There are a lot of obvious target audiences for Hulu’s upcoming adaptation of the classic Joseph Heller novel “Catch-22” — those who appreciate nuanced tales of life during wartime, for example, or fans of George Clooney sporting a mustache. But one less obvious but possibly viable group that might be interested in the series: Teenage girls.
According to producer/director/co-star Grant Heslov, there’s a universal quality to the story that focuses on Yossarian (Christopher Abbott), who serves as a B-25 bombardier and wants badly to escape his military service, but is caught by a bureaucratic system which requires him to risk his life.
“Just on a daily basis, in the times that we’re living in, I think that these are pretty anxious times,” Heslov said. “Just trying to like get through to your telephone company without having to go through 20 minutes of craziness, you know — put in your PIN, but if you don’t know your pin…”
From there, Heslov felt there was a connection to what’s happening to our country politically. “I think there’s a lot for people to tap into,” he said.
Among the wider potential audience — perhaps unexpectedly — are teenage girls. Co-writer Luke Davies said that when he was approaching the adaptation process, he was very conscious of the lack of female characters, as well as the way they were treated. “Yeah, at 16 years old, that book was the universe to me, but that’s invisible male privilege,” he said.
In fact, “the one thing now, reading the novel that it’s really of its time. It’s terribly sexist/misogynist in its threadbare portrayal of women as two dimensional, objectified non-characters. And that was one of the things that we were up against,” he said. “David [Michôd, the series’ other writer] and I made it our mission statement to… We wouldn’t falsely inflate the role of women in this story that’s about young men. But that we would try and increase the women who did exist in the series, to give them more substance and three-dimensionality in their small appearances.”
Beyond the writers being conscious of how the show might treat women, working to the show’s advantage is the precedent established by “Band of Brothers,” the HBO miniseries about another company of soldiers serving in World War II (there’s also “The Pacific,” the follow-up series). Both series have developed a modest but passionate young female fanbase over the years (one that still actively posts about the show on Tumblr and writes fan fiction), and “Catch-22” could follow in that path.
A difference between “Band of Brothers” and “Catch-22” is the question of tone — and that may also widen its appeal to an unexpected demographic: “Something like ‘Band of Brothers’ is grittier and the characters matter,” Davies said. “What we’re trying to do here is this mixture of the comedy with the sorrow, for want of a better word, goes to a sorrowful place. The death and the loss, the existential crisis. That was always our aim — to try and hold the darkness and the lightness.”
But here’s something they have in common: In “Band of Brothers,” Davies said, “there are all those hot young guys in it.”
And as Heslov observed, “Catch-22” may have the same advantage going for it. “We wanted to get a bunch of these young guys,” he said, noting that the 1970 film adaptation featured an older cast, but for this, “we wanted a bunch of young guys… And not that I know a lot about cute boys, but I think that they’re pretty cute.”
So while the “Catch-22” team might not be deliberately marketing the series to this audience, there’s no small chance it might be able to get their attention. As evidence, Heslov noted that he’d shown the miniseries to his own 17-year-old daughter, “and she flipped over it. Because it brings her to a place that she’s never known.”
That, plus its most universally relatable aspects, might make it impossible for audiences of any age or gender to ignore.
“Catch-22” premieres Friday, May 17, on Hulu.