After the success of Inside Combat Rescue, National Geographic Channel just launched two new Afghanistan-set reality series, Battleground Afghanistan and Eyewitness War. Both are running on Monday nights through the end of July.
Battleground Afghanistan follows Captain Ben Middendorf and his men of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines as they attempt to locate, disrupt and destroy the enemy in Afghanistan. The series employs a lot of the same gear-mounted cameras that will be familiar to viewers of Inside Combat Rescue but there also seem to be some dedicated camera operators tagging along on the team's missions.
The show portrays these guys at work without giving much idea of when the filming took place or what their actions mean in the largest context of the war. Of course, there are plenty of Marines who might argue that lack of information about the big picture actually makes the show more realistic.
The first episode's main participants (Middendorf, 1st Lieutenant Neal Jone, Staff Sergeant Dusty Sampson, Sergeant Bryan Barrow, Sergeant Jeffery Kurek, Corporal Brandon Unis and Lance Corporal Eugene Weilbach) all get plenty of time to speak directly to the camera about the reasons they chose to serve, how they're dealing with duty in Afghanistan and what we're seeing in the action footage but there's very little attempt to show the men interacting with each other outside of a combat situation.
That approach will likely appeal to the show's target audience. There's a lot of talk about the folks back home but the show sticks to business when it comes to life in Afghanistan.
Eyewitness War looks a whole lot like a show made by someone who spent a lot of time watching videos on our own Shock & Awe channel. The producers take a lot of generally low-res video shot by the troops using their personal video cameras or smartphones and then sits them down to recount the situation and they're on-camera storytelling is intercut with the original video footage.
The stories are compelling (especially this week's "Trapped by the Enemy" episode) and production values aren't really the point here: the combination documentary-style headshot interviews and low-quality videos don't lend themselves to a sensational presentation but the stories are harrowing enough on their own not to need that kind of whipped-up TV drama.
Nat Geo TV is running every episode several times, so you can set your DVR to catch the first week's episodes. You could also check to see if your cable or satellite provider has them On Demand or just give in and buy them: a Battleground Afghanistan season pass is available on iTunes or by the episode on Amazon Prime.