After being bounced from the History Channel back in January, things looked bleak for the Joel Surnow executive produced-miniseries. But after being turned down by a number of other channels and needing a sponsor, The Kennedys, starring Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes and Tom Wilkerson, finally premiers tonight on the little known ReelzChannel. Now that we know it will finally make it onto television screens, the questions become whether it was worth all the controversy and if it's any good.
Well, the first reviews are in, and they're less than stellar. Here are highlights from a handful of them:
The Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss writes that the miniseries tells us nothing we didn't already know about the Kennedys: "Having seen it, I can assure the Kennedys that they have nothing to worry about. Partly, that’s because the series is astonishingly bland, a CliffsNotes history lesson for people who know the history already."
The New York Times's David Itzkoff feels that the show will reignite debate over accuracy and creative license in historical dramas:
In chronicling the presidency of John F. Kennedy, it compresses time, consolidates characters and invents dialogue for moments never recorded by history’s pen.It also dwells on the sexual appetites of the Kennedy men, the use of prescription drugs by the president and his wife, and Joseph P. Kennedy’s interactions with the Mafia, in ways that, depending on your point of view, expose the flaws of historical figures or besmirch the legacy of an American hero.
The A.V. Club's Noel Murray writes that the show is a throwback to old soap opera-y miniseries of yore. And those tuning in hoping to see an all-out disaster will be disappointed, because while the show isn't by any means good, it's not that bad: "But let’s face it: the main reason most in-the-know folks will want to watch The Kennedys is to see how much of a train wreck it is. And I’m afraid on that score, people will be largely disappointed."
The Los Angeles Times's Mary McNamara writes that despite some strong performances by the actors, the miniseries is too compressed to capture the legacy of a family as important and large as the Kennedys:
It is impossible to tell the story of this iconic family even in eight parts, even by limiting the timeline, as creators Stephen Kronish and Joel Surnow have done, to the years between the beginnings of World War II and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. There is too much back story, too many important events, and too many Kennedys.
TV Guide's Matt Roush writes that the controversy surrounding the miniseries may have let The History Channel off the hook, by allowing them to get away with dropping the series:
Turns out The Kennedys wasn't rejected for being too hot to handle, though family sensitivities may have played some role in its fate. The real reason: It's a dinosaur, a hokey throwback to an out-of-fashion genre and a too-familiar subject. There are as many Kennedy miniseries as there are Kennedys, and this may be the most unnecessary one yet. It's ploddingly earnest when it isn't crudely scurrilous — the assassination episode is framed with tacky flashbacks of an unstable Marilyn Monroe, and the Kennedy White House at times seems a combination illegal pharmacy/brothel for the philandering Jack.
Should these reviews come as any surprise? Not really: despite a decent cast, discussions of The Kennedys always seemed to be more about the controversy surrounding it, rather than its substance or quality. Despite all the initial hubbub the Kennedy might just turn out to be another forgettable television miniseries.