Salon.com likes HBO's "John Adams"





... Remember when the epic television miniseries featured earth-shattering romances and big, shiny stallions and riotous town meetings with heroes and villains clearly delineated? The founders of our great nation would fight valiantly and give speeches that moved crowds of attractive blonds to tears, and then they'd get on their horses and ride off to fight the bloodthirsty redcoats.

But these are the days of David Milch's "Deadwood" and Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" and this is HBO, home of the story that's stubbornly grubby and full of stuttering and awkward moments and buzzing flies. The trend has swung past realism to realism through a dirty window, realism with a bad attitude and a hangover.

Based on the book by David McCullough and directed by Tom Hooper, "John Adams" counterbalances heroism -- this was a man who helped to liberate the colonies from British rule, after all -- with dreary details: Abigail Adams is left at home with her children in the dead of winter, while her husband is off fine-tuning the language of the Declaration of Independence with other noble men. Abigail writes John love letters, sure, but she's also forced to grab a rifle and run to the door of their farmhouse at any sign of trouble. She and the kids witness haunting sights of injured Americans return from battle with the redcoats. And in the hopes of dodging the smallpox epidemic, the family endures a gruesome inoculation. Yes, here are the perils that were foreshadowed in that first wintry scene!

But it's the casting of Giamatti as Adams that says it all. Giamatti is an almost defiantly ordinary-looking man, and that's a crucial detail as far as author David McCullough is concerned. In his book, the caption underneath the first paintings of a puffily wigged Adams and his wife reads, "Her decided nature is clearly evident, while he might be almost any untested, well-fed young man of the time." I believe what he means to express is that Adams looks like a fat frat boy with a squirrel glued to his head.
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