Military families overseas hope to relate to new HBO drama
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2020
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The opening scenes of the new HBO coming-of-age series about military teenagers living on a U.S. base in Italy depict a very relatable government-sponsored move overseas.
The new base commander and her family arrive after a trans-Atlantic flight to find some of their luggage has been lost. The 14-year-old son, Fraser Wilson, sulks on the ride to base while the friendly wife of the family’s sponsor makes an awkward attempt at small talk.
The eight-episode “We Are Who We Are,” co-written and directed by Italian Luca Guadagnino, has caught the attention of many living on U.S. bases overseas, including a few former military dependents who now have kids of their own.
The show premiered earlier this month on HBO Max in the U.S. and is set to debut Oct. 9 on Sky Atlantic in Europe.
“I think it gives us a piece to relate to, that there’s other people out there doing the same thing,” said Brandie Schaar, who spent time in Germany and England growing up when her dad was in the Air Force. She’s now an Air Force spouse and mom at Ramstein.
Schaar said she’s excited to see the show with her daughter. Hopefully, the show will help her daughter “understand her world is so much bigger because of her experiences,” she said.
The first episode shows the family getting ration cards, a base gas card and IDs.
Fraser, whose bleached-blond frizzy hair, yellow and black nail polish, and leopard print skater shorts make him stick out on the conservative U.S. Army base, balks at removing his dark sunglasses for his ID photo. “Everybody’s obsessed with IDs here,” he remarks.
Plans to film the show on Caserma Ederle in Vicenza were changed after the Pentagon pulled support for the project due to concerns about the script’s content, Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a military spokesman, told Stars and Stripes last year.
Instead, a set was built in Padua, on a former Italian and NATO missile base.
“I didn’t feel like I was in Italy, it looks so American,” actor Jordan Kristine Seamon, who plays 14-year-old Caitlin Harper, said in a video about the set on HBO’s website.
The series focuses on Fraser and Caitlin, whose father is a dedicated soldier and whose mother bakes cakes decorated with American flags for new families.
The show has received an 86% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates reviews across the internet. But it’s been harshly received by some critics such as the Harvard Crimson, who said the teen dialogue makes it come off “like a bad high school sitcom.”
Melissa Corkin, who spent time overseas growing up in a military family, and whose airman husband is a former dependent, said she hopes the series captures how resilient military kids need to be.
“You’re constantly moving,” the Ramstein resident said. “Your friends are always leaving (so) you have to be a little tougher.”
The show delves into finding one’s identity – a challenge for all teens but especially military kids without roots. When someone asks Caitlin where she’s from, her response is: “From a lot of places.”
Schaar and Corkin can relate to that.
“An identity crisis is not the right word — I feel like there’s times where I want to connect to a place as home, but there is no home to connect to,” Schaar said.
Corkin’s family served two tours in England, and she said those 6 1/2 years were the longest she has lived anywhere.
“I went back to London shortly after we got here, and that is probably the only sense of home that I’ll ever have,” Corkin said. “For us, we really don’t want roots because we’re not used to that. We start getting antsy after a couple years.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Nancy Montgomery contributed to this report.