Matt Smith reviews the first episode of Catch-22…
There is a view that most stories deemed ‘classics’, whether printed, told in person or recorded on camera or microphone, are classics because they are timeless. This might be because the protagonist is relatable, or is an example to aspire to. It might be because the story is simple and great fun, an example of escapism audiences can indulge in.
This could be applied to thousands of stories, both recent and conceived millennia ago.
Another reason might be because they say something about the world that is timeless; a view often linked to the opinion that history is cyclical, repetitions are made and the tides of history move as if on some grand cosmic schedule. Some lesson or moral is offered, or even just a reflection of society at one point or another is revealed to be a reflection of modern society also.
Catch-22 could be argued as an example of all the above. In terms of style, it revelled in inverse and logical fallacies. The reception it received was an amazing example of the former; five-star reviews alongside reviewers who hardly felt the concept worth the paper it was printed on. Still, the tales therein regarding people fighting unhelpful bureaucracy and those in charge making up laws that suit them while ignoring laws that don’t seem like tales worth telling at a lot of points in history, don’t they?
The TV adaptation’s first episode has the unenvious task of introducing all the plot threads and characters that the book features, including a bombardier trying to escape the war, a lowly soldier wily enough to perhaps make a few bucks on the side and a dead man in a tent.
The episode does a worthy job of this. It’s an intro that gives the viewer a lot to watch. It introduces characters in a way that doesn’t feel slow or laboured, its brand of low-key humour mixing with brash, cartoonish moments.
This is juxtaposed with moments of melancholy and violence, creating the perfect introduction to the mixture of chaos and purported order all brought about by men wearing brass.
With everything that the story might want to bring along, there is a lot to keep track of. With a book, one can simply turn the pages back to re-read something without causing too much disruption to the flow of the story. TV, on the other hand, requires more emphasis on the creator and less on the viewer and therefore loses that flow if someone needs to pick up the remote and rewind (or fast forward, unless you particularly enjoy watching an advert for fast food after seeing a bomber crew bloodily blown out of the sky).
An obvious difference between TV and book is of course delivery. While the free association style employed in the book plays, arguably, perfectly, it’s yet to be seen whether the wonderfully disordered narration will fit this onscreen adaptation. Catch-22, while avoiding the stop-start flow that some shows have in their first episode, also feels a little flat.
The episode seems to imply that Yossarian, de facto protagonist of the book, wants to escape because of the guilt he feels after his mistake plays a hand in the death of another airman, while in the book Yossarian seems to be more at odds with the way of the world and the war itself.
A small quibble, but another difference that seems to take the TV version away from the cynicism and perhaps stymies the emotion most prevalent in the book – a feeling of pure, white-hot rage. Again, while this first episode gives the viewer a lot to watch, it’s arguable whether it gives the viewer a lot to feel.