“The Kennedys” Miniseries Disappoints Critics, Viewers

5 04 2011

Television review: ‘The Kennedys’

Despite several strong lead performances, it turns out that even an eight-part miniseries can’t do justice to the story of one of the country’s most dynamic, if flawed, political families.

April 01, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic


The main problem with “The Kennedys,” the rumor-plagued, eight-part series that was rejected by the History Channel, which had commissioned it, before landing at ReelzChannel, is not one of politics or even accuracy but of scope. 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.

Kronish addresses the last of these problems by simply cutting the family in half. “The Kennedys” that the title refers to are Joe Sr. (Tom Wilkinson), Rose (Diana Hardcastle ), John F. (Greg Kinnear) and his wife, Jacqueline (Katie Holmes), Bobby (Barry Pepper) and his wife, Ethel (Kristin Booth). Fourth daughter Patricia is seen briefly in one of the later episodes, married to Peter Lawford and playing hostess to one of his Marilyn Monroe-studded soirees, while Rosemary, the victim of an early lobotomy, appears briefly in flashback. But Kathleen (who died in an airplane crash in 1948); Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics and was married to Kennedy advisor Sargent Shriver; Jean, who eventually became U.S. ambassador to Ireland; and Edward (Teddy), the longtime Massachusetts senator and onetime presidential candidate, are not only not present, they are never even mentioned.

Which is much more troubling than the various scenes of infidelity (Joe’s and Jack’s), election “rigging” (Joe’s), mob connections (Joe’s) and drug use (Jack’s and Jackie’s) that have apparently raised the blood pressure of Kennedy historians, History Channel execs and various industry watchers for reasons that, while watching the actual episodes, is inexplicable. There is nothing in “The Kennedys” that hasn’t appeared before in reputable books, films and articles in the Kennedy-obsessed “Vanity Fair.”

An argument could be made that a channel called “History” might want to avoid docudramas, which rely on artistic interpretation, but if it was the intention of producer Surnow, a political conservative, to sully the Kennedy name, he certainly went about it in a strange manner. Jack and Bobby emerge splendid, smart and heroic despite their flaws, and even Joe, though portrayed as a ruthlessly ambitious father and truly awful husband, appears in the end guilty of little more than old-time campaign tactics and a once-oppressed immigrant’s dream of joining the ruling class.

Casting went a long way toward balancing the script’s inclusion of the unsavory side of being a Kennedy. Wilkinson can do just about anything at this point in his career, and he illuminates equally Joe’s hubris and desperate fear of failure, while, with his perpetually worried eyes, Kinnear plays a JFK in constant pain — from his back, from his father’s expectations, from his own infidelities. Don Draper certainly never felt this guilty about getting a little on the side.

The revelation of “The Kennedys” is Pepper, most recently seen as the snaggletoothed villain in “True Grit,” who delivers an Emmy-deserving performance, slowly building a Bobby who becomes the family’s, and the Kennedy administration’s, spine of steel, aware of the choices and sacrifices he is making and prepared to make them every time. As attorney general, Bobby is the president’s hammer even as he attempts to be his conscience.

The scenes among these three men alone are worth trying to find out if you get ReelzChannel. Unfortunately, they are too often being moved through historical events as if they were chess pieces and are surrounded by a supporting cast not up to their level. Holmes is pretty as Jackie, but her emotions are confined to happy (“I love him”) and sad (“He cheats on me”), with absolutely no nuance and only the occasional flash of spirit, intellect and inner strength that made Jacqueline Kennedy an icon in her own right. As Ethel, Booth is almost unbearably perky in early episodes, although she mellows as the series unfolds; the scenes between Bobby and Ethel are far more poignant and powerful than those between Jackie and Jack. Hardcastle (married to Wilkinson) can’t do much with a Rose who spends most of the series saying her rosary and making pronouncements about God’s will in a broad Eastern accent — it isn’t until the final episode that mention is made of the crucial role Rose played in the political careers of her sons.

