At Christie’s prompting, we watched most of the two opening hours of the History Channel’s AMERICA: The Story of Us as it premiered last night. In a kernel, it’s supposed to be a 12-hour summary of the history of the United States. There were only a few commercials thanks to Bank of America.
The first two hours sped quickly from John Rolfe and Jamestown, through the Pilgrims, through the Revolution and Independence and ended with mention of Washington’s inauguration.
There are some spectacular special effects used that were pretty compelling and helpful, especially the geographical ones, and the basic story was well-covered. 1620-1789 is my favorite slice of history, so I was feeling a gut check as they skipped too quickly over things I would have liked them to emphasize [they jumped from the first shots of the Revolution at Concord almost straight to Washington being run out of NYC by the British without describing Bunker Hill, Henry Knox, Dorchester Heights and running the British out of Boston.] The story is sticking to the facts and is not really try to lift and inspire. They missed a good chance to revel in American ingenuity and bravery and the stupor it put the British in when they skipped that stuff right there.
The story is also personality-lite. They speak very little about the major players, though I’m wondering if they will spend more time with Washington when it resumes next week.
Real quickly, two other things that really put me out:
- The story was “interrupted” several times by commentary. That’s fine and helpful usually, but the commentary was by high-profile celebrities, not authorities. It wasn’t David McCullough, but it was Michael Douglas commenting on the Pilgrims?, Aaron Sorkin, Rudy Gulliani, and Donald Trump. Colin Powell wasn’t bad and neither was the high-ranking military officer (he was spot-on). But what is supposed to be helpful about Sheryl Crow’s take? And Henry Louis Gates Jr….um maybe, but….really.
- Also, Washington had lots of generals, great ones and influential ones. Friedrich von Steuben was a good general and made important contribution, but to mention only him so they could remind us that he was probably gay was too much and is the kind of tripe I was expecting in the first place.
There are lots interesting parts, and overall, the series should be helpful. Check the replay schedule (they replayed the two hours immediately after the premier but it might also be on through the week) or you can buy the episodes for $3/each iTunes. Or you can wait for the $27 set to come out this summer.
You can check out select scenes from the series, a wonderful American history quiz and a trailer of the series on this site.
Here is another review from the Boston Globe.
What did you think?