Picks and Pans Review: Over There

updated 08/01/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/01/2005 01:00AM

FX (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

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Let the politicians and pundits debate whether we should still be fighting in Iraq; our soldiers on the ground have more pressing things to worry about. For instance, how does one go to the bathroom after being stranded for several hours in a pitch-black desert standoff, where land mines and enemies are lurking all around you? (Answer: You don't.)

That's the reality of battle, at least for this fictitious "virgin" Army squad—a lively mix of loners, stoners and groaners—on their first tour of duty in this promising series from producer Steven Bochco. They're quickly dropped into several skirmishes, some in a blinding sandstorm, others in the dead of night (jarringly photographed through a night-vision lens). But much of their time is also spent monotonously guarding roadblocks or maintaining their position outside a mosque (where an al-Jazeera crew happens to be holed up inside with a group of insurgents), waiting as desk-bound generals ponder the public relations ramifications of their next move. "That sound like war to you?" spits the squad's gruff leader, Chris "Sgt. Scream" Silas (Erik Palladino, far more effective here channeling Vin Diesel than when he smirked through ER as Dr. Dave).

But it's in the quieter moments, when the gunfire dies down, that Over There truly hits its stride: the squad's reactions to their first kills (some are indifferent, others horrified), the filming of video e-mails for their family at home ("Mommy's at work and everything's fine," says one to her newborn son), and the plight of one obstinate soldier who, after having gruesomely lost his leg to a land mine, doggedly detoxes from morphine in a U.S. Army hospital in Germany while clinging to the unlikely hope he can one day return to his unit. Despite some early hiccups-most notably the failure to humanize the Iraqis, who do little more than fire guns and scream, "Infidels!"—Over There proves a worthy addition to the powerful FX lineup, helping the network leapfrog HBO as the place to turn to for top-shelf dramas.

DRAMA

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