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Bochco takes viewers ‘Over There’

New FX drama shows emotional side of ongoing Iraq war
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. soldiers Avery “Angel” King and Maurice “Smoke” Williams carefully edge toward the door of a primitive hovel on a barren, rock-strewn slope, searching for a hostage.

Someone yells, “Hug that door, Smoke!” and the pair successfully kick it in, followed by a commanding “CUT!” from director Jesse Bochco.

It’s 90 degrees — a cool day in the real Iraq, but a scorcher in suburban Chatsworth, just a hillside away from expensive homes, swimming pools and manicured lawns.

Bochco is directing an episode of “Over There,” the latest gritty creation from his father, Steven Bochco, premiering 10 p.m. EDT July 27 on FX.

The series depicts with stark reality the experiences of American GIs serving in Iraq, as well as the effect on those left back home.

“We’re trying to do something different from what you see on the news or in documentaries,” explains co-creator Chris Gerolmo. “The news will tell you what happened, where it happened, and who was involved. But we’re inviting audiences to have a different kind of emotional experience — what it would be like to be on the ground in the war, or what it would be like to have someone you care about there at risk.”

“We don’t shy away from showing the level of pain that I think the soldiers are going through ... as well as see what happens to their families,” says Luke Macfarlane, who plays Pvt. Frank “Dim” Dumphy, a Cornell graduate who’s left behind a crumbling marriage and a troubled stepson.

Despite its edge, “the show doesn’t proselytize,” Steven Bochco says. “It just presents you with the complex realities of being in a war and leaves you to ask yourself interesting questions: What’s right? What’s wrong? How does one reconcile personal beliefs with a sense of duty?”

The series also seeks to offer an honest view of who’s serving in today’s armed forces.

“Chris and I asked ourselves, ‘What’s the general makeup of the military?”’ Bochco notes. “We want it to be representative of the military in the real world.”

Keith Robinson, who’s black and plays Angel, says he “hopes to show that the war that’s being fought over there is being fought by people just like us. Somebody who looks, sounds and thinks just like me, who’s making a life-and-death decision in the name of me and in the name of freedom.”

Robinson describes his character as a “God-fearing country boy from Arkansas who has dreams of being a singer in a choir, but, failing that, joined the Army.”

Meanwhile, Smoke (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones) is a gang-banger from Compton who chooses the Army over a prison sentence.

“He’s from the streets, from a broken home,” says Jones. “He comes here just looking out for himself. But he’s forced to grow and learn to be part of a team.”

The show’s combat team is lead by hard-edged Staff Sgt. Chris “Sgt. Scream” Silas, played by Erik Palladino.

“He’s a guy from Long Island who, in our first episode, has served for a year and was supposed to be getting out, but is forced to serve another 90 days,” Palladino says. “He’s not happy about it, but, like many of the men and women there, he’s got a job to do, and he’ll do it to the best of his ability. His attitude is, ‘I’m going to make sure that the guy standing next to me is going to get out alive.”’

Tough choices, boot campLizette Carrion portrays Pvt. Esmerelda “Doublewide” Del Rio, a Puerto Rican-American woman who has a husband and children back home in Queens. “I want her to be a person with a conscience, that wants to be a role model,” Carrion says. “She’s aware that she’s going to bring that back home and that the choices she makes are going to affect who she is for the rest of her life.”

An Arab-American in the unit, Tariq Nassiri, deals with a reality many such soldiers face in the Middle East.

“He’s an American, and he’s willing to die for America, but he is aware of his heritage,” explains Omid Abtahi, who plays Nassiri, and whose own brother is a member of the U.S. military serving in Iraq. “Tariq has simply decided that regardless of his heritage, he’s fighting for America, and the (Iraqi dissidents) are the enemy.”

Made without the cooperation of the Pentagon, the show does employ a military adviser, former Marine Staff Sgt. Sean Bunch, himself a veteran of Iraq service.

Bunch not only put the actors through a week of “boot camp” before the show’s pilot episode, but he continues to advise cast and crew on everything from the proper way to hold firearms to a soldier’s likely emotional response.

“We want to, at the very least, make it look as authentic as possible,” comments Macfarlane. “It’s really important to all of us that we do these servicemen honor by showing them in an accurate portrayal of what they do on a day-to-day basis.”