If you watched Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Apple TV+ has a treat for you: Masters of the Air. It's the third World War II-set miniseries from executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who once again focus on a brave group of men during one of the worst conflicts the world has ever seen. Debuting its first two episodes this past Friday, Masters of the Air stars Austin Butler, Barry Keoghan, and Callum Turner—which is a pretty killer lineup, if you ask us.
Be warned: if you're a Band of Brothers fan, you're strapping in for a much different flight in Masters of the Air. For one, our boys are no masters of the air, as the title suggests. Though the two main characters, Gale "Buck" Cleven (Butler) and John "Bucky" Egan (Turner) are hotshot pilots, they're a bit too green for the dangerous missions ahead. The show's name comes from historian Donald L. Miller's book, Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. However, Major Harry H. Crosby (played by Anthony Boyle), flew alongside the two heroes and wrote A Wing and a Prayer—a memoir that also serves as inspiration for the series. As you watch Masters of the Air, you may find yourself thinking that Crosby's title feels more accurate. Planes and prayers are just about all these men have to go on.
Unlike Band of Brothers' Easy Company, the pilots in Masters of the Air's first two episodes are undisciplined, rowdy, and airsick. There's historical truth behind it all. Before they were truly ready for war, the 100th Bomb Group reportedly went through several commanding officers and failed training missions. (This all occurs before episode 1 sends the boys on their first European mission.) After an enemy assault results in the loss of three planes, Butler's Cleven is shellshocked. His best friend had been on two missions before. "Why didn’t you tell me?" he asks Egan. "You didn’t tell me it was like that."
As you watch Masters of the Air, you'll find that the 100th Bomb Group—nicknamed the "Bloody 100th" due to their unit's high number of casualties—saw an entirely different conflict than what's portrayed in Band of Brothers. It's pure chaos up there—and victories are counted by how many men returned home after each skirmish. In Masters of the Air, you're a hero if you survive.
Still, Masters of the Air retains the heart of Hanks and Spielberg's previous collaborations: camaraderie. As our main characters Butler and Turner are shining beacons of brotherhood, serving up the best bromance on television since New Girl's Nick and Schmidt. After the teardown of their facades in the 100th's first mission over Bremen, Germany, you get the feeling that it'll only get harder for them to stay strong as the war goes on.
Thankfully, episode 2 gives the boys a win. Joined by Crosby (Boyle) and Lieutenant Curtis Biddick (Barry Keoghan), our band of UK-actors-turned-American-pilots take to to the skies for a successful bombing of a German U-boat pen in Norway. We also have a good amount of laughs—which you should absolutely savor. At one point,Crosby is so airsick that he makes a big mistake while navigating the plane... which somehow saves their lives. Meanwhile, Biddick (safely!) crash-lands in a Royal Air Force officer's vegetable patch in Scotland. This event did occur in real life. But the extra joke, of course, is that Keoghan has a great time at the officer's house because he gets to shed that New Yahwka accent—and revert to his usual Irish self for a moment.
Going forward, the series is firmly buckled in and ready for takeoff. We'll surely experience heartbreak in Masters of the Air, even if the series pays more attention to those who survived the war than those who were lost. World War II was simply a level evil and mass destruction that no one was ready for. At one point in Masters of the Air's two-episode premiere, Cleven asks Egan why he didn't warn him about the harrowing missions to come. Egan simply replies, "I didn’t know what to say. You’ve seen it now."
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