If you haven’t watched the HBO miniseries on John Adams, you certainly missed out on something interesting to watch during the Lost hiatus. Paul Giamatti played the man who would be the second President, and did so well that he’s likely a shoo-in at the Emmys. Next best was David Morse as George Washington, who played the reluctant President to perfection. Laura Linney is also excellent as Abigail Adams, and Tom Wilkinson plays Ben Franklin decently, but he just sort of pops in to quote famous lines most of the time, which cheapens the show; as cool a cat as Ben was, this story’s much better after he’s gone.
At 7 episodes of anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes long, it’s a bit overlong, and spends too much time in France. We meet many of the heroes of the American Revolution, and for once without mythic robes hiding their feet of clay. John Adams, the brewer, was one of the most radical of the bunch and they do show him inciting a mob to tar and feather a merchant. When John Adams is in his 90’s, before the country has had its 50th birthday, he’s already grousing that the real history of the Revolution is lost in shrouds of patriotic bunting. That the signing of the Declaration of Independence was not a gallant meeting, but completed over months as the signers scurried into Philadelphia like rats under cannon fire at times.
Alexander Hamilton’s Federalism, which is the government we have finally inherited, is given a good bit of criticism and they don’t gloss over the fact that the states and statesmen hardly all agreed on the best form of government. The Alien & Sedition Act, the Patriot Act of its day, is mentioned as a stain on Adams’ presidency, and his stormy relationship with Jefferson takes up most of the final episode. They overdo the bit of trivia that both these statesman, the last of the Founders, died on the same day- on the 50th birthday of the country’s Independence, July 4th 1826. They spend a great deal of effort showing the difficulties of colonial life, such as the primitive state of medicine, and how fantastic the inventions of Jefferson and Franklin seemed at the time.
There is also family drama, and we are unfortunately shown just how passionate Mr. Adams felt for his wife Abigail when she meets him in France, when a polite camera panning away from the scene would have been much kinder to the statesman, Paul Giamatti, and our retinas. Thankfully they drew the line at showing founding father fanny.
In the end, I’m glad I watched all 7 or 8 hours of it. The costumes and make-up are pretty amazing, made to stand up to Hi-Def scrutiny. It’s good to see our country’s most hallowed tales be told with realism and honestly, less bullshit. It’s not perfect, but it’s a very good mini-series and I hope it was successful enough that HBO does more historical series of this type. Especially the Pacific Theater “Band of Brothers” we’ve been teased about for years.