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Making History

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Western Pier - Craig Finn (mp3)

Surely hell hath frozen over.

These were my exact thoughts as NPR announced that the single most watched program of the week was not on NBC, or ABC, or CBS, or even FOX, but the freakin’ History Channel.

A 3-part miniseries that I hadn’t even heard of until the day after the first episode debuted. A Western on a minor cable network! Beat out all competitors!

Forgive me this Anime moment, but TEE HEE.

The History Channel winning a ratings week is the equivalent of Bobby Riggs beating Billie Jean King in tennis and then walking into the ring and beating Muhammed Ali in MMA. And they did it with a Western. A mini-series Western. Are there two more dead notions in 2012 television than “mini-series” and “Western”??

Sure, there’s “Pillars of the Earth” and “John Adams” and “Mildred Pierce” and now “Hatfields & McCoys,” but we’ve hardly returned to the days of “North & South.” And sure, Robert Duvall or Costner or Sam Elliott might show up in a great Western once every few years, but it’s not a genre ripe for heavy revival.

A little investigation reveals the clues of an upset ripe to occur.

Kevin Reynolds directed it. As someone who fell in love with both Reynolds and Kevin Costner with the movie Fandango many moons ago. I can’t pretend Fandango was a great or timeless movie, else I would’ve taken 90 minutes of my life to re-watch it in the last 20 some-odd years. But I did like it a lot. I was still enthralled -- perhaps unfairly -- with Judd Nelson at the time. (Besides, Fandango is precisely relevant to Bob’s post from yesterday.)

Ted Mann helped write it. He was a key player in this little HBO series called “Deadwood.” I’ve kinda written about it a few times. It’s still my favorite TV show of all time.

Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton starred in it. These two have helped make more than a handful of movies and TV shows dear to my heart, but let’s at least mention “Bull Durham,” “Aliens,” “Weird Science,” “Open Range,” “Big Love”... that’s really just a starting list.

In other words, if you put some big-name talent in the room for something different and unexpected, and if you market it properly, it’s possible to beat a bunch of reruns, reality shows and hockey for a top spot in our ever-shrinking television attention spans. This isn’t nearly the surprise it should be.

The “Big Four” have been diminishing for quite some time, but surely this is the moment when they officially became “Four of the more popular cable channels.”

If you didn’t watch “Hatfields & McCoys” but enjoy yourself a good Western, I reckon you oughtta make plans. It’s plenty flawed -- and what Westerns aren’t, ultimately? -- and it’s an unusually dark chapter in the genre, with few characters with more than brief flashes of anything like heroism. But it’s well-written and predominantly well-acted.

I even like how one family is portrayed as more pathetic and noble while the other has more viciousness and venom but also more stones. If I'm learning anything about humanity, it's that viciousness always carries its head higher.

I found myself watching more in the hopes that justice would find purchase in a few of the more detestable characters. If you watch Dook basketball games hoping they’ll lose, or Alabama football games, or Dale Earnhardt Jr., then you’ll totally enjoy this miniseries.

If you prefer Happily Ever After bullshit, then you won’t be watching anything on History Channel, like, ever.

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