I just finished watching the first episode of the new Catch-22 mini-series airing on Channel 4, and as its source material is my all-time favourite novel, I wanted to do post my reaction to it, along with some hopes for the future episodes. Technically, all episodes are already on Hulu, but I live in the UK and it is being drip-fed so I can only go off of the one episode as it is all I have currently seen.
For the unaware, Catch-22 primarily follows Captain Yossarian, an American bombardier stationed in Italy during the Second World War, who is very cross that thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. It is a slightly surreal anti-war satire which highlights the absurdity of war and the dangers of bureaucracy. It is also widely regarded as an ‘unfilmable’ novel, though that didn’t stop Mike Nichols from trying to turn it into a feature in the 1970s (with an almost perfect cast, Alan Arkin is the most Yossarian Yossarian that could ever Yossarian) with very little success. This time George Clooney has stepped up to the plate with this new mini-series but does it hold up?
Well, the good news is that the casting is pretty good. As said, I am a fan of the Mike Nichols casting (other than Art Garfunkel, who was a very odd choice) and honestly wasn’t sure I could see any other actors in certain roles, but I am pleasantly surprised by Christopher Abbott’s Yossarian – he sounds exactly like I have always imagined him to sound. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of the other characters yet to determine how good a pick they are (and haven’t met some of them) but I will say, so far, so good.
It is also really beautifully filmed – if you can call a war piece beautiful, there is some gore in this right off the bat. But the colours used really bring out the beauty of the Italian setting, which makes the death and destruction of war even more jarring. The CGI is actually quite good as well, considering it didn’t have a blockbuster budget.
Now, I don’t want to be one of those people who bemoan an adaptation because it isn’t exactly like the book, however right now I am one of those people. I know, I suck. It’s my favourite novel, cut me some slack – and surely the target audience is the readers anyway, so it matters somewhat. So I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few things that really bother me so far with this adaptation.
The first of these is the fact that – for the first episode at least – it is in chronological order. I appreciate that some people may view this as an improvement, non-linear storytelling is always going to be difficult to keep up with, but it is one of the things I love most about the novel. You follow so many different characters and often see the same event from multiple points of views but without context or full understanding of what is going on, and by the time you get that context, it hits that much harder. I’ve seen it explained as akin to getting the punchline before the joke, which is a great summation. I appreciate that this is not an easy literary device to adapt, but I feel like some of the magic and insanity is lost in telling the story chronologically. It isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but I’m disappointed it is told in such a run-of-the-mill fashion.
The next irk is kind of petty, but because we are going chronologically, we have not yet met the Chaplain and therefore not experienced Yossarian falling instantaneously in love with him. This bothers me, but I’ll get over it, though the sooner he appears on the screen, the better.
My final nit-pick is truly the nit-pickiest nit-pick, but it honestly threw me and I am not a fan of this particular adaptational decision – Yossarian is not called Yossarian by anyone in the series, instead, he has been dubbed ‘YoYo’. Every character in the novel calls him Yossarian, the text always refers to him as Yossarian, the only time he is referred to as YoYo is in one chapter by inconsequential characters that he does not like. Why the fuck is he called YoYo in the series? Could they not work out the correct pronunciation for Yossarian? Yet the figured out Minderbinder? Honestly, the strangest choice to make in my opinion and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the thing that annoyed me most. I’m petty, I know.
On the whole, I had pretty high expectations for this show, and so far I do feel a little letdown. It is only the first episode though, the next five could be spectacular, so I still hold out hope. Just please don’t make me call him YoYo.