The Kennedys is destined to be a highly controversial, much-written-about TV event that almost no one besides people in the media and the relatives of the actors’ families will actually watch.
Which is just as well. An eight-part sneer that began with two hours on Sunday night, The Kennedys as a viewing experience was like watching someone hack away at a gigantic tree trunk with a Swiss Army knife. Cuts are inflicted upon the myth of Camelot and the legacy of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, as if that hasn’t been going on for decades.
There were some solid performances, especially by Greg Kinnear as JFK (he never slips into a Vaughn Meader-impersonation impersonation), Tom Wilkinson as pater familias Joe, Barry Pepper as RFK (his talent winning out over a prosthetic nose and an increase in toothiness), and I’ll lodge a small defense for Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy. Holmes has been dumped upon by many reviewers for being stiff and inexpressive, when actually Holmes is simply mimicking the tendency toward quiet reserve that Jackie presented to the world much of the time.
The Kennedys renders every triumph joyless and literally painful. JFK suffered from acute back problems, and Jackie from depression, so the miniseries has them both taking needles in the rear from the family Dr. Feelgood. The idea is to put every Kennedy under an unflattering spotlight.
So much has been written about the miniseries and its own history — attacked by scholars and journalists who covered the Kennedys; TV writers questioning whether producer and proud-to-be-a-Hollywood-conservative Joel Surnow (24) could possibly be “fair” (as if good art needs to be fair — it just needs to be good); rejected by channel after channel — that you may feel as though you’d seen and heard enough about The Kennedys before it even aired. So in a sense, Surnow has already succeeded: He’s implanted in the popular consciousness a fresh distrust of the Kennedy legacy. Mission accomplished, as a president Surnow liked better once said.
Here’s a tip for future producers looking for a home for your work: Don’t go into business with a cable channel that has to send out e-mails to the media about where to find the channel in your city.
Did any of you watch The Kennedys? If so, what did you think, and will you keep watching when the third hour airs on Tuesday?