I know–right after my post praising the wonders of Netflix Instant, I have the nerve to write a review of a miniseries that isn’t available on Instant. What can I say? I’m a fickle beast. (Today’s normally scheduled Downton Abbey review post has been delayed due to the fact that my TV antenna is down while my roof is repaired. I’ll watch the episode tonight and be back tomorrow with my reaction–sorry for the delay!) But really, I just couldn’t *not* write a review of John Adams. It’s an adaptation of the book by David McCoullough (although from what I’ve read, they’ve altered some of the facts in the adaptation process–a disappointing tidbit, alas. It didn’t seem too egregious for the most part, though.)
It’s a seven part series that follows John Adams from his early days in the American Revolution up to his death much later. It was done by HBO, and has their characteristic attention to story and acting and production values. Better yet, it has none of the gratuitous violence, language, and sex. It’s TV PG for the most part–although there is a tar and feathering scene in the first episode where the man getting tarred gets all his clothes ripped from his body, and you’re well aware of that fact.
I liked the series for a number of reasons. First of all, it gave me a chance to think about the American Revolution. As with any “historical movie,” I take what I see with a healthy dose of salt. I realize that history does not play out in neatly made acts, and that it rarely has climaxes and denouements. I don’t accept anything I see as “true,” but rather as a way of looking at the past and thinking about it in new light. John Adams certainly didn’t let me down in this respect. The entire series is limited by the point of view of John and his wife Abigail. So you don’t cut away from their lives to go see events they didn’t see or experience. I thought this was a wonderful touch, and made the history that much more compelling. 9/11 didn’t all happen in New York City or at the Pentagon or in a field in Pennsylvania. It happened across the country and the world as each person experienced the fallout and the changes to their lives because of it.
Second, the series presents a rather comprehensive look at one family’s life, from its early days right up until its end. Spoiler alert–John Adams dies at the end. In this manner, the series was pretty brutal. Adams would have a great victory at the end of one episode, only to face more challenges and failures in the next. But again, I appreciated the series all the more for that. It’s not like anyone gets a “get out of trouble for life” card once they do something awesome. Seeing the choices people made, and the consequences those choices had for them decades later, was fascinating.
Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney do superb jobs in their roles, and they should get credit for being able to act well even with awful decaying teeth. (Honestly. The show just seemed set on showing how bad of teeth everyone had back then. Kind of disgusting.) If you’re looking for a good overview of some of the politics that went into the Revolution, presented in dramatic form, you should check this series out. 8 out of 10 stars.