Picture yourself in the palace of Versailles in France during the revolutionary war. An ornate carriage makes its way through the gold plated gates and into a large stable. The side door opens, and onto the precisely crafted brick road walks a plain looking figure that would spark a feel of deja vu in anyone who has seen Big Fat Liar.
He looks tired, and by the way he walks you can tell that his shoes barely fit. His triquarter hat and wig hangs awkwardly to the side while his vest and and coat do their best to stop the advance of a ravenous beer gut.
Greeting our friend is a man ten or so years his senior with some very distinct looking circular glasses. Pleasantries are past over in favor of business, as our hero is eager to sit down and get to work after a long harrowing journey across the sea.
His colleague stops him mid sentence, and breaks the news that most of the work our man had intended to get done during the trip had already been finished while he was traveling. Although you can’t hear it, you can almost feel a sad trombone go off in the background.
Our friend is John Adams, his is colleague is Benjamin Franklin, and this is a scene from the John Adams HBO miniseries… also known as my new favorite show.
If you are one of the people who are unfortunate enough to follow me on Snapchat (a condition considered both incurable and incredibly fatal by most doctors), than you may have noticed that a lot of my stories over break were mainly comprised of long and unfunny collections of pictures from the show with dumb captions. I’ll sprinkle some throughout the article for you if you’re curious.
While on the outside it may look like i’m panning the show, it’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, i’d go as far as to say that I believe it’s one of the most interesting and relevant shows HBO has ever put out, and that it’s at a Hitler’s art level of underrated.
Wow those were some bold claims. I should probably back them up.
For all of the few billion people who haven’t seen it, John Adams is a 2008 historical drama miniseries that focuses on the life and career of Joe Elliot, who served as the vocalist and frontman for the metal group Def Leppard.
The series follows Adams, who is portrayed brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, as he helps to shape the direction of the nation during its turbulent early years. Instead of following a single continuous narrative, each episode focuses on a different era of Adam’s life. The show feels more like a greatest hits of Adam’s life, and touches on everything from his early career as a lawyer to his twilight which were spent advising his son and president John Quincy.
Before moving on, I just want to make clear that those looking for something similar to The Patriot had best look elsewhere. This show is a slow burn, and trades epic battles and a blood soaked Mel Gibson for parliamentary procedure and Giamatti’s beer gut. Ultimately this works in its favor, as the quiet moments between Adams and his wife Abigail, who is also played masterfully by Laura Linney, are often the show’s strongest.
While the show does a lot right, what it absolutely knocks out of the park is its portrayal of the founding fathers. Now I don’t know about you, but I feel like as americans, we have this weird tendency to over romanticize the founding fathers. We see them as this mythical bunch of superhuman proto hipsters who agreed on everything and built this country on nothing but a few pieces of paper and some reefer. While well intentioned, this weird phenomena has the adverse effect of cheapening the story of our country, and ultimately distorts history itself… which is stupid.
So when I saw that this show effectively takes those myths and locks them in a microwave filled with bees, I couldn’t help but jump for joy. Rather than paint these people as problem solving gods, the series opts to paint them as they really were: a bunch of intelligent, but indecisive and flawed people.
The founding fathers were normal people with their own agendas, loyalties, and shortcomings, and this show illustrates that perfectly. Many of the best scenes of the first few episodes involve the continental congress taking the absolute piss out of each other. One of my favorite scenes of the show involved an absolutely livid George Washington kicking his advisors Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton out of his office for spending the entire afternoon fighting each other over a menial decision.
Even Adams himself, the guy we spend the show’s entire run time with, is portrayed as a stubborn and insufferable little man who spends half the show yelling at Ben Franklin and the other half yelling at his own kids.
The beauty of all this is that when things do go right, it feels incredibly rewarding and well earned. In the end it makes you appreciate the founding fathers a lot more when you recognise that the true genius of these men and women was there ability to set aside their differences and work together for the sake of the fledgling country.
It’s this running theme of working past our differences and human flaws for the greater good that permeate the show that make it feel more relevant than ever in today’s nausea inducing world. (That’s as political as i’m getting because I like my bones intact.)
At the end of the day, this show is a must watch if you are a history buff, patriot, Giamattiholic, or if you simply have a pulse.
And if none of this has been able to convince you, then maybe this clip from the show will…