Screen Test

Screen Test: Military drama The Brave is too preachy for its own good

Hollywood seems to periodically glitch and spit out multiple versions of the same thing, then release them uncomfortably close to one another, generating a modicum of confusion and annoyance for viewers.

This time around, the surplus is a military one, with more than half a dozen new rah-rah dramas focusing on elite or otherwise unique teams of soldiers debuting this year and the next.

Observers believe the trend is a grab for politically conservative audiences - a move inspired, perhaps, by the box-office success of American Sniper, the top-grossing film in the United States in 2014.

And as a theme, it seems a low-risk proposition in a country where it is anathema on both the right and left to say anything but "Thank you for your service" to members of the military.

The first of these series to air in Singapore will be The Brave, which debuts on Sept 26.

On paper, it does not look hugely different from two other shows premiering in the US over the next few weeks: SEAL Team, a drama about Navy Seals; and Valor, about hotshot young helicopter pilots; or from existing series such as SIX, which is also about Seals and aired in Singapore in January.

Mike Vogel (far left) stars as an officer leading a team on a mission to rescue a kidnapped eye surgeon in The Brave.
Mike Vogel (left) stars as an officer leading a team on a mission to rescue a kidnapped eye surgeon in The Brave. PHOTO: HBO ASIA

But The Brave reveals a political correctness that is rather surprising, if it really is going after right-leaning viewers.

The pilot episode sees a special-forces unit led by 1st Lieutenant Adam Dalton (Under The Dome's Mike Vogel) being sent to rescue an American eye surgeon, who was kidnapped from her Doctors Without Borders post near Damascus, Syria, by a terrorist group.

As openers go, the execution of this feels like a workaday procedural drama more than a counter-terrorism thriller.


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And this is not helped by the most bland, borderline-white- saviour montage showing the do-gooder blonde physician saving Syrian lives before being snatched from her car while talking on the phone to her adoring husband.

Early reviews of SEAL Team say that show begins with the abduction of a blonde female charity worker too, which is awkward. If the creators of both shows were subconsciously trying to make the central conflict as stark as possible, it does not bode well for either.

On The Brave, the team of intelligence analysts directing the rescue team's moves from Washington, DC - who predict the good doctor will be publicly executed within 72 hours - has a similar from-central-casting feel.

Each character hurriedly delivers a few lines or looks that are supposed to signal their archetype, including intelligence agency chief Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche), who stoically steers the mission although her own son has just died in combat.

But the episode goes more in depth, and against type, with its field operatives.

For starters, there are two Muslims on the five-person team: Amir (Hadi Tabbal), who spent three years undercover with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Jaz (Natacha Karam), a female sniper - the continuation of a positive trend seen on shows such as Homeland (2011 to present) and SIX.

Early on, The Brave signals its intention to question prejudice against Muslim Americans with an exchange between Jaz and Amir, who asks if she was raised a Muslim ("I was raised a New Yorker," she retorts).

The show takes aim at gender bias, too. When Jaz tells Dalton he is the first commanding officer to overlook her sex, he tells her he never forgets that "getting here was harder for you than I'll ever understand".

This is all very well-intentioned, of course, but it is not subtle or artful. As a result, the show comes off as preachy - in fact, there is even a member of the team nicknamed Preach, and he does just that, often insufferably.

Some of these narrative choices are more aspirational than accurate too. For one thing, there are reportedly only a handful of qualified female snipers in the US military and they would likely not be deployed the way Jaz is.

What saves the episode from drowning in ham-fisted political correctness is the slick rescue operation, which features several implausible-but-entertaining takes on spycraft and subterfuge, including a fake-prisoner scam and a daring hospital break.

If the show keeps playing to these strengths, maybe some of its political messages might sink in.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Military drama too preachy for its own good'. Print Edition | Subscribe