National Geographic Channel’s Inside Combat Rescue is the next great cable documentary-style reality series. I’m confident saying that even just one of its first of six episodes, which debuted last night (it airs Mondays at 10). From the incredible cinematography to the illustration of the reality of our military’s work in Afghanistan, this is an outstanding series.
While there have been other military-themed reality shows before, this succeeds because it grounds its storytelling with the PJs, pararescue jumpers in the Air Force. They go in to rescue often critically injured people and transport them to get critically needed medical care, putting themselves in harm’s way to rescue people who’ve already been harmed. They also act as paramedics, basically.
The series is not shy about showing graphic imagery, such as with the rescue of a 25-year-old whose right leg has been amputated when his motorcycle hit an IED, nor are the people it profiles shy about telling us exactly how they feel, describing the impact of their work in interviews that are informative, insightful, and emotional.
In one scene, a PJ talks to his wife and baby via Skype. In the next segment, his team is almost deployed to rescue two critically injured children, but they’re held off because the new rules of engagement mean they only respond if the injuries were the fault of Americans, not the Taliban. “We’re just gonna let these kids die?” “That’s not our call.” One of the kids then dies.
It’s devastating and brutal, and even more incredible that scene can follow an incredibly comic, laugh-out-loud moment as they sit around waiting. The tension developed by the reality of their circumstances–and, of course, the editing–reminds me of Whale Wars, though of course this is even more consequential.
The cameras do an exceptional job of placing us in the middle of the action, sometimes from the helmets of the PJs, and other times from stunning shots outside a helicopter. But best of all, the series brings us into a reality that would exist without the presence of cameras.