The barrage of news stories is unrelenting. I’ve never kept up with current events more than I have this past year. But even I sometimes have trouble remembering what happened a month ago. That’s because a month can seem like three years in Trump years. And it’s far too easy to forget the actual human beings behind tragic events. It puts a pit in my stomach to type this, but we have, I believe, become desensitized to death. To war. To mass shootings. Part of that is for self-preservation. The world feels so unstable, so unsafe.
When we can barely process the horrors happening in our own backyard, it’s easy to really not pay attention to those who serve in the military, who sacrifice so much, whose stories are so much more than what the media and advocates on both sides of the aisle can turn them into. Their stories transcend political affiliation. Thankfully, we have journalists like Martha Raddatz to delve deep, ask the hard questions and honor the men and women who give so much.
I’m making The Long Road Home sound like a sappy made-for-TV movie. It’s not, but before I can review the miniseries, I need to acknowledge how important it is to tell these stories, to honor these men and women, to not forget our history. In April 2004, soldiers from the 1st Calvary Division stationed in Sadr City, Baghdad and on a peacekeeping mission were ambushed. The eight-part miniseries tells the story of the events known as “Black Sunday,” the story of the men sent to rescue them and the story of the families they left behind. Based on Raddatz’s meticulously researched book of the same name, the first night begins with the ambush and the foreboding sense that we know something the soldiers don’t—that their lives will soon be in danger.
With such a sprawling story to tell, it would be easy for the viewer to get lost. But smartly, each episode is structured around a single character—their backstory, their reason for serving, what they left behind. E. J. Bonilla is a standout early on as Lt. Shane Aguero, who inadvertently leads his men straight into danger. Aguero is the epitome of calm under pressure. The second hour focuses on Lt. Col Gary Volesky (Michael Kelly), who prides himself on having never lost a man in battle. His confidence is palpable. One thing The Long Road Home makes abundantly clear is that there is no room for wavering. In the face of incredible danger and unimaginable circumstances. Aguero and Volesky must lead decisively and with conviction.
The story of the families back home on base does verge a bit into Army Wives territory, and I say that as someone who loved that Lifetime series, so that’s more an observation than a criticism. While the soldiers are shown to be fully realized characters with flaws, and the series doesn’t shy away from the infighting that can incur, the women in their lives tend to border on sainthood. When Lt. Troy Denomy (Jason Ritter) laments to his wife, Gina (Kate Bosworth), that he’s sad to leave her while she’s still recovering from a C-section and to miss their newborn’s first smile, first steps and other milestones, Gina replies, “Hey, don’t worry about us. We’re gonna be fine. Just worry about yourself, OK?” Suffice it to say, I would not be so sanguine about the situation. When Gina and Leann Volesky (Sarah Wayne Callies) learn of the attack and must guide the families at the home base through their work with the Family Readiness Group, their armor stars to crack. “How am I going to do this? Comfort the families and help them. I can’t,” Gina laments.
Filmed on location in Fort Hood, Texas and utilizing 600 real-life soldiers and their families, the series succeeds in allowing the viewer to feel a real connection with the soldiers so that when one is lost in the battle, you will feel the loss acutely. And the personality of the men shines through. Jeremy Sisto is predictably fantastic as the quirky Staff Sergeant Robert Miltenberger. “I know what it’s like to be in a war zone. I pray to God we don’t find one today,” he says as they head off on a rescue mission.
Like other great war movies (think Saving Private Ryan), The Long Road Home is an unflinching look at the terrors of war, the heroes war creates, and the sacrifices of all involved. It’s a long road we should all go down.
The Long Road Home premieres Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 9 p .m. on National Geographic.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .