watch it. Just don’t go into expecting a completely satisfying representation of the original material.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.