Sunday, March 16, 2008

HBO's John Adams is Riveting: Join or Die

If it is true that an HBO miniseries about America's Revolutionary War does not make people race to their television sets, then that will be a terrible shame. HBO has tackled a topic that many think might mystify or bore today's youth obsessed TV audience. The outcome is extremely relevant and compelling. The first two episodes of this multi-part miniseries were magnificently filmed, and the cast and writing were (as we would expect from HBO films) Emmy Award winning caliber. Kudos also to the shock and awe special effects which do much to refute the "history is boring" stereotype. Paul Giamatti brings John Adams to life, not as an iconic and dusty founding father, but as a real man who loved his wife, found farming and manure fascinating, and worried incessantly over the world changing decisions that he helped forge in 1776.

Unlike most folks in America today, I have a bit of an advantage in believing this era of history was quite real and fraught with hardship. I grew up in rural upstate NY, and our house was built before the Revolutionary war. Every time my sisters and I played in the woods behind our property, we'd climb over stone fences built by the continental soldiers to hold back the British troops. Across the street from our home, was an ancient cemetery in an overgrown green field. Many of the headstones marked the final resting place for soldiers that had died fighting for independence over 200 years ago. It puts an entirely different spin on history when you grow up with the ghosts of the past walking in your midst.

Hopefully the extreme realism that HBO brings to the John Adams miniseries will help bring this era to life for a generation that dearly needs reminding of the sacrifices that were made by the Americans that came before us. If you don't think things have changed for the better, try to watch the Small Pox scene without losing your dinner. But if you think things have changed utterly, watch the Continental Congress debate endlessly, whether to fight for liberty....or offer diplomacy to the British. The enemy has changed, but it is still a familiar debate with US Presidential candidates in 2008.

At the end of part two, the Declaration of Independence is heard by Americans for the very first time. It is still poetic and powerful in its simplicity today. We hold these truths to be self evident. Tune in for John Adams and watch history unfold like you've never seen it before.


Lisa said...

I caught only a few minutes of the show last night but will be catching up this week. Glad it was magnificent and I'm looking forward to really paying attention and loving it. You were indeed lucky to have lived around historical sites -- I recall what a fascinating area it was! I hope folks hang in there for HBO's great effort. It's obviously worth it!

Lisa said...

I agree with your review after watching the first two hours last night. Quite good, and I was amazed how short a time it took before I could tell the members of the Continental Congress apart. I expecially like the quiet, fascinating Jefferson. Giamatti is terrific, Linney also strong and good in a kind of typical role, but what are you going to do? There's only so much you can do with smiling indulgently at a hot-headed husband, though they are clearly intellectual equals and all gals today should be pleased that we had a chance to mix it up a little (if we wanted to) on something other than the homefront. I was impressed that they successfully managed to make these historical characters into something resembling real people. I can't wait for the rest and will be re-watching these segments a couple of times to get all the details and savor the ambience.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, the first two episodes were excellent, but in the succeeding two episodes, we have been treated to a plodding story that accomplishes nothing despite the time devoted to it. Our patience is further tested mightilty by Giamatti's incessant mumbling. Perhaps if one could make out what he has been saying, the story might become more interesting. It is a shame that something that started so strong, went downhill so fast.