Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Overlooked TV: John Adams (2008)

The DVDs of this 2008 mini-series made for HBO sat unwatched on our shelves for years, but recently we were in the mood for a historical drama and finally watched it. Often when we watch a historical movie or TV show, I have a feeling of “Been there, wrote that”, because I’ve written about so many different time periods. That’s definitely the case in the few two episodes of JOHN ADAMS, which cover the build-up to the Revolutionary War between 1770 and 1776. I dealt with a lot of the same material in my series PATRIOTS (six novels published by Bantam Books under the pseudonym Adam Rutledge), which ended on July 4, 1776.

Of course, there are some differences, too. In my books, most of the action—the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the capture of the British cannon at Fort Ticonderoga—took place on-screen, but since John Adams himself didn’t take part in any of that, in the mini-series we hear about those historic events but don’t witness them.

What we get instead is people talking about stuff. Lots and lots of people talking about stuff. The saving grace of JOHN ADAMS, along with its good acting and very high production values, is that the things being discussed are mostly interesting, and the dialogue is well-written. There’s no getting around the fact, though, that this mini-series is pretty slow and dry. Thankfully, it goes on to cover the war itself and everything else that happens afterward: George Washington’s presidency, Adams’ own term as president, the various power struggles between him, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and others. I don’t know as much about that era, so most of it kept me intrigued.

There’s also a fair amount of soap opera—alcoholism, sibling rivalry, vaulting ambition, disease, and tragedy—all of it historically accurate for the most part, because real life often is a soap opera. But the script never lets things get too lurid and shies away from any really over-the-top moments.

Paul Giamatti plays John Adams and Laura Linney plays his wife Abigail, and their lifelong love story is really at the heart of this series. They each do a good job, as does the rest of the cast. Slow though it may be, JOHN ADAMS is a decent slice of history and I’m glad we finally watched it.

If you want plenty of powder-burning action and some real soap opera, though, I recommend that you read my PATRIOTS novels. (Sorry for the commercial.)


Keith West said...

I've wanted to see this series. Sounds like I should get it.

Are the PATRIOTS novels still available?

Rick Robinson said...

I watched this when it was first broadcast and liked it very much.

Benjamin Thomas said...

I just read your Patriots series last year and thoroughly enjoyed them. They are among my favorites of all the historical fiction I've read. I also enjoyed the cameo appearances from that series that showed up in the Wagon's West Empire trilogy.

James Reasoner said...

The PATRIOTS books are long out of print, and since Book Creations Inc. controls the rights to them, I don't foresee e-book editions any time soon (or ever). However, used copies of all six books are available on Amazon, all of them pretty inexpensive except for #2. Why it's pricier, I have no idea. The print run on it was a lot bigger than on the later books in the series.

Peter Brandvold said...

I just ordered all six. I read the first three when they first came out and loved them but for some reason never got around to the next three. Going to read the entire series soon. Thanks for the reminder, James. And the review of John Adams. I was wondering about that.