Thursday, March 20, 2008

HBO's "John Adams"

I just watched the first and second episodes of HBO's John Adams and have renewed faith in the liberal media. HBO has produced something very good about American history with a relatively small amount (for HBO) of political correctness and a lot of respect for the nation's heroic founders.

The miniseries makes clear the Continental Congress's great courage. The acting is beautiful, the historical narrative familiar but with enough that is new to the non-historian to make it interesting; and the sets, to include the flags, are superb, in the tradition of HBO's Deadwood series.

Laura Linney plays a fine and inspiring Abigail Adams. David Morse plays a dignified Washington but is more modest than I would have envisioned. Tom Wilkinson is convincing as Benjamin Franklin. But I seem to recall from college that Franklin and Adams spent a couple of days editing the Declaration, not just a few minutes. I'll have to refer to that old Becker book that I read in college on the writing of the Declaration (I still remember after 33 years!).

This has got to be Paul Giamatti's breakthrough to superstardom. According to IMDB he's been in alot of first rate TV shows and movies in character roles (Donnie Brasco, Saving Private Ryan) but in recent years has had several major award nominations. Giamatti is a rare talent. His performance as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor and as Miles in Sideways were both remarkable. His is the kind of talent you get only once in a while, kind of like Lionel Barrymore or William H. Macy. Despite the criticisms of the pretentious-mashed-potatoes-a-la-mode critic set, Giametti is wonderful as John Adams and HBO has done us a service.

For an example of a pretentious-mashed-potatoes-a-la-mode critic, Slate's Troy Patterson writes:

"Sometimes the show feels like an eighth-grade field trip to Independence Hall or maybe a citizenship test..."

Likewise Robert Bianco in USA Today writes:

"sadly, in this elaborately produced, incredibly well-intentioned seven-part HBO miniseries adaptation of the book, Adams recedes once again, outshone not just by his more famous peers but also by just about every minor character. And the blame for that rests on Paul Giamatti, an odd and seemingly uncomfortable casting choice."

I disagree. Giametti is a brilliant casting choice and he does an excellent job. I wonder if critics concentrated on entertainment value and quality rather than on self-important quests for trendy conformity, Hollywood would be in better shape. As well, is it possible that critics like Bianco and Patterson are simply irritated at a positive depiction of the founding fathers that doesn't resort to the liberal media's air-headed ideology?

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