History is bringing you a truly epic, 6-night event starting on Sunday, April 25th (9pm et/pt), and the sheer magnitude of America: The Story of Us puts it somewhere outside the normal scope of “that which is reviewed.” The 12-hour production takes aim at the entire history of the nation, and though personal preferences might lead us to wish for items that were left out, and the possibility exists that it would be intensely boring to watch, there is something odd about the idea of attaching a star rating to the history of one’s own country.
It could just be me, but I feel that I am forced to somehow remove, “Is it good?” from more relevant questions such as – “Should you watch it?” Splitting hairs perhaps, but at any point that I might make some generally positive comment about the show, I feel there is a unique question about what, exactly, is the recipient of that positive regard. Is it simply that some perspective of patriotism is winning out?
The only question that really matters with such a behemoth revolves around the extent to which it is watchable. Is it engaging enough to put in this kind of time?
While thoughts of production value, historic accuracy, interest, and so on, are still things people want to know, they are lessened in overall weight as we add hours to the thing that must be viewed, and at 12 hours, the pressing issue is simply, “Can I watch it?” Though I must confess that I have not seen it all, I can only tell you that I could watch it again.
Of note for the series, the President will introduce the show, and History is offering the complete series to every school in America for free.
President Barack Obama will introduce AMERICA THE STORY OF US, a new 12-hour series on HISTORY™, sharing reflections on the spirit and resilience that continue to shape our country. The President’s remarks will open the premiere episode on Sunday, April 25, at 9pm ET. New episodes of AMERICA THE STORY OF US air on Sundays through Memorial Day, covering 400 years of our nation’s history.
The President will say that the turning points in American history “remind us that our American story has never been inevitable. It was made possible by ordinary people who kept their moral compass pointed straight and true when the way seemed treacherous; when the climb seemed steep; and when the future seemed uncertain. People who recognized a fundamental part of our American character: that we can remake ourselves – and our nation – to fit our larger dreams.”
Narrated by Liev Schreiber and told largely through reenactments and CGI display, the show is a unique attempt at walking viewers through the events that shaped America. As we watch the first settlers try to make their way in a new land, or revolutionaries prepare to defend their homes, we also hear from a wide list of notable Americans as their interview footage weaves into the story. Colin Powell, Sheryl Crow, Meryl Streep, P. Diddy, Michael Douglas, Brian Williams, Buzz Aldrin, Henry Louis Gates, Tom Brokaw, Donald Trump and many more share their thoughts about being American.
There have been recreations of these events before, and you can well imagine the reenactment of certain battles, or Paul Revere’s ride, but true to its title, there is more going on here. The production covers American history, in much the way that WWII in HD covered World War II. Here, History again spins our view of the entire concept of learning about history, because though we can point to what these shows “cover,” what they are about is people. History lessons are, for many, rather boring, because the general rule is that we learn events, then tag on a few names that go with them.
Here is event X on the timeline, and here are the names you have to remember.
Time and again, History (and the practices of “modern” educators everywhere – I know. I am one.) dismisses this theory out of hand. Instead, here are some people. This is how they lived. This is what motivated them. These are their problems and situations. Oh, and here’s something that happened to them.
The production design, and perhaps something about the aesthetic theory, pull viewers along in a way that is also a giant leap from what viewers are likely to expect. The reenactments frequently freeze on a character so that the narration can focus on them, and there’s something about the style this represents which will perhaps make this a “comforting” experience. That is, it is delivered in a fashion more in keeping with what people are used to watching, as opposed to being “differently” “docu-drama.”
It is thus an update of the theory behind presenting the history of the nation in many ways, and all of them fairly brilliant. The CGI possibilities stand out to some degree, but they wouldn’t get you through 12 hours of anything. The perspective, focus, and incredible attention to the reenactment easily put this at the top of the pile, except that I have no idea what pile it might be on top of. The best reenactment possible still has little ability to connect a viewer to another era without a thorough effort to relate that era itself, and its people, and America The Story of Us probably does that job better than anything ever has.
Be sure to tune in Sunday, April 25th at 9:00pm on History. In fact, set your Tivo here.
Historical events covered in AMERICA THE STORY OF US include: the arrival of the first English settlers, the Revolutionary War, westward expansion, economic growth of the North and South, the Civil War, the settling of the Great Plains, the development of modern, industrialized cities, the California Gold Rush and the western frontier, the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Special consultants on AMERICA THE STORY OF US include Professors Daniel Walker Howe and David M. Kennedy. In addition, a chorus of notable Americans will speak from the heart, reflecting on our country and what it means to be an American. They include: Brian Williams, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Buzz Aldrin, Colin Powell, Sheryl Crow, Soledad O’ Brien, David Baldacci, Meryl Streep, Donald Trump, Michael Douglas, and many more.
Production – AMERICA THE STORY OF US has taken an excess of 20,000 man-hours and the contributions of over 130 historians, advisors, consultants, researchers and artists to create.
Live action re-creations of historical events were shot on three different continents with 1,641 actors, extras and stuntmen and over 250 production crew members creating scenes of war, the westward expansion, the slave trade, and some of the largest engineering and construction projects ever undertaken by humans.