Monday, July 5, 2010

A serious drama ruined by incessant math and logic.

I haven't been able to afford premium cable for quite a while, so I did not see the HBO mini-series John Adams when it first came out. I had borrowed the first few DVDs of the 1976 PBS series The Adams Chronicles from the library a while back and came to the conclusion that while interesting things happened to John Adams, he was not himself an interesting person. He was too stern and too much of a complainer without being a man of action. Still, the new HBO version starred Paul Giamatti as Adams, Laura Linney as his wife Abagail and Danny Huston as his cousin Sam, three actors I have liked in a lot of different roles, so I put the mini-series on my Netflix list.

The DVD series has an option of pop-up text that explains the historical stuff, similar to the All Roads Lead To Rome option in the HBO series Rome. I loved reading the little historical tidbits on that show, so I immediately turned on that option here.

That was my first mistake. The Adams mini-series is wildly inaccurate. Things happen out of historical sequence. Several events that happened after 1776 take place in the mini-series before Adams goes to the first Continental Congress in 1774. As he leaves for Philadelphia for the first time, the congregation in the church sings a popular anti-tyranny song written in 1778. The actors playing Adams' children Nabby and John Quincy in the early scenes are much too old to play a five year old girl or a seven year old boy respectively. The result of the trial after the Boston Massacre gives the wrong verdict, letting all the soldiers go free when in fact, two of the soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. Even the pop-up text disagrees on the times of events compared to online sources.

The series Rome wasn't perfectly accurate, either. Some young characters barely aged between the deaths of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, a fourteen year span. But at least they kill off major historical characters in order, Caesar, then Pompey the Great, then Cicero and Antony last. Watching the first part of John Adams was worse historically and the side notes felt more like the revenge of the history nerds, getting in the last word that the writers and producers willfully ignored during the main production.

Long time readers will remember I had similar problems when watching Mamma Mia!, a very different type of entertainment. Sometimes, I would love to turn that part of my brain off when watching a drama, but even on the cusp of grumpy old manhood, I haven't figured out how to do it.

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