After months of controversy, the miniseries The Kennedys finally debuts Sunday on Reelz Channel, which is probably way up there in your digital cable guide somewhere. (Try looking near Golf Channel En Español.) In this week’s TIME, I look at the history of political-football miniseries, as well as the eight hours of The Kennedys itself.
I had hoped that the good administrators of TIME would see clear to put the whole thing online considering its sell-by date, but it was not to be. Update: The full column has been freed from the paywall! Read it! Read it now!
Longer story short, the miniseries is not nearly as polemical, or controversial in terms of sheer content, as you may have been led to believe. But as a work of TV it is probably even worse than you would have guessed. Greg Kinnear is a fairly good JFK and Tom Wilkinson especially strong as meddling, pushy family patriarch Joe Kennedy, but as Jackie, Katie Holmes seems to have wandered in from a school play.
In general, though, The Kennedys is simply a predictably written miniseries on overfamiliar subject matter, visiting the signposts of the family history as dutifully as the Stations of the Cross, and treating JFK and RFK in particular reverentially. (As public figures, anyway; the show does emphasize JFK’s prescription-drug use and philandering, but the latter is very PG-rated.)
It may be that earlier versions of the script were the political hit job the show was claimed to be—it’s from conservative 24 creator Joel Surnow, and there is residual skepticism about the way the rich family worked or bought its way into power. (The network trailer, above, makes the show seem much more sharp-elbowed than it is at full-length.) But in the end, I found myself wishing the miniseries were more politically motivated, or, at least, that it had any sort of original animating idea that would have made it interesting.
The ethics of the TIME paywall—that is, not wishing to piss off my employer—forbid me from recapitulating my entire review here. But if If there’s any lasting impact to The Kennedys, I’m guessing it will simply be that, in a year or two, maybe a few more people will remember where and what Reelz is. Beyond that, it’s a lotta Camelot drama, over very little.