Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Spike's Alternate History

Grade: F

Last Monday, I shared with you information I had found about Spike TV's new show: Alternate History.  My first warning about the quality of this program should have been the network, Spike TV, a network known for airing such quality shows as Stripperella and Gary the Rat.  Why the History Channel did not pick up this show, I have no idea, but ancient aliens, biblical prophecies and reality television must be more relevant to a channel on history than a show about alternate history.

My second warning turned out to be the difficulty in finding any information about the upcoming show.  Google searches brought mostly forums, wikis and blogs where people managed to find a copy of the press release.  This lack of marketing on the side of Spike should have convinced me of the lack of faith the producers had in their product.  Nevertheless, I ignored these warnings and sat down to watch the first episode of Alternate History last night.

What an implausible piece of garbage.

The first episode focused on one of the two most written about topics in English alternate history: what if the Nazis won World War II?  The show does not state the exact point of divergence (POD).  Apparently the Germans just magically had more advanced technology in this timeline and stopped the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 and later nuked New York and Boston a year later with SLBMs.  Where do I begin with the problems I have with this POD?  Essentially this show made the same mistake as the Fatherland film did.  Instead of following the original POD of the bestselling novel, the filmmakers decided having D-Day fail would be a better idea.  They did this because most Americans know nothing of history, but they heard about D-Day (though if you asked them to point out Normandy on the map we would have a problem there). 

By trying to reach the masses, however, they inadvertently created an implausible alternate history.  What happened to the Soviets pushing the Germans out of Eastern Europe?  What happened to the Allied troops in southern Italy?  What happened to Britain?  What happened to the American nuclear project?  American just surrenders after the nuclear destruction of two cities?  Not plausible in the least considering the size of the country, the lack of any previous damage due to the war and America's ability to retaliate with weapons made by German scientists who fled the Nazis.  The Americans would not have surrendered so easily.  Berlin and Hamburg would have likely been nuclear craters, while the the Soviet high command accepted the necessary postponement to their subjugation of Europe...but at least they get all of it this time and do not have to share it with those capitalist pigs.

The POD they chose also underlines a major misconception the producers of the show have.  According to Alternate History, technology won World War II, but in reality America's did not have a tech advantage over the Axis.  Just as Alternate History pointed out, we used German scientists to get our space program off the ground.  They fail to grasp the true reason the allies won the war: they outproduced the enemy.  Germany and Japan produced such revolutionary weaponry in World War II because they needed all the advantages they could get over the industrial giants they faced: the United States and the Soviet Union.  The United States and the Soviet Union, on the other hand, did not have to have better weapons than the Axis, they just needed more of them.  Industrial production helped win the war, not American technology.

Perhaps they made the mistake because of the "experts" they used during the break from the CGI visuals and the videos of old Hitler prancing around.  Political commentators, film critics, Jimbo Wales?  What about actual historians or, god forbid, authors who spend their careers researching and writing alternate histories?  Even the one military representative they had on the show rarely spoke of anything involving the military.  Instead he talked about how America would eventually rise up against the oppressive American Reich as the rebels of the American Revolution once did to the tyrant King George.  Does the US military require its soldiers to watch Mel Gibson's The Patriot?  What about the Battle of Saratoga or the aid provided by France?  How can you make a good alternate history if you have an audience ignorant of our real history?

The show did have good visuals,  I guess, but I have no idea why fashions for Nazis have not changed since the 1940s. I guess when people think about Nazis they see black uniforms and jack boots, so why bother considering fashion changes in your alternate history.  Nevertheless, the visuals probably sucked up most of the budget and for a good reason.  Alternate History went for shock value and shock value only.  It wants to scare the historically illiterate audience of Spike TV and at the same time make them feel good about being Americans.  Should we be surprised when America rose up at the end to throw off the Nazi oppressors in an alternate Arab Spring (which again is an example of the show's heavy reliance on the importance of technology)?  Why they did not compare Americans to the Viet Cong or the insurgents of Afghanistan and Iraq, should be obvious.

In reality, a Nazi Germany victory would mean an alternate Cold War with the United States.  Them on one side of the Atlantic and the Americans on the other.  Eventually Germany would collapse as the Soviet Union did in OTL, since the Third Reich's economic model would not sustain a long, drawn-out arms race with the United States.  Yet such a scenario would not make good television, so instead Alternate History went for flash and left out any actual substance.  I recommend not to bother with Alternate History and instead go and read a good book.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and The Were-Traveler. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

8 comments:

  1. And the worst thing about it all? I can't even watch it where I am...

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  2. You aren't missing much... this was AWFUL, with all caps.

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  3. Well WB, if you really are curious, you can see it here: http://www.spike.com/full-episodes/zs5i6o/spike-specials-alternate-history-season-1-ep-100

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  4. It seems like there are 2 kinds of alternate histories about the nazis winning WWII. The first is "what if Nazi Germany survived WWII and continued to exist?" The other is "What if Hitler magically conquered the US and most of the world?"

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  5. Made a video review & linked to your review. Feel free to spread it. :)

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so0Y9B8ewos&feature=player_embedded

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTOr4rVXStk&feature=player_embedded

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  6. So do you regret watching it now like I do? Haha. Anyway, nice commentary, I will make sure to post the links in the next weekly update.

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  7. So, we lost D-Day,what about the soldiers in italy and Uncle Joe 'n' company pushing in from the east? Man, the only alternate history show turns out to be innacurate.

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  8. I think my favorite part of this is that the producers seemed to think the USA and Germany were the only countries in the world. Their suppositions ask the audience to accept an awful lot. Not only did they completely forget about the Soviets, but they act like a Nazi sub could crawl its merry way through the Atlantic. Think about that one for a minute. Even if we accept that they could launch a nuclear SLBM (nope), they'd have to get it past the British and US navies to get close enough to the US Atlantic shore to hit the mainland. Plus, it's not like we're talking a 1960's era SLBM with targeting capability. Wile E Coyote built weapons with better aim.

    Worst, though, was that the show chickened out on offending the type of right wing elements in the US who would have approved of some or even most of the Nazi platform. As of 1944 a good chunk of this country officially endorsed racial segregation, and yet more privately discriminated. If a foreign government could successfully force us to capitulate, adding another ethnicity to a list of institutional discrimination would have been easy.

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