This isn’t what you’d expect – George Clooney and “Catch-22” as key pieces for a mega-corporation.
But that’s how things unfolded. Consider:
— On Tuesday (May 14), the deal was announced: Disney, which owns ABC, gets full control of the Hulu streaming service; in 2024, it could buy the portion owned by Comcast (NBC’s owner) for $27.5 billion. That follows a trend, with Disney buying its way (Pixar, Marvel, “Star Wars”) to the top.
— And just three days later (today, May 17), Hulu launched one of its biggest shows, Clooney’s “Catch-22” mini-series.
The network’s biggest hit has been “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which won eight Emmys (including best drama series) un its first season. Now “Catch-22” has the same anti-authority edge.
The current world has “this kind of shared global anxiety,” Luke Davies, who co-wrote the scripts, told the Television Critics Association. The “Catch-22” novel was “a prophetic distillation of that anxiety.”
Joseph Heller began it after returning from World War II. “Army people are the first people who like these stories, because you’re making fun of the higher-ups,” Clooney said to the TCA. “It’s more about the bureaucratizaion of military and war.”
It was published in 1961 – just ahead of the anti-war, anti-establishment fervor. “That was one of those books they gave you in high school, that you were supposed to read,” Clooney said. “This is considered one of the great American novels of all time.”
When PBS had its poll to choose Americans’ favorite novel, “Catch-22” finished at No. 47. “Handmaid’s Tale” — Margaret Atwood’s 1985 tale of women in a repressive society — was No. 34.
Both are counter-culture classics. Now both are in the domain of a corporation that’s buying the world.
Clooney has long been comfortable with anti-establishment tales, from the Edward R. Murrow movie “Good Night, and Good Luck” to the satire “Burn After Reading” and an upcoming Watergate mini-series. He’s spoken often on rights issues and his wife is a prominent human-rights lawyer.
Still, he said he and producing partner Grant Heslov resisted the idea of a “Catch-22” mini-series. “Then they sent us the first three scripts.”
Soon, they were enmeshed, as producers and more. Clooney directed the first two hours, Heslov the last two, with Ellen Kuras doing the middle two. Clooney plays Scheisskopf, the deranged officer (in the novel, going from lieutenant to general) who berates Yossarian (Christopher Abbott) and others.
Heslov plays Doc Daneeka; “I auditioned myself a lot,” he joked.
Late in the first hour, Doc is the one who explains the ultimate catch: To be discharged for mental reasons, you must request it … and wanting to be out of war is automatic proof of sanity.
In the 1970 movie, Heslov said, that “scene is a little bit more of a throwaway.”
Not this time. It’s done at length – consummate proof of a system that controls you. And now it’s in the domain of a company that (almost) controls Hollywood.
Hulu in brief:
— Created in 2007 and debuted in 2010, with a backlog of ABC, NBC and Fox shows; originals have been gradually added
— “Catch-22” debuted Friday, with all six hours
— “Handmaid’s Tale” has its third season June 5
— Other recent originals include the “Looming Tower” mini-series, “Future Man,” “Shrill” “Ramy” and Marvel’s “Runaways”
— Many Marvel series on the way, especially animated ones