John Adams rides off into the sunset

Posted by · 12:22 am · April 21st, 2008

Well I held back on talking about HBO’s “John Adams” after viewing the second episode last month, but now that it’s over, allow me to speak up on what has become a very popular mini-series event.

I was happy to see that the Alien and Sedition Acts finally made an appearance last week, albeit a sweeping one designed to show Adams’s supposedly intense personal anguish at the bills. Of course. But before I dig into the issues I took with this 7-part event, let me point out the obvious praise-worthy elements.

Laura Linney is at the tip of any such list. Her removal from the story in tonight’s denouement was felt deeply. She carried this project through some of the rougher points and brought quite a vibrant characterization to the screen. Not so much Paul Giamatti, who gets his due praise over at Awards Daily. Personally I felt his entire portrayal a stretch throughout.

When the Emmys roll around, I think we’re guaranteed an appearance by both, though I wish Tom Wilkinson’s brilliant turn as Benjamin Franklin had more meat on its bones for some potential notices. Maybe he’ll still show up in some quarters.

HOWEVER…the final moments of tonight’s installment were dead on for the actor. Despite a stilted, choppy and over-long (like much of this mini-series) structure of the sequence, Giamatti’s portrayal of Adams’s final moments was a massive high mark in his repertoire so far, the clip they should save from “John Adams” for posterity, if any.

Mainly, I took issue with this series from the start because a 7-part fold-out didn’t make much sense to me. The structure milks certain elements for all they are worth, and for the better, in a precious few instances. Some scenes do feel like short films unto themselves with currents of subtext and meaning…but they are few and far between. For the most part, each sequence needed substantial trimming that might have brought the series all the way down to maybe three films, but that clearly wasn’t the intention of director Tom Hooper in company.

Even at this robust level of play, it is quite the accomplishment to maintain such thematic complexity, even if the script does hit the nail a bit too firmly on the head from time to time.

But enough of 18th century presidential shenanigans. Bring on “Recount!” And “Generation Kill,” I must say, has a lot of promise.

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2 responses so far

  • 1 5-09-2008 at 5:09 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I finally watched this show too now and I’m very impressed. Too bad the tonal shift is so huge. Episodes 3-4 with the trips to Europe are magnificent delights, and some of the best stuff I’ve seen on any screen this year, but the final episodes become a bit too stretched and lenghty. Nonetheless the acting is superb and the historical accuracy is immense.