Since the ‘60s, people all over the world have used Catch-22 as a common noun — a cyclical situation in which a paradoxical rule renders itself useless. It’s a trap, a tangle of rhetorical nonsense, and exactly what Joseph Heller intended to highlight within his 1961 novel.
The book is a mess of bureaucratic nonsense told in a non-linear format, winding through the United States Air Force bombardier John Yossarian’s experiences in Pianosa. The satire initially seems absurd, but when compared to some real stories of the military, it’s not much of an exaggeration.
“Catch-22” is an anti-war masterpiece, and adapting it to screen is a challenge few have accepted.The last screen adaptation of the novel was nearly half a century ago, a film by Mike Nichols that kept to the original literature, but required a hearty amount of background knowledge to understand. For the most part, it sunk out of popularity, too involved for casual viewing.
Hulu took a shot at adapting “Catch-22” for enjoyment with a six-episode miniseries.
The newest attempt brings Heller’s satire to a new audience. The miniseries follows bombardier Yossarian through the toils of an unidentified war. He deals with the loss of friends, the bureaucratic military system and even some physical pain himself, all the while trying to find a way to get home.
Unlike the novel, however, the adapted version is primarily linear, reducing some of the difficulty of understanding the already-complex storyline.
Additionally, the once-expansive list of characters was whittled down to something easier to follow, all the while beefing up the storylines of those that remained.
TV and films adapted from novels usually destroy a bit of the original's integrity. “Catch-22” was no exception, but without those sacrifices the story could never have been enjoyably translated. It’s all a little “Baby’s First War Satire,” but that’s showbiz.
Changes in plot aside, “Catch-22” was exceptional. The actors seemed like they were born for their roles, especially Christopher Abbott as Yossarian, and each scene was beautifully shot and directed. It was a watered-down version of a classic, but if you pretend it's an original it’s great.
If you’re a big fan of the book you probably won’t be happy, but if you enjoy satire and a 1950’s soundtrack, you will. It’s as simple as that.