Hulu’s Catch-22 is a show that is impossible to look away from. In the opening scene, viewers watch John Yossarian, U.S. Army bombardier, wanders dazed, naked and covered in blood on a combat airplane runway. An adaption of Joseph Heller’s 1961 satirical World War II novel of the same name, this mini–series portrays the absurdities of war and military life through graphic scenes and paradoxes. Written by Luke Davies and David Michôd, and directed by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Ellen Kuras, this star-studded show based on a literary classic meets its lofty ambitions.
The mini-series' six episodes condense and rearrange an originally non-chronological storyline in a way that’s easy to follow for viewers. While this rearrangement takes away from the novel’s chaos and absurdity, it breathes new life into the plot as Yossarian, nicknamed Yo-Yo, attends flight-training school and eventually flies endless missions in the war’s Mediterranean Theatre. Yossarian, played masterfully by Christopher Abbott, is not an enthusiastic patriot, but rather a very human antihero on his own individualistic mission to make it out of the war alive. Despite a lack of devotion and support for his country and the military cause, Yossarian survives mission after mission while devoted soldiers and friends are killed so swiftly and senselessly. He fakes illness, he manipulates his squadron’s plans and does whatever he can to avoid dangerous missions. One wants to hate Yossarian, but it’s hard not to relate to his deep and human instinct for survival.
Alongside Yossarian is a range of devoted patriots. There are overly strict military leaders, young and fearful teens and cruel, moral-less fighters. Minor characters represent much larger aspects of human nature. Luckily, at times, these side characters provide comic relief to the violent and disheartening show. Most memorable are the enterprising profiteer Milo Minderbinder and the clueless Major Major Major Major.
Milo is the “mess officer” in charge of entertaining and feeding the squadron, quickly becoming a satirical representation of the “American Dream” as he obsesses over trading and buying goods around the world to make a profit. In one humorous scene, he’s shown to be the beloved mayor of an Italian city because of his great business success. In another, he convinces Yossarian to pretend to be John Rockefeller as they meet with Arab royalty. Meanwhile, Officer Major Major Major whose first, middle and last name happens to be Major, is promoted to the ranks of Major because of a misinterpretation of his name, despite his obvious lack of talent and ambition. The characters are humorous and absurd, but ironically realistic and familiar.
Watching Catch-22 is a whirlwind. Oscillating between dark, sobering and depressing to comical and goofy, this show demands attention. It’s not a pure comedy or drama, but something much more complex, rendering it deeply thought–provoking and engaging.