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'The Kennedys' Miniseries Premiere Recap

by Alex Moaba, posted Apr 4th 2011 11:40AM
The long-awaited, much-buzzed-about-for-all-the-wrong-reasons miniseries 'The Kennedys' premiered Sunday night against a backdrop of thematically similar programming: 'The Borgias,' another story about a family's ruthless and debauched political dynasty, and next week's British royal wedding, which will undoubtedly prove our enduring obsession with real-life kings and queens.

But unfortunately for the 'The Kennedys,' and the suddenly upstart Reelz Channel, this miniseries may end up having more in common with Charlie Sheen's 'Torpedo of Truth' tour, another easily predictable disaster that somehow drew audiences in despite their better instincts.

The first two hours of the series, which rotated between the 1960 presidential election and various stages of World War II, served as an introduction to this interpretation of the Kennedy clan. The narrative covers a lot of ground, usually in three- or six-month intervals. We see major events in the family's history, like the sudden demise of Joseph Kennedy's presidential ambitions, eldest son Joe's death in WWII, many walks on the beach at the family compound in Cape Cod, and the launch of Jack's political career.

But much of 'The Kennedys' is like walking around a wax museum animated by low-grade robotics. Thanks to strong casting, the characters look remarkably like the the historical figures they're playing; it's only once you see them up close that it becomes clear how stiff and vacuous many of them are.

The problem facing 'The Kennedys' is that the story of this family has already been told so many times and in so many different ways that there's a huge pressure to bring something new to the table to hold the audience's attention.

So where Oliver Stone's 'JFK' dove into the world of conspiracy theories for its entertainment value, 'The Kennedys' tries to get inside characters' heads to tell the story of what drives them. In the process, it ends up embracing an oversimplified brand of armchair psychology; instead of breaking new ground, it latches onto single, causal theories about what drove certain characters to do the things they did. The result of the oversimplification is characters that don't seem fully formed or complex enough to do their subjects justice.

Greg Kinnear's Jack, the playboy son, chases girls, gets hooked on pain pills, and is portrayed as an ambivalent politician who really wants to be a writer. (Maybe he was our first hipster president.) He's given a weird inferiority complex and overinflated rivalry with his older brother Joe, the original vehicle for his father's political ambitions. Did we really need to see the eldest brother berating Jack after he returns home injured from the war, trying to pry at the theory that he was asleep at the helm of his ship as it crashed behind enemy lines? Here the writing seemed to stretch way too far for the sake of creating fraternal strife. In fact, nothing we see in the first two hours indicates why Jack is presidential material at all. He isn't fully in control of his life but seems to drift along, watching as major decisions get made for him by his puppet-master father.

Katie Holmes' Jackie also suffers a lack of depth. Again, both she and Kinnear look the part; she embodies Jackie's grace, class and physical resemblance with ease, but there doesn't seem to be much going on past a superficial level. Together, they don't seem to have much of a connection. Maybe that was part of the idea, to emphasize that these were somewhat ordinary people putting on a very public show and that there wasn't much there but good looks, stylish clothes and powerful families behind the curtain. If that's what they were aiming for, it's a particularly dark vision.

However, strong performances -- and potential for the growth of characters -- do stand out, particularly Tom Wilkinson's Joseph Kennedy and Barry Pepper's Bobby. Pepper clearly has a knack for inhabiting early 1960s American heroes with stilted regional dialects; he lends RFK a depth and complexity reminiscent of what he gave Roger Maris in Billy Crystal's '61*.'

Tom Wilkinson is a tour de force as Joseph, the family patriarch. He's a maniacal, manipulative political fixer who, after seeing his own presidential aspirations thwarted after his WWII-era 'Macaca moment' (supporting Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler), decides that his sons will form his political legacy. Wilkinson plays the role brilliantly; his devious energy propels his scenes forward in a way similar to how his character carried the movie 'Michael Clayton.' He's offering Jackie $1 million bribes to not divorce Jack, pitting his sons against one another, hiding the news that Jack's gone missing behind enemy lines from his wife. The series would be totally lost without him as a solid anchor.

