A Past as Far as the TV Can See: Summer’s Historical Dramas
For history buffs who suffer from serious TV addictions (not that I’d know anything about that) this month has offered us a wealth of solid series to satisfy both cravings simultaneously. Just in one weekend four of these shows, all but one of them in its first season, illustrated the drama that can be found in various olden times. Here is a short look at each for the weekend of August 8th through 10th, 2014.
* Hell on Wheels – a solid if unspectacular member of AMC’s growing drama stable, no one will ever confuse this saga of the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad for “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad.” That said, the series looks to be on a real roll in this, its 4th season. The previous week found hero Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) holed up in a secretive Mormon walled community awaiting the birth of his first child with a new wife. Considering his wound was the loss of his family during the Civil War, Cullen finally seems ready to make up for lost time. One obstacle stands in his way: the mysterious Swede (played with messianic fervor by Christopher Heyerdahl). Reluctant to let Cullen go before a trunk railroad can be built to enrich the town (and himself). Our hero turns the tables on him, using a conversion experience that allows Mount to show a different side of himself and his character. The Swede looks in danger but a good villain like him probably won’t be disposed of so easily.
* Manhattan – while I’m excited at the turn “HoW” took this week I’m beginning to wonder about this drama based around the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bomb during World War II. This installment deals with the death of one of the scientists. This creates a level of sadness to accompany the secrecy all team members have been sworn to. I’m worried at this point that Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), the leader of the team working on an implosion method, will turn out to be one of those characters who are so mysterious the show can’t sustain it. To the people behind this show, I know, Don Draper was like this too but we learn things about him from the start of “Mad Men.” Consider this a word to the wise. I’m not giving up on it; I’m just afraid the series is counting too much on people sticking around to the end to see the real fireworks.
* The Knick – Cinemax really wants to get away from its image as “Skinemax.” So much so they went out and made a deal for a prestige series with Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh. This show focuses on Knickerbocker Hospital in Manhattan in 1900. On the one hand, the era that would become known as “the American Century” is getting underway with modern advances in all areas of life. The surgeons at the Knick seek to find new and better ways to save patients. If only they could do the same for themselves. Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), the new chief of surgery, is a wreck: a cocaine addict who seems to live in a whorehouse, he is destroying himself in his quest to maintain his flagging energy with injections. He also has to contend with a new surgeon, Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), a black man who Thackery wants gone (he’s a racist but he’s also afraid of losing patients) but is forced to keep by the wealthy hospital benefactress who brought the doctor to New York. After all, Edwards is her price for springing for the hospital’s electrification. Best scene is when a new nurse (played by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter) goes to summon Thackery to the hospital. He needs an injection of his wonder drug and forces the nurse to do it for him (no, it’s not in his arm).
* Outlander – the first filming of the time-traveling romances of Diana Gabaldon, this new Starz series shows a happy English couple going on a second honeymoon to Scotland just after World War II in 1945. There is a serious purpose to their getaway, though; Claire Randall (played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe) feels she and her husband need to get to know each other after the changes years of war caused. One day, out hiking alone around the moors, the former combat nurse suddenly finds herself back in 1743. Not only that, she is in the middle of the war being fought by the Scots to throw off English occupation. She also meets a rugged young warrior who angers her enough to make it clear she will soon be torn between two loves as well as two centuries.
The premieres for “The Knick” and “Outlander” showed promise and make me want to see more of both. “Hell on Wheels” seems to be picking up steam (sorry for the sort-of pun). I haven’t given up on “Manhattan” but I think it needs to give more sense of movement in the story than I got from this episode.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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