John Adams

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

HBO’s series on our second president was mostly very good. It’s about time the American revolution got a serious Hollywood treatment.

But they really pulled the mood down in the concluding episode. In fact, tonight’s finale was downright ghoulish. I guess they had to show Jefferson’s and Adam’s death beds because of the coincidence of them dying on the same day, and the bit of trivia about Adams’ last words.

Still, it felt like the show lingered on death this evening. The close-ups of Paul Giamatti as the series’ make-up people edged him closer to the grave felt overdone. It felt like the entire purpose of the final installment was to show lots of dying, crying, and the brutality of aging. The election of John Quincy Adams was given short shrift, as were the administrations of Jefferson and Madison. Instead, we got drawn-out treatments of Nabby Adams’ mastectomy, and tortuous, agonizing deathbed treatments of Jefferson’s, Abigail Adams’, and finally John Adams’ passing (complete with a leak of spittle dropping from the corner of his mouth, in case you weren’t quite sure he was dead).

Seems like an odd way for a series celebrating the American founding to go out. Here was an otherwise terrific series depicting the men who did more to liberate mankind than anyone in human history, and I turned it off not inspired, but half-depressed. Almost makes you wonder if director Tom Hooper wasn’t expressing some pessimism about the American experiment. Or perhaps this was his way of allowing the show’s actors to audition for their Emmies.

Otherwise, it was great. I think Paul Giamatti silenced his critics, and proved he’s more than just a comic book character–or a walking advertisement for Pinot Noir. And I look forward to seeing more of Stephen Dillane. His Jefferson was marvelous.

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14 Responses to “John Adams”

  1. #1 |  Greg N. | 

    I thought the same thing, but then I remembered this story is about Adams, and not the American founding (except as it relates to his life). If tonight’s episode was faithful to Adams, it seemed he did struggle with aging, becoming irrelevant, and living after losing his “dearest friend.” Ghoulish, yes, and damn sad, but I didn’t mind that the other administrations were given short shrift. After all, Adams was out of public life during Jefferson’s and Madison’s terms, and he was dead for the bulk of his son’s. And I thank the stars they didn’t drag Monroe in there. All in all, since this was a show about his life, I thought it was very well done.

    Agreed re: Giamatti and Dillane. And I predict an Emmy sweep in whatever categories for which this thing is eligible.

  2. #2 |  Jonathan Hohensee | 

    ” It’s about time the American revolution got a serious Hollywood treatment.”
    Apparently somebody’s never heard of a little masterpiece of musical cinema called 1776.

    “I thought the same thing, but then I remembered this story is about Adams, and not the American founding (except as it relates to his life). If tonight’s episode was faithful to Adams, it seemed he did struggle with aging, becoming irrelevant, and living after losing his “dearest friend.”
    A while ago ReasonTV posted a video with a guy talking about how Jefferson drove himself crazy trying to keep the Monticello together in his final years. I wonder if this is true for a lot of the founding founders.

  3. #3 |  Will Grigg | 

    1776 was a terrific little film, but a box-office disaster, if I remember correctly. I really liked their characterization of the Big Three principals — Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin — but the bleeding pity about that movie is that it had a very talented cast of people who couldn’t sing. That’s a real liability for a musical.

    From what I’ve read about the founding generation, most of them (including Jefferson) died deeply in debt. That’s something of an irony, but given what they went through and the sacrifices most of them made I’m neither surprised nor particularly scandalized by that fact.

  4. #4 |  The Bitch Girls | 

    [...] has a review of the John Adams series. Posted by Bitter at 12:46 am   Randomness   Permalink [...]

  5. #5 |  Tom | 

    I disagree, I think the finale was exemplary. Giamati should get an Emmy for this work. The finale was supposed to show the finite nature of our lives, the passing of time and the fact that all men, even great ones are mortal.

    Also, it is interesting to note that a lot of interesting things happened on July 4th. The ratification of the Declaration, the deaths of Adams and Jefferson, union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, etc.

