Based on Joseph Heller’s best-selling novel and adapted by Australians Luke Davies and David Michôd, Catch-22 is a six-part miniseries that follows airman John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott) and colleagues at an American airbase in southern Italy during World War II.
Having joined the airforce in the belief that, with the required longer training, the war might be over before any active service is an indication of where Yossarian is coming from. The inane, soul destroying boot camp under the control of the (to the men) sadistic General Scheisskopf (George Clooney) provides an early introduction to the razor-sharp, humour-laden dialogue of the Clooney-produced miniseries.
But Catch-22 doesn’t dwell on US soil and the men (minus Scheisskopf) find themselves, M*A*S*H-style, encamped in military quarters close to enemy lines. They do have the glorious beaches of the Mediterranean to distract them. But that proves to be of limited benefit for the likes of Yossarian. Looking to reach the required service quota of airstrikes so he can be sent home, he becomes more and more desparate as Colonel Cathcart (Kyle Chandler), head of the base, simply increases the number.
The ensemble cast of young male flyers and older, seasoned military authority meld perfectly in this mix of (exaggerated) comedy and pathos (it’s a war, remember. Yossarian loses a few too many colleagues – and some in the most shocking, unexpected ways). It doesn’t always work – the lengths Yossarian will go to sometimes sits badly with the bravery of others and the airstrikes themselves are invariably less than convincing. But when the humour hits, it hits hard (try dealing in the military with someone named Major Major Major) and there are a number of extremely likeable characters on the camp – which makes their loss even harder to bear.
And why Catch-22?
Every time Yossarian gets close to his requirement, his sanity begins to crack and he lashes out to get relieved from duty. But this puts him in violation of the sadistically bureaucratic rule of Catch-22 — where a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions but a request to be removed from duty is evidence of sanity and therefore makes him ineligible to be relieved from duty.
You just can’t win – as Yossarian keeps on discovering.