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Channels: Entertainment - Television

Tags: john - think - history - series - adams



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Why HBO Should Be in Charge of History Lessons

Views: 3,376
Added: Wed. Jun 25, 2008 4:19pm
Posted in: Television

With all due respect to Ken Burns, I think his days as America's favorite history-teller are numbered.  Like many, I was fascinated by his series on the Civil War, baseball and World War II.  But, if I'm totally honest, I must confess that sometimes it felt like a chore to get through some of the episodes.

So, when my husband recommended that we check out the recent HBO series about John Adams, I had visions of Burns in my head.   Me: "Really? But it's summer. What about that new reality show about obstacle courses in the water?" Husband: "We should at least watch part 1, then decide." Me: "OK.  But I'm having ice cream while we're watching it."

Wow.  Part 1 wasn't even half-way over before I was hooked.  The series stars the wonderful Paul Giamatti (one of my favorite actors. You know him from "Sideways" and "Lady in the Water") as John Adams and Laura Linney as his wife, Abigail.  As I'm watching this series, I'm embarrassed by how much I didn't know about the American Revolution.   The story starts with the Boston Massacre and how Adams defended the British soldiers who shot into a crowd (or was it a mob? That's the key argument).

Another sub-plot that I'm really enjoying is the relationship between John and Abigail.  If people want to complain about Hillary yielding too much influence in the Clinton White House, then they've not read some of the letters between the Adams.  In a time when women were barely educated and expected to do no more than raise children and manage the home, Abigail's keen insight and strong opinions are crucial to making John the statesman that he eventually became.

I shouldn't have expected anything less from an HBO production. It is, after all, the network that brought us what I consider the best series in the history of television -- The Wire (if you haven't seen it, run, don't walk to Blockbuster or to Netflix and start diving into it. You'll never look at cops and drug dealers the same again).

And it also helps that the series is based on the book by the brilliant historian David McCullough.  But, with a newborn at home, it's doubtful I would have found the time or attention span to dive into the book version of his story this summer.

So, I hereby nominate HBO as the official storyteller of all of America's stories!  What do you think would make a great miniseries?  I think I'd like to see an honest and true-to-history look at Teddy Roosevelt's life.  What about you?  Any favorite times in history that you think are screaming for a good movie?

  • Posted 1:03pm April 21st, 2009
    This [ancient] blog post made me chuckle because I feel the same way. History is rich and exciting, full of drama, romance, intrigue...but it's often presented either in a dry, low-budget, yawn-inducing manner we have to struggle to stay awake for, or it's embellished to the point where it's more fiction than fact. Why make history a chore? The political intrigue behind the Boston Tea Party would do some people a lot of good (perhaps along with a factual definition of "taxation without representation"). Our young people would be so much better off if we bothered to fire their imaginations. I should blog about my history teacher, Mr. Marmion. He was an odd duck...but his history lessons are indelible.

  • Jason shoots from chase plane.jpg
    GB Staff
    Posted 1:58pm July 2nd, 2008
    I loved "John Adams" as well.  It was a home-run for HBO again.  My only complaint was that the cinematographer framed too many scenes handheld and at dutch angles for no apparent "cinematic" reason.  Sometimes it was appropriate (during particularly tense moments of disagreement, for instance), but too often it was distracting.  This is a minor qualm, and I only bring it up because I feel so strongly positive about the show overall.  I am such a camera geek.

    Later this month, HBO is presenting a mini-series about the beginning of the Iraq War, called "Generation Kill."  It's from the creators of "The Wire," which may the best drama in television history.  I am waiting anxiously for that!

Jackie Carlin

GB Staff

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