Where does 'The Kennedys' go from here? We all know where it's going, on some level -- the triumph and tragedy that awaits the characters of this American story. What remains to be seen is whether we'll learn anything new. What are we watching here, and why are we watching it? Is it another version of the royal wedding, the same story told over again for the umpteenth time? Is it for the Charlie Sheen train-wreck factor, with a flawed series substituting for a fallen star? Maybe the series will get better, but much like JFK's foray into the Vietnam war, 'The Kennedys' seems like another long, costly quagmire that we'll end up regretting for decades.

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I have seen the whole thing. I thought it was great. Not sure what the criticis are afraid of. The series does not sugar coat the weaknesses or corruption or political challenges at all. However, it does not lead you to negative feelings about the brothers - just the opposite. Joe Sr make his money off of booze royalties during and after prohibition and he threw that money around to help his boys become powerful politicians after he was damaged by his weak positioning in response to Hitlers war against the world. There was a lot of pain endured by the family as they pursued Joe's dream. I think the boys were pretty good guys overall. I give the series 4stars.

April 12 2011 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am enjoying The Kennedy series. It's true that most of the information in the series are not revelations. My dad was involved in politics, and I dated a Secret service agent, who was with Jack Kennedy for sometime. It was common knowlege that Joe Kennedy had doctors give his daughter Rose Mary a lobotomy; that Joe paid Jackie to stay with Jack; that Jack had numerous affars and that Joe got the mafia to secure the election in Illinois. Many young people though that were not alive during the Kennedy administration not only don't know these details about President Kennedy, but they also don't know about integrating schools in Mississippi, the Viet Nam War and many other pertinent events in American history. Any bit of history Americans, especially young Americans, can learn about their leaders and their country is not a waste of time.

April 08 2011 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Jim,

Those snotnose bastards worked for a living and all families have skeletons. We all know the history of the Kennedys and JFK is gone, shot by who knows who, Don't believe the investigation and know others were involved in his assasination. This film was made because of the other trashy movies made of Reagon & Bush. If I want to see trash, I can just put on one of those reality shows. Done

April 07 2011 at 1:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
welcome allight5

Enjoy trash TV ? Watch the bigoted Kennedy series.

April 07 2011 at 12:07 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

If Joe had been a bootlegger in Georgia he probably would have been in prison and wouldnt have had all those snotnosed little bastards.

April 07 2011 at 11:02 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Way way too many commercials.. I stopped watching as well after about 45 minutes...

April 06 2011 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While the overall presentation of the Kennedy scenario was not bad, but also not great, I changed the station after about one hour of viewing for the following reasons. I started timing the showing of the program after about the 3rd commercial. It seemed to me that the actual program had too many commercials and that the commercials were too long. As it turned out after timing the thing, the actual program did not run for more than 9 minutes without a damn commercial chiming in. Also the commercial themselves ran for approximately 4 minutes with probably 10 different products trying to be pushed onto the viewing public. Through a combination of very short actual program time and way, way too many commercials, I very quickly lost interest in the Kennedy's and was very peeved that that station attempted to put on that show while at the same time cramming a whole lot of products down our throats. The movie channels are the only way to go. The overall program might have been worth watching, but not the way they did it.

April 06 2011 at 3:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jen Nifer

Join the conversation on Twitter using hash mark #TheKennedys or become a fan on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/KennedysMovie

April 05 2011 at 12:50 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Reelz channel broadcast the 1981 movie about Jackie Kennedy starring Jacyln Smith and James Francisco, before airing The Kennedy's. The first was much more accurate and entertaining to watch. The Kennedy's was a BIG waste of time. The actor's were wooden in their performances and contrived dialogue between the character's that has no basis in fact is deplorable.

April 04 2011 at 4:49 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Reelz? Really? I mean really?

April 04 2011 at 3:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to devinmcmusters's comment
Alex Moaba

fo' realz...

April 04 2011 at 4:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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