Posts Tagged ‘HBO’

Unbuttoned Gwinnett

Posted in General on March 17th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

I had a certain dread awaiting the broadcast of “John Adams.” As a subscription cable company, HBO feels that it has an artistic obligation to saturate irrelevant prurience and gratuitous nudity in its programs. As you might know from watching the series “Rome”, the empire’s genuine decadence was not venereal enough for HBO. The network had to fabricate more scandal; who would have thought that Marc Antony needed that help?

So I expected David McCullough’s history to be rewritten by Larry Flynt: “The Fondling Fathers.” That actually would be an accurate appraisal of Ben Franklin, but history would not justify an R-rated “John Adams”. The Boston Tea Party was not a panty raid on Radcliffe, and Martha Washington and Abigail Adams never “comforted” each other. Would we see an unbuttoned Gwinnett? My only hope for a reasonably accurate interpretation was the choice of casting: John Adams was to be played by Paul Giamatti, not Lorenzo Lamas. Adams was short, pudgy and plain. The same could be said of Mr. Giamatti. (His nudity would certainly be gratutious and possibly an atrocity.)

I prepared myself for the broadcast with three pieces of key lime cheesecake and about a quarter-pound of chocolate raisins (my pre-birthday dinner). As long as I kept eating, I would continue to watch. (The Boston Massacre had no effect on my appetite; however, I would not recommend eating while seeing close-ups of small pox victims.) My desserts lasted about an hour; my enthusiasm for the series has yet to wane.

If you have HBO, you really should see “John Adams.” If you don’t, ingratiate yourself to someone who does subscribe. (Be R-rated if necessary; Ben Franklin would approve.) Giamatti does capture the complicated character of John Adams, a man who was highly intelligent and principled, ambitious but drab, well-intentioned yet abrasive, an adoring husband but short-tempered father. Laura Linney never has difficulty portraying an attractive, intelligent woman; her Abigail Adams conveys a remarkable woman who is the perfect complement to her husband; her pragmatic intelligence lends a necessary common sense to his esoteric brilliance. She would have made the far better politician of the two; and they both know it! Laura Linney certainly imparts the frustration of a talented woman in an age and society that stifled her abilities and relegated them to domestic duties.

Yet, these excellent performances are not the best reasons to watch “John Adams.” The real wonder is the painstaking, detailed portrait of 18th century life! For example, we know that fashion dictated that men of a certain class wore wigs. However, this series literally looks beneath the wig. In order to ensure a decent fit, the men had to shave their heads. We see men in the privacy of their homes with their glistening, bald pates. And the fact that Ben Franklin eschewed wigs was in itself revolutionary. The series is replete with such fascinating and grungy details. This period would not have been the cleanest or most fragrant time. But the entire society is there for us to see: a panorama of life in the 18th century. It may only be backgrounds, but you are looking are at the ships in Boston Harbor or the streets of Philadelphia. History has come to life. And yet it is computer animation, but you wouldn’t know it. The word “wonderful” rarely is used in its original context, but the historical settings are truly extraordinary.

I will be watching the rest of this series. It is a better dessert than the key lime cheesecake.