VICE is probably best known to most for its Dos & Don’ts, but the characteristically “hipster” publication has been cementing its place as an important journalistic outlet recently with some hard hitting articles and documentaries produced by its ambitious, and somewhat quirky, team of reporters. Their latest foray into moving media is ‘VICE‘, a new HBO series of the same name that “goes behind the news cycle” to cover stories that are often overlooked by mainstream press. We had a chance to watch the first couple episodes in the series last night at a sneak peek, and we must say that we were kind of blown away by the content. Read our review after the break and find out if it could be worth your time.

Admittedly, we were at jump put off by the VICE branding that kept popping up at the beginning of the first episode, but once the opening story picked up steam, we were engrossed. VICE takes a different approach to reporting, traveling with a small crew to obscure locations and rolling with the punches rather than trying to push the buttons of their subjects to elicit particular responses. What results is a raw and intimate view into the subjects they are reporting on. Throughout the episodes, VICE reporters often walk right into precarious situations—like interviewing a prominent member of the Taliban—but surprisingly don’t find the hostility and distrust from the receiving parties as you would expect (producers credit this to their being a small, obscure media outlet). Their off-the-cuff style also lends to bringing a bit of humor to the stories, humanizing foreign situations and strengthening the viewer’s connection to the place and story — though without compromising the message of each piece.

The series is hosted by Shane Smith, founder of the VICE media company, and is executive produced by Bill Maher (yep, that Bill Maher), Eddy Moretti and Smith himself. The first couple episodes will focus on violence and conflict in Kashmir, the Phillipines and a few other far-flung places, with some incredible footage straight from North Korea (spoiler art: see Dennis Rodman hanging courtside with Kim Jong-un). Smith notes that future episodes will zoom in on energy crises and climate change, with on-the-scene stories centered on Greenland, post-Hurricane Sandy repair, and even a piece with ex-Maldivian President and environmental-campaigner Mohamed Nasheed who was recently forced out of office.

For the most part, each of the segments only scratch the surface of the issues they present, but they could easily be drawn out into a full documentary. And it’s a shame that they aren’t, because not only are the pieces fascinating, but they’re beyond anything you’ll see on national news channels (not to mention the human and financial investment that must have gone into producing one episode). On the other hand, creating “digestible” segments will in the long run probably prove to be the most effective way to capture and retain the short attention spans of American viewers. If the series continues to be as engaging as its first couple episodes, it will be a worthwhile program for television audiences looking for diverse, riveting and timely stories grounded in the realties of the world around us.

See a trailer for the first in the series above, then watch the premiere tonight at 11 as it kicks off on HBO.