But she is just another victim of the genre’s biggest danger. In attempting to be both sprawling and intimate, “The Kennedys” winds up in a narrative no-man’s land. So the tensions of Bobby taking on organized crime, the riots in Mississippi, the Cuban missile crisis and the strained relationship of the brothers with J. Edgar Hoover and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson are treated with the same time constraints and dramatic emphasis as Joe’s endless “recovery” from his stroke and Jackie’s realization that being a first lady is difficult.

While this “greatest-hits” pace does take the potential sting from the more salacious details — Jack’s infidelities are few and far between, Frank Sinatra is blamed for any mob-related fallout, the pep-me-up shots Jack and Jackie receive do little more than pep them up — it also buries the fine performances of its leading men, who too often seem to be simply marching toward their characters’ inevitable doom.



Caroline Kennedy: Obama Will Be “A President Like My Father”

26 01 2008


For 28 years, Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg steadfastly refused to endorse any presidential candidate, always wisely staying out of the political pillowfight.

All that changed as of about an hour ago when the last surviving member of the John F. Kennedy family broke her nearly three decade-long long silence and formally endorsed Barack Obama

The news came just moments before Obama took the stage to thank supporters who handed him a whopping 2-to-1 victory over Senator Hillary Clinton in tonight’s South Carolina Democratic primary.

Maybe she didn’t have time to “change”? Although Michelle Obama is always immaculately attired, her choice of the Jackie Kennedy-esque pink suit seems somewhat ill-advised in light of Caroline Kennedy’s nearly-simultaneous endorsement. (AP photo)


In her New York Times Op-Ed column (which hits newsstands tomorrow), Caroline explained the endorsement this way: 

“My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

…He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans. “


All eyes now turn to the senior senator from Massachusetts, one of the most conspicuous of Democratic fence sitters, who is known to have become mighty annoyed with Clinton campaign tactics in recent weeks. (See related story: “Teddy Tells Bill to Chill”)

Meanwhile, many of the Robert Kennedys — RFK Jr., Rory Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend — have been out on the campaign trail stumping for Hillary Clinton. (Although their mother, RFK’s widow Ethel, is reportedly an Obama supporter.)

Caroline’s endorsement of Senator Obama certainly creates an interesting dynamic both within the Democratic party and indeed the Kennedy family itself. Does this point to the possibility that the House of Kennedy is a house divided in the 2008 election?

Perhaps it will actually turn out to be a good thing in the end. A little healthy competition has always been welcomed within the Kennedy ranks, not to mention a spirited, passionate, good ol’ Irish family political debate. (Like the kind we always had at my house!) What some of us wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall at that pow-wow!

JFK Jr., Caroline, Jackie Kennedy with Bill clinton

Ah, but we were so much older then…we’re younger than that now: the late president’s family – John F. Kennedy Jr., Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg and Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis with then-president Bill Clinton back in the day.



Copyright RFKin2008.com.

New Kennedy Books for the Holidays

22 12 2007

For many of us, the holidays are a perfect time to catch up on our reading. All that time spent traveling or relaxing at home is often accompanied by a good book. There’s nothing quite like curling up under a blanket on a cold winter night with a new book you’re eager to devour, and for readers of this blog, a favorite subject is the Kennedy family.

2007 saw the release of several interesting new books by and about the Kennedys. If you’re out doing a little last-minute Christmas shopping this weekend, here are a few recent titles in print we’d like to recommend:

A Family Christmas by Caroline Kennedy

The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family by Richard Avedon

American Hero: Joshua Chamberlain and the American Civil War, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Bobby and J. Edgar Hoover by Burton Hersh

Failing America’s Faithful by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot

Jack and Lem: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship by David Pitts

I think that’s probably enough to keep you occupied for a while. If you have a favorite new (2007) Kennedy book you’d like to recommend, let us know about it by posting a comment below. We’ll try and add as many of your suggestions as possible to the list.

Wishing you happy holidays (and endless hours of enjoyable reading) from all of us at RFKin2008.com!