When HBO’s Band of Brothers hit American TV screens, the world was a very different place. Not only were shows of its quality the exception rather than the rule but, rather more seriously, it was – to date – the last drama about Americans at war made at a time when America was at peace; its first episode aired on 9 September, 2001, two days before 9/11.
Considering the tone of its follow-up series, The Pacific, it seems unlikely a Band of Brothers made against the backdrop of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions would have been much different. While honouring the men who served, both dramas don’t shy away from the horrors, nor the idiotic military bureaucracy, although one has to wonder if the studio might have been so keen on the scene in Band of Brothers in which a US officer calmly murders dozens of German prisoners.
Developed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on their back of their ground-breaking war movie, Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers follows the soldiers of “Easy” Company, from parachute training in the US to deployment in Europe and long months of gruelling warfare, as they play their part pushing the German forces back across the continent.
Based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s meticulously researched 1993 non-fiction book, Band of Brothers barely puts a foot wrong. As well as the justifiably lauded combat scenes, the show’s real triumph is in its characterisation of the troops; these boys are real, living breathing people and we go through Hell with them. There are numerous moments when even the hardest hearted viewer will be moved to tears, especially as each episode is topped and tailed by talking head interviews with the real-life soldiers.
From the perspective of TV history, the show is also of major significance. Not only did it usher in the current golden age, together with the Sopranos, The West Wing and The Wire, but it launched the careers of some of our best loved actors. There’s Damian Lewis, of course, whose thoughtful and principled Captain Winters is the heart and soul of the series. But the rest of the supporting cast is like an episode of Before They Were Famous – not only do we have Michael Cudlitz, better known as The Walking Dead’s Abraham, as Bull Randleman, but minor parts are taken by little known actors such as Simon Pegg, Dominic Cooper, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender.
Showered with awards – seven Emmys and a Golden Globe for starters – following transmission, 15 years on it remains the high benchmark to which modern TV drama aspires. Merely watching once isn’t sufficient – this is drama to own, not just to stream. In short: it’s televisual perfection.
Band of Brothers is available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month – no contract.