Based on Joseph Heller’s classic antiwar novel CATCH 22, the 2019 Hulu series of the same title lovingly adds depth and dimension to Heller’s absurd world but tonally sacrifices the dark humor. I enjoyed it but found myself unfavorably comparing it both to the novel and the brilliant, tightly written 1970 movie starring Alan Arkin and many other great actors.
Produced by several people including George Clooney, who also directed and stars in several episodes, the six-part series describes the tribulations of John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott), an Air Force bombardier serving in Italy during World War II. He hates being there and wants to go home, but his brutal commander keeps raising the combat missions quota, making him wonder who the real enemy is.
The book is packed with absurdity to a Monty Python level. The tone shifts from dark comedy to just dark by its last act, with the horror closing in on Yossarian until he makes the ultimate choice to save himself. The series takes a different tack, playing it serious for the most part and sacrificing most of the books’ humor, but punctuating the otherwise serious story with absurd comedic moments that feel disjointed and not very funny. There’s a ton of filler plot stuff that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and a lot of shots of Yossarian moping. The ending doesn’t really end.
That being said, the cinematography is lavish, as is the attention given to historical detail. The story starts off really well and is basically enjoyable, the acting is good, the potential of the story eventually hitting its stride is inviting. So in the end, I liked it, though I wanted to love it. I just ended up feeling like the show couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.