Working as a cameraman in reality television has got to suck. Imagine the poor schmuck saddled with the task of filming the orange-tinted “Jersey Shore” cast members as they wallow in their herpes-laden hot tub, alternately sucking face and puking up Goldschläger. Or the guy whose job it is to follow Khloe Kardashian around all day waiting for her to do something “interesting.” Ugh. What if, then, you were suddenly offered the opportunity to point your camera at something real, something maybe even newsworthy. ... Congratulations, Bob, you no longer work for “The Bachelorette.” We’re transferring you to “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan.”
While I can’t imagine even the most desperately unemployed of cameramen clamoring to strap on a digital camera, jet off to a war zone and start filming soldiers ripping wires out of improvised explosive devices, I have to salute the folks who do. “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” is almost enough to restore your faith in the whole “reality show” genre. ... Then, of course, comes the news we’ve got “Celebrity Wife Swap” to look forward to in 2012, and the darkness sets in once again.
Still, “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” is bracing stuff. The show follows the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 3 as they patrol the dusty streets of Afghanistan in their heavily armored Hummers. Drawing inspiration from the award-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” “BP:A” drums up tension watching soldiers examine potholes for homemade bombs. Although bomb-disposal expert still ranks below crab fisherman in annual deaths on the job, it’s not what you’d call a relaxing pursuit. Aside from the actual bomb disposals—most of which are performed by robots carrying explosive charges—life for soldiers in the war zone is an anxious one. Just watching an average citizen stroll past your vehicle is a tension-filled exercise. Is this guy wearing an explosive vest or is he just out walking his goat?
Plenty of behind-the-scenes footage—much of it filmed on tiny, helmet-mounted cams—manages to capture the raw-nerve emotions of the job. Soldiers try to live their lives, blow off a little steam, do their jobs and still frequently butt heads with one another. It’s not the calmest career on the planet, and the hair-trigger personalities behind it can be fascinating. Thankfully, “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” doesn’t manufacture situations and doesn’t massage its subjects to get more drama out of them. Instead, it simply allows them to drift in front of the lens and, in time, reveal tiny bits of themselves. Producers apparently shot more than 4,000 hours’ worth of footage to capture this first (let’s hope not only) season. It’s gripping stuff—and a real insight into what we’re asking some of our soldiers to endure. So, the next time you find yourself watching a tow truck driver repossess a car from a circus clown in a patently scripted “reality show” segment, think of the brave men, women and camera people over on “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan.” They’re busy bringing reality back to reality television.