He's shown as a gentleman farmer who can relish teaching young John Quincy the utter necessity and joy of going elbow-deep while hand-mixing the contents of the manure-cart, and yet who immediately thereafter, upon hearing the boy's stated desire to become a farmer, firmly announces that it's to be the schoolbooks and "then the law" for the lad. (Some of you will see this — manure-spreading and lawyering — as entirely uncontradictory, just not in the same way Adams himself would have.)It's a long slog through these episodes, even as the big events of American history pop up with regularity. Just when you think it's dull — let's palpate poop and pontificate — suddenly there's a famous battle right at their doorstep. Or there's John (Paul Giamatti) hunched over his extremely slow-walking horse, and around the next corner is the Boston Massacre. Watch men sweat and bore each other with tedious orations in the candlelight and — hold on — they'll get around to signing the Declaration of Independence. Then HBO will require you to gaze into the earnest, profound, somber visage of Paul Giamatti for several minutes to make sure you don't forget to think, think, think about what it all means. So it is overbearingly serious, but I can take it. If those little kids could put up with having the juice of a dying man's smallpox pustule jabbed into their arms, I can put up with the televised longueurs. Good will come of all this, one hopes.
Maybe you read David McCullough's book. I did not. I subjected myself to his "Truman," and I did not want to read another tome stuffed with way too many pages depicting what a good relationship some great man had with his wife. (Are McCullough's books the opiate of the married?) But I trust HBO, so I'm watching the mini-series. Still, every time I see tableaux of Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney (John and Abigail) smiling wanly, heads tilted together, fingers entwined — there are many! — I confirm my decision to skip that book. (But the Anchoress loved it.)
Let's look for commentary.
Lawprof Rick Garnett:
There were more than enough stirring "rule of law" and "importance of zealous counsel for the accused" moments [in episode 1] to justify recommending the episode to first-year law students. The episode ended with a dramatic speech on "liberty" by Adams (in a church), and with his departure for (I gather) the First Continental Congress. So far, the show seems to be doing a good job of highlighting Adams's struggle to keep-in-balance his "conservative" (that is, his unease-with-revolution) instincts with his "liberty" commitments.Garnett seems intent on staying in character as a "prawfsblawger." (He's a law professor and he blogs about law — even if he's watching television.)
Paul Silver "swelled with pride and awe at the courage, tenacity, inspiration and skill of our founding parents." Is it okay for us to feel pride at what they did? I kept thinking that we never go to such trouble for anything today. I was feeling more ashamed, thinking I — and maybe everyone I know — would be on the side of the argument that said the war was a foolish risk and we need to bear with things a lot longer and hope for the best from the king. (By the way, didn't you think of Jeremiah Wright when someone said "God save the King" and one of the patriots responded "God damn the King"?)
The Television Without Pity discussion is good and irreverent, as usual:
Mmm, juicy pustules! (Imagine convincing people it was a good thing--especially when they were barely past believing in witchcraft.) I found it pretty dry, and I admit I was doing the Sunday bill-paying, work prep routine so wasn't wholly focused. But Tom Wilkinson was wonderful (although seemed tall for Ben Franklin, I don't know why). The Declaration reading sequence was pretty darn great, realistic or not, though. Sad but not surprising that the founding of Our Great Republic was so beset with bureaucracy and tit-for-tat....Ha ha. Well put. TWoP is such a refreshing read. There really is way too much pity everywhere else.
[Tom] Wilkinson was rather good - I was worried about the scenery chewing, but then [Ben] Franklin was probably a smart alecky scenery chewer in real life so the acting fits. I'm neither here nor there on the fake nose, but [David] Morse [as George Washington] is doing rather well also.... One of my favorite scenes was after the vote to declare independence with the room so quiet - the collective thought of "what the hell did we just do? Yeah we really are doing this" just hanging in the air.
Oh, I forgot to check mainstream media. Well, here's Tom Shales for the Washington Post
Dramatizing America's colonial and revolutionary years is full of pitfalls and has resulted in many a leaden movie -- from the cartoon buffoons of the musical "1776" to the British-as-mad-fiends hysteria of Mel Gibson's imbecilic "The Patriot." Mythic historical figures can come across as strutting, one-dimensional impersonations. But shrewdly adapting a book by the dedicated David McCullough, writer Kirk Ellis and director Tom Hooper have created characters who live and breathe and also, on occasion, bleed. They talk in complete sentences -- a charming habit long since abandoned here in the Colonies -- and yet the dialogue never seems stiff and unwieldy, as often happens in historical productions.And here's Alessandra Stanley for the NYT:
[I]n this historical drama, Mr. Giamatti is a prisoner of a limited range and rubbery, cuddly looks — in 18th-century britches and wigs, he looks like Shrek.
And that leaves the mini-series with a gaping hole at its center. What should be an exhilarating, absorbing ride across history alongside one of the least understood and most intriguing leaders of the American Revolution is instead a struggle....
This series has a “Masterpiece Theater” gravity and takes a more somber, detailed and sepia-tinted look at the dawn of American democracy. It gives viewers a vivid sense of the isolation and physical hardships of the period, as well as the mores, but it does not offer significantly different or deeper insights into the personalities of the men — and at least one woman — who worked so hard for liberty.