Survivor: Kandahar

The moment in "Profiles From the Front Lines"--ABC's new reality show about U.S. forces in Afghanistan--when I realized I wasn't cut out for combat was the moment in which members of the 82nd Airborne Division board their flight from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Kandahar. As 200 soldiers packed into this double-wide transport plane, I thought to myself, "Boy, those seats look really uncomfortable." Once they reach Afghanistan, it only gets worse. If you're like me--a wuss--you'll find it hard not to admire the insane lifestyle these soldiers adopt on our behalf, no matter how often "Profiles" looks and sounds like a top-dollar war propaganda effort.

This intoxicating show, from slam-bang action-movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is the first network attempt to run the "Survivor" playbook with a worthy subject. (Its co-executive producer is NEWSWEEK contributing photographer David Hume Kennerly.) "Profiles" doesn't pretend to be a journalistic venture--the triumphal music, teary backstories and absence of any objective narrator give away the game--which may explain why it's so engrossing. The backbone of the show is footage of the Special Forces guys who do the scary work of going door to door in Afghan villages hunting down Al Qaeda foot soldiers. Yet even the ancillary segments from the sprawling support operation grab your attention. One scene tails a squad of naval officers as they board a ship of Iraqi smugglers to enforce U.N. sanctions. It plays like a "COPS" episode, but the intrigue comes from the geopolitical context. The troops discover a bag of crack cocaine on the rancid ship--and an address book that could have names of other thugs, maybe even a terrorist or two.

"Profiles" makes little effort to hide its pro-military bias. There are no shots of civilian casualties from friendly fire--which happened during the fighting--or any of the disturbing machismo detailed in c. Since the show was made with the cooperation of the Pentagon and the Department of Defense, we'd be naive to expect otherwise. Still, those skeptical of the war effort will find plenty to latch onto, including moments the show's producers probably didn't realize anyone would find odious. A captain from the 82nd tells one young soldier he's got a package for him, then hands the kid an antitank rocket launcher; the soldier cradles the weapon and looks down at it as if it's a newborn baby. Perhaps a few episodes later we'll see him again after he's actually fired the thing at somebody, though I doubt it. "Profiles" isn't telling the whole truth, but that doesn't make the truth it does tell any less fascinating.