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The twelve month period American soldiers were required to serve in Vietnam was known as their tour of duty.



The first television series about the Vietnam War, Tour of Duty focuses on a single platoon of young U.S. soldiers during their one year tour of combat duty in Vietnam during the late 1960s. Terence Knox, Kevin Conroy, Stephen Caffrey, Joshua Maurer, Steve Akahoshi, Tony Becker, Eric Bruskotter, Stan Foster, Roman Franco and Miguel A. Nunez Jr. star as the infantrymen who represent diverse racial, cultural and philosophical backgrounds, but must ultimately depend on one another whilst facing enemy troopers and whilst trying to survive in the hostile South East Asian terrain.

So I look like Robert DeNiro in the Deer Hunter.  It's 'Nam, we all dressed like this.
I didn’t think I knew what Tour of Duty was when I first received it to review but putting it on to watch I was struck with the memory of it. Tour of Duty used to be on ITV pretty late at night in the early 90s. Friday nights, if I recall correctly. I used to be the teenager who stayed up watching the Creature Features on Channel 4 or Married with Children, or that ropey old War of the Worlds TV show and even though it makes me shudder to admit it American Gladiators. Anyway while I was waiting for one of the shows I wanted to see come on or something I was watching on the other side had an ad break I’d flick around channels and spend small pockets of time watching bits and pieces of Tour of Duty. Now I’m generally not a fan of war within my entertainment so I would literally watch three minute bursts of the show or at best the last segment before the show I wanted to see came on but my memory of it was that it felt old then. It felt like a re-run. I didn’t dislike it but I think I held a grudge against it because notoriously while waiting for the show I wanted to see come I would fall alseep because of  Tour of Duty. So lets see how the show fares with me 20 odd years on shall we?

So all these years later I am now presented with the complete season one to sit down and watch and you know what, Tour of Duty ain’t all that bad really. Sure it’s got that 80s / 90s TV cheapness to it in places and despite the fact it shows the bleakness of war it still manages to drum up a sort of fun lightness to it to stop the show being too war torn. Another thing its got going for it is that most of the characters are likeable in their own way (especially the fact Kevin Conroy is in it and I got to play my own personal game of pinpointing exactly when he sounded like Batman). This group of soldiers all have their place on the show and when they get their moments in the sun they can actually shine despite the almost bloodless depiction of the Vietnam war.

I want you to tell all your friends about me...
Tour of Duty feels very much like it was dropped onto our TV sets because of Platoon’s success. It has of course got a fine splattering of Apocalypse Now (especially with the pilot episode's very best attempt to imitate the napalm drop with a TV budget) but this is very much a reaction to Oliver Stone's movie. We've obviously seen much grittier depictions of the war since but this is a pretty bold move for TV (especially at the time). It feels confident from the very first episode and knows what it wants to say, tackling pro and anti war sentiments, racism, bad leadership and of course comradery amongst soldiers.

As the show progresses it builds its own character and manages to just about pull off a convincing chronicle of the Vietnam War from time to time (despite the fact all the good Vietnam visuals are from the ropey old stock footage they use). On top of that it has a great soundtrack of songs from the era. So good in fact it spawned compilation soundtracks back when it aired. On this subject the UK boxset comes with the original music selections on the episodes whereas the U.S. release apparently only comes with instrumental replacements, which sucks as it’s such a key part of how the Vietnam War is presented to us in movies and also an enjoyable part of the show itself.

Sir, the picture quality of the show seems to have dropped, sir.

Video


Well there's no mistaking that washy soft 4:3 80s/90s TV look is there? The pilot episode holds up pretty well but the series seems to lose production value as it moves through the twenty one episodes and by the end the heavily textured (in the bad way) image looks bitty, too dark and not all that well looked after. Blacks aren't all that black and wide shots are soft and of course the actual Vietnam footage used in the show looks worse (even though its authenticity makes it at least feel better). Colours are generally good in amongst the softness especially the green uniforms and the realism of the troops in a genuine forest is always felt and even though this is all fairly cheaply shot adds a certain amount of realism to the show's subject.

And this is why 80s/90s TV shows were mostly set in the day.

Audio


The strong elements here are of course the musical choices. They always feel weighty in the mix and are the only things that gives Tour of Duty a big budget feel because the actual score for the show is too synth driven and very typically TV.

Explosions sound like old TV much akin to The A-Team and very thunderstormy as opposed to realistic and gunfire feels digitally made with that 80s 'pew pew pew' sound as opposed to the more realistic stuff we're all used to now.

Dialogue is good throughout, even if it does feel a little hollow and generally everything remains consistent for the entire collection of episodes and the only real downfall in both the video and audio presentations is the show's age due to the era it was made in.

Here's to a proper remaster one day.

Extras


Disc five is where all the extras live with 'Documentary Part 1' (55:21) being the draw for any fans of the show out there. The entire history of the show's first season is chronicled here with the creators and cast all throwing in their two cent's worth. Struggles with writing the pilot, how successful the show was and how CBS got behind it. Hiring writers with first hand experience of the Vietnam war and even gaining support from the Vietnam Veterans of America. It also goes into length about shooting in Hawaii for the first season and how supportive the military were until "issues" with the controversial war were raised and with the show runners view being "For the soldiers but against the war" this wall was always going to come up. The only downside to the documentary is the constant restarting of the show's theme tune ' Paint It Black' by the Rolling Stones. I love the song but this was overkill and it being on every menu didn't help either.

Other than that, everything is text based with the 'Series Synopsis', 'Series Concept', 'Original Cast Biographies', 'Character Biographies' and 'Crew Biographies'

I'm sorry troops, I don't think the show will ever look as good as the Pilot episode did.

Overall


Tour of Duty was a solid example of an 80s/90s show tackling a big subject with a real mission to present it from the soldiers' point of view. Unfortunately TV has continued to get bigger, better and slicker and this old way of doing things rarely translates to modern tastes and the limitations are felt more than ever twenty odd years on. As a thumbs up I never fell asleep once during my return to a show that used to send me off with its late night airing, so there's a positive, but kidding aside I can see why this show gained a fan base on its original run as it manages to capture most of the high points of Vietnam war movies and carries it off as a weekly show with ease. The presentation on the disc is very straight forward and does nothing to hide the age of the show but the main documentary should keep any fans out there very happy.


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