The Kennedys is now on Global TV, finally making the jump to prime-time Canadian television and allowing all of us to marvel at the series and it's "stunning" portrayal of a family with "secrets" that "nobody really knows"... Oh, to be so lucky. But, there are problems...
Here the most dangerous kinds of TV shows to produce, simply for their exposure to criticism and also their natural ability to fail (all facts and stats are provided by me and my opinion).
1. The family dynasty show -- it's a show that starts at "the beginning," when the family is "just starting out," although a bunch of stuff has really happened in the past (it just wasn't important enough until now, but the producers let you know that stuff has happened/there's history here through flashbacks and creepy music that makes you wonder, "Is there something going on that I don't know here?").
These shows are often doomed to fail because they simply try to follow the formula that Scorsese put forth in Goodfellas. The last show that I can truly remember doing this correctly was The Black Donnellys, and that was wrongly cancelled after eight episodes. Modern Family pulls it off in spades, but... that's different.
2. The made-for-TV movie/miniseries -- it's a huge gamble and it often resembles something you've seen on a Hallmark card (which is probably why Hallmark has a "Movie of the Week"). The only way these can be successful are if it's something you don't know a lot about, or if it takes a well-known story and tells a different angle... I remember a couple good ones. There was a mini-series called Merlin from 1998 (HINT: it was about Merlin, the wizard) and there was Band of Brothers. Both told a famous tale with a bit of jump, vigor and pop, and both added something new to something you already knew. Plus, I'll watch anything with Sam Neill/"Dr. Grant" from Jurassic Park.
3. The famous people -- it's either gonna be the best thing you ever saw or it's going to be something you wished you never saw. Hey, guys, I can read Wikipedia, too. I realized how bad the "famous person" made-for-TV movie was when I saw the trailer for The Rudy Giuliani Story starring James Woods and thought, "No way in Hell am I watching that."
The problem? The Kennedys is all three and, to no fault of the actors or (probably) the director, writers, or producers, it fails. Hard. Like, Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff hard.
It's a family dynasty show that follows the formula I outlined above to a tee -- it starts with "young" and "handsome" John Kennedy (the quotations aren't to say that I disagree, they're just to acknowledge that those two words are probably said 140 times in the first two episodes) making the rounds as no more than Joe Kennedy's son before WWII and then after in the blue collar, Irish/Italian neighbourhoods of Charlestown, Mass.
As it starts, you think Joe Kennedy (Sr.) is going to be the main character... but, then it's John... oh, wait, and then it's Bobby.
For a while it really is Bobby and, if you recall what I said from point number two above, it probably should have stayed focused on Bobby. Tell me the story of the most famous family in American history through the eyes of the "second son" and I'm hooked. Barry Pepper does a good job and so does Katie Holmes, who probably jumped at the chance to play every woman's favourite woman, Jacqueline Bouvier/Kennedy/Onassis.
And yet, Holmes' performance is overshadowed by a script/plot that feels lost and that covers her performance and charisma up. It's like they wanted to focus on the things that would make America cringe -- like, for example, that these Kennedys were not exactly morally superior creatures (who knew?) -- but then they got afraid to actually do that and they instead settled for things like re-creating Jack's inauguration speech.
(Really? I've seen the thing a million times and Jack nailed the real speech... so, why do I have to watch the guy from As Good as it Gets repeat it? It's like watching your buddy list off Family Guy quotes, or hearing your girlfriend "sing" along to Beyonce in the car. It's better when the professionals do it.)
Follow Kolby Solinsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KolbySolinsky