“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.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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Opinion: Vanity Fair Shouldn’t Dismiss RFK Jr.

30 05 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: The latest issue of Vanity Fair features an article called “Ted Kennedy’s Final Battle,” which is an excerpt from Ed Klein’s new book on the liberal lion. The article speculates heavily on which member of the Kennedy family will eventually pick up the torch of leadership – Patrick? Caroline? Joe? Kathleen? Christopher? – but seems to overlook the one believe to be the best qualified…Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

One of of our longtime bloggers wrote to voice her amazement at Klein/Vanity Fair’s out-of-hand dismissal of RFK Jr.’s capabilities, expressing the dismay many of Bobby’s supporters felt after reading the article. We’d like to share her Letter to the Editor with you below:

VANITY FAIR ARTICLE NEEDS CLARIFICATION

By Susanne Silverstein

 

Dear RFK Jr. News-Staffers:

It’s been a while since I’ve visited the web site but my heart still gets tugged when I read articles like this month’s Vanity Fair

I feel the article is totally unfair to RFK Jr. in it’s perception that he is not one of the heirs most likely to be active in this or next generation.  The article goes on to hype Joe Jr & Caroline as being the two new leaders of the Kennedy clan.  They discuss how RFK Jr. has a speech impediment that makes running for office a serious challenge.  

I beg to disagree!  He has been out there speaking in public for years, never letting his spasmodic dysphonia stop him from getting the message across. He hosts a weekly radio show on Air America and does numerous television interviews. In my opinion, he’s a better speaker than all the other Kennedy kids put together! 

I have also been aware that he has had to work with a speech impediment, but Bobby is nothing less than an electrifying speaker.  It is a shame what his family is pulling.  They are only hurting our country by their selfish short-sighted behavior.  All of us face some dysfunction in our immediate families and I just chalk this nonsense up to petty jealousies.

 I hope the members here can convince him that he is beloved by millions.  That there are millions more longing to hear him speak; and that he will be able to sort out his family’s nonsense for what it is.  Just a histronic reaction to the sad scenario of Ted Kennedy’s illness and probable prognosis. 

Bobby Jr; has accomplished so much more in public life than most of his cousins, brothers and sisters put together!  I once did admire Joe Kennedy’s prowess, but he seems to be truly happier working on his energy company.  He has kept a low profile until now. 

We need to get more letters over to Vanity Fair to set them straight about Bobby Jr’s real promise and qualifications as a real leader for the next generation of Americans! 

 

Thank you,

Susanne





The Kennedys: Why They Still Matter

2 06 2008

 

the Kennedy Brothers

KENNEDY DYNASTY STILL HAS POWER TO SHAPE NATION’S HISTORY

 The last brother is gravely ill, prompting an outpouring of acclaim, even from precincts that seldom have praised him. The Democratic Party is in a swivet over remarks Hillary Rodham Clinton made about the second brother, whose June triumph in the tumultuous year 1968 was undone by his June assassination. A sad spring anniversary — 40 years ago this week — approaches, dreaded by many of the victim’s aging acolytes, their idealism undiminished, their hero’s promise never realized. Who says the Kennedys are in eclipse?

For years the Bushes have been the American dynasty in the ascendancy. They’ve served three terms as president (about 5 percent of the time the United States has existed), been elected governor four times (of two of the four biggest states, comprising almost one-seventh of the nation’s population), served in the House, the Senate and the vice presidency, and at the United Nations, the Central Intelligence Agency and in an important diplomatic post in China.

The Bushes may be the family that defines the nation in its third century. Today the Kennedys have almost no political power — but they still retain immense power over all of us. Right now we are again in one of those Kennedy moments.

It began when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. The Massachusetts Democrat is often called the “lion of the Senate,” and his roar has given voice to those without health insurance, without economic prospects, without education or training. He is a liberal — the liberals’ liberal, you might say — but often his hand extended across the aisle, meeting Sen. Orrin Hatch’s to craft legislation on children’s health insurance and hate crimes, meeting George W. Bush’s to shape education law.

In the days since Mr. Kennedy’s diagnosis, Republicans and Democrats alike have said that they cannot imagine the Senate without him. That is in part because Mr. Kennedy is the third longest-serving senator in history, after Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. (He has been in the Senate a third longer than the entire life expectancy of a person born the year the Constitution was written.)

The Kennedys have been a prominent part of American history since the senator’s father was appointed the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a span that covers about a third of the nation’s history — and that does not account for the political lineage on Mr. Kennedy’s mother’s side, which includes John F. Fitzgerald, who more than a century ago became the first American-born Irish-Catholic mayor of Boston.

All three Kennedy brothers — the fourth brother, the oldest, Joe Jr., perished in World War II — served in the Senate and ran for president. Ted’s older brothers inspired two generations of Americans with their intelligence, wit and eloquence. But Ted, perhaps the least quotable but surely the most approachable of the three, is still, at 76, building a formidable legacy. His brothers’ words are in large letters on the sides of buildings and in the hearts and memory of a nation. But the youngest brother is the fine-print Kennedy. His words are in the fine print of the nation’s laws.

Few who met the new senator in 1962 (or who watched him in the frantic days after Chappaquiddick) thought he’d become a heavyweight legislator. Nine presidents later, Mr. Kennedy is arguably one of the leading dozen senators of American history. His colleagues include Webster, Calhoun and Clay.

Dynastic politics are difficult politics, which is why anything involving the Kennedys and such powerful families as the Bushes or Clintons is fraught with difficulty. Sen. Clinton’s remarks about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy likely were made in the spirit of saying that presidential nomination fights, like operas, aren’t over until the fat lady sings. But with her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, provided with early Secret Service protection and with Ted Kennedy facing a serious health challenge, she found herself apologizing for what seemed like a crass reference to Friday’s anniversary of the death of Robert Kennedy.

It was 40 years ago, and somehow that day still seems raw, with the flush of victory erased by the tragedy of an assassin’s bullet. That was one of those moments when history stood still, and, having paused, changed direction. We do not know whether Kennedy would have been elected president, but it is unlikely that Hubert H. Humphrey would have won the Democratic nomination, and it is unlikely that there would have been blood on the streets in Chicago during that tension-filled convention had Kennedy not died after the California primary.

This year’s twin anniversaries of the deaths of Kennedy and of Martin Luther King Jr. fill us with a sense of loss even today — more than that, a sense of unrealized opportunity. What died with both of them was a very powerful sense of possibility. It was sickening and horrible then. Somehow it seems even more sickening and horrible today.

That is because we don’t know what these men might have done. We know only what was done by those who were left behind. (In fairness, we also do not know what errors they would have made, what enduring problems they would have created. But the mind does not work that way. It freezes the dead in their posture of possibility.) So in a few days we will remember, yet again, what happened in 1968 and how much that year shaped America. It created, to start, anger and apprehension, but it created much more than that.

No one living in that year would have guessed the ferociousness of the backlash it created, nor the sheer energy and creativity of the conservatism that it spawned. We are marked equally by them both.

That is the irony of this Kennedy moment. It reminds us, to be sure, of what we have lost. But it also reminds us of how different are our politics and our lives, not just because of what was done to Robert Kennedy, but also because of what Ted Kennedy has done.

 

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Shribman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1995 for his coverage of Washington and the American political scene.

Link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ucds/20080531/cm_ucds/kennedydynastystillhaspowertoshapenationshistory