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Iraqi Wacky: From War to Sitcom

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If you’re like most people, when you think "comedy" you think one thing: an interminable, bloody military occupation deteriorating into civil war. At least that appears to be the hope of two cable channels, which are separately developing comedies about the war in Iraq–yes, the current, in-the-news, soldiers-coming-home-in-coffins-as-you-read-this war in Iraq.

HBO’s Hotel Palestine focuses on war reporters operating out of a Baghdad hotel.  "Several cable networks have contemplated dramatic projects set against the war in Iraq," reported TV Week, "but only HBO is daring enough to consider a comedy." Until yesterday, anyway, when USA network announced a six-episode comedy in development, from Mel Gibson’s Icon production company, called Peace Out: "The true story of two twenty-something party guys who travel to the least likely destination on earth – Iraq, after the fall of Baghdad – looking for their next adventure."

We don’t know yet whether either comedy will make it onto the air — networks develop dozens of stillborn series every year — but could either of them hope to succeed where FX’s serious, conscientious drama, Over There, failed last year? If they do, it may be precisely because they don’t have the burden of being serious, conscientious dramas. Over There had many problems, simple cliche writing being the worst of them, but it was also too straitjacketed and inhibited by the desire to tell every story evenhandedly and to raise "important issues." It was so busy trying to be a documentary that it never developed as a drama.

On their faces, Hotel Palestine and Peace Out sound more risky, if not flat-out offensive in concept, but if nobody expects them to be the definitive dramatic account of the war, that may give them the room they need to become good comedies. War is hell, but it’s also a fertile breeding ground for black humor, and a good team of writers and actors could just find us something to laugh about in the war. Hey, if Geraldo Rivera could, why not them?