'68 Whiskey' Episode 1 sees Roback, Davis and Petrocelli go AWOL after side hustle goes awry
The soldiers and the medics on the base all seem to be hustling to earn some extra cash -- from Instagram modeling for firearm manufacturers to betting on bare-knuckle boxing matches to smuggling carpets to exchanging just-expired medicines for hashish
Spoilers ahead for episode 1 of '68 Whiskey'
Billed as a dark comedy, the first episode of '68 Whiskey' spends its time setting up its characters and their relationships. But even more importantly, we also get a feel for the setting and environment of the army base that will serve as the stage for the players.
The army base is a remote outpost in Afghanistan that has the screwball energy that will draw comparisons to 'MASH'. The soldiers and the medics on the base all seem to be hustling to earn some extra cash -- from Instagram modeling for firearm manufacturers to betting on bare-knuckle boxing matches to smuggling carpets to exchanging just-expired medicines for hashish.
In between all of this wheeling and dealing, you also get a botched rescue mission that puts Rosa Alvarez (Cristina Rodlo) into a funk about missing a simple exit wound that leads to the death of a soldier. It is a boiler-plate narrative that gives the audience a chance to understand the dynamics between her, Cooper Roback (Sam Keeley) and Mekhi Davis (Jeremy Tardy) who are buddies and how they have formed an informal family support structure for each other.
They are the Three Musketeers on the medic team, bossed around by the no-nonsense Sonia Holloway (Beth Riesgraf). Holloway butts heads most frequently with Cooper Roback, the "good-bad" guy.
She is annoyed when he smuggles carpets out while rescuing soldiers and refuses to listen when he says the money from selling the rugs will go to the dead soldier's family. She confiscates them in the Army's name.
She is also annoyed that he rescues a yet-unnamed Afghan local despite the base being stretched for medical resources and beds. Roback's explanation that the local speaks so many languages doesn't fly with her.
Holloway has no time for sentimentality and she puts Roback through the grinder for his irregular, rule-breaking good deeds and confines him to the base. After this, you also see Roback teaming up with Davis to give local kids vaccination shots on the sly.
These instances cement Roback in the minds of the audience as the good guy and Davis as his trusty sidekick. This is necessary since the episode starts with Roback having sex with Grace Durkin (Gage Golightly), the golden girl of the army base, who also happens to be the girlfriend of the macho male soldier, Sasquatch (Derek Theler).
Durkin's excuse is that Roback has magic fingers that give her the orgasms that Sasquatch can't. She also wisely realizes that Roback is not the "settle down" type, preferring the chase and the excitement of doing it in secret.
She also can't break up with Sasquatch because he is her meal-ticket to lucrative Instagram modeling gigs for firearm manufacturers that will help her get to L.A. after her army stint where she can become a body double for Jennifer Lawrence.
Through the first episode, you constantly get the feeling that the medics and soldiers are on the base as reluctant participants, already dreaming about their post-army life. They seem more focused on making a few quick bucks while getting the army credentials that they will be able to leverage in their civilian life. It is a cynical take and in some ways diminishes the sacrifices that the men in uniform make for the country.
When Roback gets pummelled by Sasquatch in a boxing match that the soldiers on the base are betting on, Mekhi Davis realizes he has lost a considerable amount of money. And this leads to, you guessed it, another side hustle to recoup the money.
Roback uses his soft touch with Durkin to get access to the medicine supply cabin. Roback and Davis sneak in to get their hands on the just-expired medicine (that would be destroyed by the Army) and are caught by Anthony Petrocelli (Nicholas Coombe). Petrocelli is a newbie soldier who wants to be a good soldier and report them until Roback offers to cut him in on their deal.
Their "deal" happens to be with a local warlord, who they will exchange the medicines with for high-grade hashish. The deal goes sideways as expected but Roback's quick thinking gets them out of a sticky situation with 10 pounds of hashish securely stashed in their backpacks.
But this is when things take a downturn for our heroes who think nothing of taking a stroll in a war zone. Petrocelli is so naive that when he gets bored of waiting for the guys in the ambulance, he takes off to babysit a goat named 'Boz'.
Having lost his way, he is suddenly surrounded by a group of soldiers led by Sasquatch who is obviously strategizing about how to blow the village sky high. Just when Petrocelli is about to spill the beans about why he is out there, Roback and Davis find him.
Sasquatch tells them to clear out and they do. But when they get back to the ambulance, they find it has been torched. Big surprise there. Without wheels, they start their trek back to base with trepidations about how they'll survive.
It is a roller coaster start to a series that promises to feature more hijinks that Roback and the others cook up, starting with trying to get back to base in one piece.
'68 Whiskey' airs Wednesdays on Paramount Network at 10 p.m. ET/PT.