“That is Liberty… And liberty will reign in America.” These words, spoken by Paul Giamatti’s John Adams in the HBO miniseries of the same name, show what authenticity, with a sprinkling of historical melodrama, can achieve.
We live in an era that problem-glasses-wearing, blue hairs write articles bemoaning the treatment of “immigrant groups” in a fantasy world with ice zombies and dragons. Yet, HBO’s John Adams stands remarkably apart for both its adherence to source material (David McCullough’s wonderful biography of Adams), as well as, marinating in the world of colonial America at the birth of a new nation.
This series achieves something remarkable in 21st century cable entertainment: it takes you to an immersive world dripping with meaning and towering figures from our own national mythos and humanizes them without subverting who they truly were. We see the titular Adams as “obnoxious and disliked,” yet ever the bulldog of independence. The quiet dignity of Washington and his adherence to duty. The lofty idealism of Jefferson that gets carried away in the social upheaval of the French Revolution. We even see the scheming realpolitik of Franklin, as he maneuvers for French recognition and support.
As an ardent student of history, and skeptical observer of “period pieces,” that so often deal in hamfisted modern day moralizing or “romanticism” over their given subject, HBO’s John Adams achieved the surprising feat of being true to the time period and still providing realistic and stirring dialogue. Dialogue that can emotionally transport you to such pivotal moments as the vote for Independence.
The art of the story teller is integral to passing on our history and mythos to our children. That sense of walking in the footsteps of those giants from our past is brought home. John Adams achieves this with brilliance.
-By William Poole
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.