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Television and the Art of War

By Rebecca Pahle | Lists | March 6, 2014 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Lists | March 6, 2014 |

I am pretty much unspeakably excited about AMC’s upcoming drama Turn, because it’s a Revolutionary War-era spy drama and—no, that’s it. That’s the reason. My ears would perk up at “Revolutionary War-ear spy drama” if Uwe Boll were starring in it. The fact that it’s Jamie Bell instead is just icing on the cake.

For my fellow TV junkie history nerds, here’s a(n uncomprehensive) look at the tradition Turn is joining: One of Emmy awards, glistening pecs, costume drama, magicians, and silly little moustaches. Unfortunately, not all in the same show.

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The Third Servile War - Spartacus
There are times when Spartacus was a bit 300 lite—so many slo-mo shots of shirtless men swinging swords surrounded by “artsy” fake blood splashes—but it didn’t take long for the Starz drama to win my heart, and not just because of its equal opportunity posterior nudity. (Male butts. Female butts. Butts everywhere.) It could be as cheesy a fondue restaurant’s refrigerator, but it had genuinely good characters. If only Spartacus’ rebellion against Rome had ended more happily…

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The Second Punic War
No one’s actually done a TV show on this, but I just want to point out how bogus it is that we have no epic, years-long account of the story of the Carthaginian general Hannibal—one of history’s most brilliant military commanders, perpetual thorn in Rome’s side, all-around badass—yet. This is the guy who decided he’d march war elephants over the Alps because screw you, Rome. Starz, do me a solid and fund this? Or maybe Bryan Fuller can do it after that other Hannibal show meets its untimely cancellation. Shut up, you know it’ll happen. It’s Fuller. Man has a jinx.

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The War of the Roses - The White Queen
The White Queen is based on the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory, who is looked down upon by a lot of Srs Bsns history nerds because of the way she plays fast and loose fast and loose with historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment. It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine the objective historical truth of events that took place hundreds of years ago during a time when scant written records were kept. But I’m still pretty sure that Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) wasn’t a witch who could sense the future and summon storms. Disjoined forays into fantasyland aside, The White Queen is a solid, entertaining show, if you don’t mind your dramas occasionally verging toward the soapy.

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English Civil War - The Devil’s Whore
Michael Fassbender, Peter Capaldi, John Simm, and Dominic West are in this 2008 miniseries, and I’d never heard of it before writing this, so I have to assume that what I’ve read about the show is accurate and it’s not worth my time. Nice colorful duds, though.

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The American Revolution - Sleepy Hollow
Fox’s Sleepy Hollow only gives us the Revolutionary War in flashbacks, with the main part of the drama taking place after Ichabod Crane gets resurrected to stop the Apocalypse, which is being helped along by an automatic weapon-wielding Headless Horseman. This show is exactly as nutterbutter as it sounds, and it knows it, which is one of the reasons I would like it so much. As you might expect from a show that puts Ichabod Crane in skinny jeans, its approach to the American Revolution is not, er, overly concerned with accuracy. There are demons and magical Masons and a temporarily undead George Washington. If you want something equally, but quite differently good, there’s always HBO’s John Adams miniseries, wherein nothing even remotely close to this happens. Sadface.

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The Civil War - North and South
The only thing you need to know about this 1985 miniseries is that the above promo pic exists because of it. Thank you, North and South.

The Napoleonic Wars - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
I could have gone with Horatio Hornblower or Sharpe here, both of which have the benefit of being out already, unlike the BBC’s Jonathan Strange miniseries. It’s only just been cast a few months ago. I don’t care. My allegiance to the book on which it is based knows no bounds. Basically, the setting is 19th century England—including the Napoleonic Wars—with magicians. “Harry Potter meets Jane Austen” is how it’s often described. The titular Jonathan Strange, an adorable ginger magician and indubitable ancestor of the Weasley family, mark my words, goes off and becomes England’s official military magician. Hilarity, death, and journeys into the fairy realm ensue.

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World War I - Blackadder Goes Forth
You were expecting a serious, Emmy-winning miniseries about the cost of war and its toll upon human life, weren’t you? Hah. No. Rowan Atkinson.

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World War II - Band of Brothers/The Pacific
Or Hogan’s Heroes, if you’re in the mood for a goofy comedy instead of a award winning tug-at-your-heartstrings-Spielberg-megadrama pair of miniseries.

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The Korean War - M*A*S*H
If you haven’t watched M*A*S*H, one of the greatest, most essential, most iconic television masterpieces since the invention of the medium, you are a Philistine who deserves to have your Netflix account taken away.

I have not watched M*A*S*H.

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Iraq - Generation Kill
There’s literally no reason for me not to have watched Generation Kill, a 2008 HBO miniseries based on Evan Wright’s book about being a journalist embedded in Iraq, yet. I’ve heard it’s good. It’s on HBO Go. Alexander Skarsgård’s in it. And yet. It’s on my to-watch list, though.

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Afghanistan - Strike Back
The first season of Strike Back starred Richard Armitage, pre-Hobbit, as an ex-military man who does contract jobs in various war zones around the world. At one point during the Afghanistan episodes he’s tied up, shirtless and sweating, by the baddie du jour. Yeeeah, I’m gonna stop there.

The Great Storage Wars of—shoot, wrong list

Rebecca has a bit of violent streak.