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REVIEW: Netflix delivers refreshing diversity tale in 'The Liberator' series

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The Liberator

Everyone likes a good old-fashioned war story. The heroism, the explosions, the tension created by dangerous and volatile scenes all make a rush scarcely matched by other genres. However, this is not completely the case for The Liberator (2020). Despite being a limited-run television show, The Liberator fails to match the prestige and acclaim of other more prominent programs belonging to the war drama genre.

While the show is based on a genuine story and conveys a story of real acts of heroism by brave soldiers overcoming impossible odds, it cannot provide its audience feelings of courage and victory that one would hope for in such a program. Alongside this, the show challenges itself with its novel cinematography. The mix of live-action and CGI does garner curiosity and exhibits creativity, but it ultimately hinders and further burdens the show’s attempt to succeed.

  • The Liberator (2020)
  • War Drama
  • 4 episodes- one-hour drama (45-56 minutes)
  • TV-MA
  • Netflix Original Series : The true story of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
  • tarring:Bradley James, Martin Sensmeier, Jose Miguel Vasque
  • Creators:Jeb Stuart

The story’s plot is based mainly on historical events in Italy during the Second World War, although the show has scenes and episodes in different US states and countries. The protagonist is Felix “Shotgun” Sparks, an Oklahoma military officer in charge of the “Thunderbirds,” a diverse unit made up of Mexican Americans, Native soldiers, and white cowboys. Sparks, played by Bradley James, commands this unit made up of several changing characters, with notable portrayals by Jose Miguel Vasquez and Martin Sensmeier, among others. The show focuses on the unit’s journey and the numerous battles in Europe in the Second World War.

The audience follows Sparks as he learns the ropes of leading men in combat. As far as acting goes, Bradley James holds his own playing the commanding officer. Still, the animation style and inconsistent character development make the audience have difficulty getting attached (characters more often than not look like poorly rendered blobs or background characters in old video games or animated movies.) Sparks’ inexperience, however, is compelling to the audience because they follow his progression from a novice and green military officer to that of a hardy veteran commander. A genuine feeling of growth as Sparks eventually commands over a thousand men, a significant increase from his initial command of roughly a dozen men. Sparks’ success is the unit's success, so there is a palpable feeling of importance in his character. On top of this, historically marginalized populations i.e., Native Americans and Hispanics, are given positions of prominence and influence. With this in mind, the audience observes the Thunderbirds growth as they make their way to Germany. Each episode covers a new obstacle the unit faces. While these obstacles are relatively predictable, the show may rely on this for the sake of accuracy.

The Liberator introduces a fresh twist on the classic war story - it manages to tell a story of bravery while depicting the realistic situations and dilemmas posed to the soldiers. In regards to the dialogue, it feels genuine and natural. There are segments where Sparks is speaking as if he is writing to his stateside wife, but the rest is between characters.

It is essential to acknowledge that conflict and loss is integral to every story and plot. With that in mind, The Liberator does not shy away from this aspect of storytelling in its scenes of action and battle. To analyze this challenge, the cultivation theory of mass communications is relevant. The theory postulates that the perspective of individuals and society has been shaped and “cultivated” by the media. Perspectives are often altered in a way that distorts to people what is reality versus what is fictionalized or exaggerated.

As consumers of television and media, people who frequent war dramas are all too familiar with the idea of gallant soldiers being outnumbered, outgunned, and out planned. Despite these seemingly impossible circumstances, the heroes can overcome their enemies at the last second. Of course, there are plenty of examples of such situations, some rooted entirely in fact and firsthand accounts but others wholly fictionalized. Of all the possible outcomes of such dire scenarios, the stories told are the “cream of the crop,” in that the good guys win.

The Liberator turns this trope on its head by telling a story in which the good guys don’t always come out on top. The show conveys to the audience that there are some situations where the enemies are better positioned, better fighters, or in some cases, better strategists. Like most war stories, there are highs and lows, each presenting a change in momentum for both the characters and the audience. Unfortunately for The Liberator, the audience ultimately suffers from this choice.

Showrunner Jeb Stuart wanted to challenge himself, taking on a project that must have been difficult to manage, be it artistically or narratively. While this may serve as a more authentic recreation of the story of Officer Sparks and the Thunderbirds, it works to hinder the entertainment the audience experiences. In other words, the story and concept of a culturally and ethnically diverse military unit like the Thunderbirds during the most devastating and impactful war in human history is refreshing in the modern-day. The show does not sustain this refreshing feeling for long after watching the various failures and setbacks the unit experiences throughout the run of the series.

As the Allies won the Second World War, the audience can expect that the protagonists will take part in the glory of helping to end the war, similar to that of Easy Company reaching the Eagle’s Nest in Germany, as portrayed in Band of Brothers. Further relating to cultivation theory, The Liberator goes against the audience’s preconceived notions about how war stories are supposed to play out. The perception of the audience differs from the outcome and events of the show - failure, disappointment, powerlessness amid an overwhelming enemy force - but without producing a positive twist. Despite being an exciting concept, the showrunners should limit The Liberator to one season. The story of the Thunderbirds is over by the end of the series, making it difficult to extend the program’s run. Another valiant unit could take the spotlight (as there are countless soldiers and units with compelling stories), which could be an exciting development.

Overall, The Liberator stands as a meaningful addition to the war drama genre. I do not recommend it to people who are fans of war dramas, but those who are unspoiled by shows like Band of Brothers and The Pacific should give The Liberator a watch. It provides a spin on the genre seen rarely. The meager four episodes offer consumers a chance to binge and finish the series within the span of an afternoon, which is convenient. The acting of the main characters is compelling, despite being muddied by the show’s unique animation style. Scenes are blurry and vaguer in scope due to the immersion-breaking animation. The show fails to live up to the entertainment value of other well-known war shows, but its creativity and ambition are admirable. The story of the Thunderbirds and their sacrifice is monumental and awe-inspiring. However, Stuart and the rest of the show’s producers do not make the audience believe the characters have prevailed but instead that they have failed.

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