Do you know anyone who doesn't have an opinion about the war in Iraq? Anyone who doesn't believe it's either wonderfully noble or tragically foolish? Then you may be surprised by "Over There," a new drama series that debuts July 27. It's about a squad of American soldiers on the front lines in Iraq, and it bends over backward not to express any opinion whatsoever about the conflict. You can understand the kid-gloves approach, since "Over There" --unlike "M*A*S*H" or "China Beach"--is about an ongoing conflict, and a controversial one. But there's something odd about a war drama with no point of view other than praising the grunts in the field. Without a strong perspective, "Over There" turns out to be largely bloodless.
That's not to say it's not bloody. "Over There" is probably the most graphically violent TV series ever. The first episode finds the squad caught in a battle so brutal that we see one Iraqi shot in half and an American losing half his leg to a land mine. "Over There" can be intense and suspenseful, even when the squad is sent to some place as mundane as an Army checkpoint. Unfortunately, the show is so busy getting the soldiers into harm's way, it forgets to develop them as characters beyond the generic: the bigot, the brain, the mom, the patriot, etc. We're rooting for our guys, of course, but it's hard to care about them, especially since the show's insistence on evenhandedness creates just as many evil Americans (usually dimwitted officers) as Iraqis.
The man behind "Over There" is Steven Bochco, who created the complex and indelible "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "NYPD Blue." Freed from the constraints of network television, Bochco and his writers give the grunts the most colorful language this side of "Deadwood." But while profanity and gore in the tinderbox of Iraq may make an unusual and sometimes tense drama, it isn't enough to make "Over There" compelling. In trying not to offend the audience, it likely won't grab one, either.