  6. #6 |  pris | 

    I am with you Tom. I thought the ending was perfect! John Adams was not entirely happy with his life- the ending gave some resolution for him and for his wife. It is always interesting to me that some of us have diffiiculty with death- this portrayed the graying of John and his wife perfectly- their deaths were intimate affairs and the fact that Jefferson and Adams reconciled and died on the same day – the end of of a revolution. This was a personal story not a revolutonal story. David McCullough wrote a magnificent book and the HBO series followed the book.

  7. #7 |  scott clark | 

    The show did depict pessimism about the how the nation turned out, not just the directors pessimism, but John Adams own pessimism. I think he thought the Union, would after a time, rise above pettyness and politics, and live as a peaceful, commercial republic from then on. I think he absolutely died disappointed, even if it was only because he had such high hopes.

  8. #8 |  Nando | 

    I liked the end, actually. I thought the dying of Adams and Jefferson served as a metaphor for our liberties (which started to die after both retired from public life). Just as Adams and Jefferson lay dying, so do our liberties as Americans today. I cringe at the thought of what Jefferson would say if he saw our current situation, especially after the Bush Administration. He’s probably turning in his grave.

  9. #9 |  Jeremy | 

    I haven’t seen the seventh episode yet. But I’ve enjoyed watching the way these events have played out through Adams’ eyes. He really did toe a moderate, middle-of-the-road line. And that’s a great lens through which to view all these other characters (Hamilton especially; did anybody else cheer when Adams put him in his place finally? Would we had a President who could stand up to the corporate complex that way).

    There is certainly a huge critique of the American experiment latent in this series, no doubt about that. It didn’t change my view of this country’s history, about which I couldn’t have been more negative. It’s been refreshing to see the idealism of the revolution without the sanctimony. But it rather reinforced my recent suspicion that Jefferson, Paine, Henry, and the other revolutionary thinkers were useful idealists for a “revolution from above” for mercantile and financial interests who wanted a better bargaining position.

    But I think the big take-away is that the events of 1776 were a unique moment in time. It didn’t last, least of all in the institution of government.

  10. #10 |  pris | 

    By the way, the John Adams series caught the spirit of McCullough’s book- ‘John Adams’ for those of you who have not read it- it is one of the best biographies out there.

  11. #11 |  Thomas Paine's Goiter | 

    ” think he thought the Union, would after a time, rise above pettyness and politics,”

    A majority of which was launched by…John Adams.

  12. #12 |  Jonathan Hohensee | 

    “1776 was a terrific little film, but a box-office disaster, if I remember correctly. I really liked their characterization of the Big Three principals — Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin — but the bleeding pity about that movie is that it had a very talented cast of people who couldn’t sing. That’s a real liability for a musical.

    From what I’ve read about the founding generation, most of them (including Jefferson) died deeply in debt. That’s something of an irony, but given what they went through and the sacrifices most of them made I’m neither surprised nor particularly scandalized by that fact.”
    1776 is one of my favorite musicals of all time (partially because it beat out Hair during the Tonys) and my love for the original source material is the only reason I like the movie, which was weirdly directed (especially the editing).

    I really don’t have much problem with the singing ability of the main actors, they weren’t amazing, but then again the roles in the musicals is in more of a need of dramatic actors who can sing as opposed to trained singers who can act.

  13. #13 |  Douglas John Bowen | 

    As noted above, the series was about John Adams.

    Since Abigail Adams was central to/in his life, her death matters.

    Since we all die, HIS death matters (in a series “John Adams”).

    I don’t mean to sound snide. But not every story ends in a blaze of glory. This HBO series is one of the best treatments of American history this student of the genre has ever seen done.

  14. #14 |  CDF | 

    I was blown away. I signed up for HBO cable just a few days before it was introduced. I just thought it was marvelous. I don’t know the reasons why it was good or bad but it was just interesting as hell. I watched it several times and finally got smart and copied it.

    I would suggest don’t be so judgmental. Enjoy!

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