'The Kennedys' review: What if they made a controversial miniseries and nobody watched it?

The Kennedys is destined to be a highly controversial, much-written-about TV event that almost no one besides people in the media and the relatives of the actors’ families will actually watch.

Which is just as well. An eight-part sneer that began with two hours on Sunday night, The Kennedys as a viewing experience was like watching someone hack away at a gigantic tree trunk with a Swiss Army knife. Cuts are inflicted upon the myth of Camelot and the legacy of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, as if that hasn’t been going on for decades.

There were some solid performances, especially by Greg Kinnear as JFK (he never slips into a Vaughn Meader-impersonation impersonation), Tom Wilkinson as pater familias Joe, Barry Pepper as RFK (his talent winning out over a prosthetic nose and an increase in toothiness), and I’ll lodge a small defense for Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Kennedy. Holmes has been dumped upon by many reviewers for being stiff and inexpressive, when actually Holmes is simply mimicking the tendency toward quiet reserve that Jackie presented to the world much of the time.

The Kennedys renders every triumph joyless and literally painful. JFK suffered from acute back problems, and Jackie from depression, so the miniseries has them both taking needles in the rear from the family Dr. Feelgood. The idea is to put every Kennedy under an unflattering spotlight.

So much has been written about the miniseries and its own history — attacked by scholars and journalists who covered the Kennedys; TV writers questioning whether producer and proud-to-be-a-Hollywood-conservative Joel Surnow (24) could possibly be “fair” (as if good art needs to be fair — it just needs to be good); rejected by channel after channel — that you may feel as though you’d seen and heard enough about The Kennedys before it even aired. So in a sense, Surnow has already succeeded: He’s implanted in the popular consciousness a fresh distrust of the Kennedy legacy. Mission accomplished, as a president Surnow liked better once said.

Here’s a tip for future producers looking for a home for your work: Don’t go into business with a cable channel that has to send out e-mails to the media about where to find the channel in your city.

Did any of you watch The Kennedys? If so, what did you think, and will you keep watching when the third hour airs on Tuesday?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (180 total) Add your comment
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  • Madea

    The teasers before the commercial breaks in “The Kennedys” sound so desperate they’re practically daring me to stop watching.

    • LOL

      I don’t even know if I get that channel.

      • Kate

        I got curious since I had never heard of the Reelz channel. I checked my listings and I couldn’t find it anywhere despite having the digital package with all the movie channels. Is it possibly only offered through Dish or DirectTV?

      • Rachel

        I looked for it, too, and couldn’t find it. Didn’t try too hard, but I was definitely curious. And honestly, this whole debacle has made me think not so much about the Kennedys as about the reliability and fairness of the louder conservative voices out there today. He couldn’t even make it a good miniseries? Oy.

  • Terry

    Snooze fest. So boring & slow. How can you make something on The Kennedy’s so uninteresting. This is a dud.

    • Ludea

      Kept pausing it because it was such a dud. finally finished watching on the DVR and went on to The Killing–a riveting attention grabber. AMC can do no wrong with its original series.

  • PNK

    I tried watching it, I thought it was spotty. Almost no one looked authentic, esp. the younger Kennedy men, nor did Joe Sr. Tom Wilkinson is a great actor, but he does not capture the squirrelly nature of Joe Sr. Jackie sounded like a ditz from New Jersey, Rose acted like an out-of-it something, and Ethel was so far off I could not believe they were saying that was her. The story style was choppy. I could not watch it for long, I went to Mildred Pierce when it came on!
    Mildred Pierce was a great episode, I think this even beat the premier episodes. Can’t wait for the next Mildred Pierce.

  • Stacey

    Watched it and I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. It wasn’t even close to how you described it.

  • Stacey

    If you don’t like the movie you can turn to The History Channel and watch such historically accurate shows as Ax Men and Swamp People. LOL

    • Madison

      I’m with you. For some of us that weren’t growing up or even born during this time and aren’t aware of the intricate details of “The Kennedy’s”, it’s a great lesson in history. I can’t wait for the next episode. I thought it was shot beautifully.

      • Cindyliu

        I’m watching with my 21-year old college student, who obviously wasn’t around during the time of the series. He’s asking lots of questions and we’re both enjoying watching. BTW, I think Kinnear and Holmes are both great actors in this.

      • Ana

        Not sure what people’s expectations are these days. Television is supposed to be entertainment. I thought it was entertaining. You can never please american audiences nor the media…. It’s really sad that we value idiotic opinions

      • jen

        Why wouldn’t you real a real biography if you are looking for a history lesson? No wonder our country is so stupid. This is not fact- it’s historical FICTION.

      • MCS

        I studied JFK for over a year during my schooling, and it is even more interesting watching and be able to see what has most likely been embellished.

      • Patricia

        at 18 when JFK became president, I’ve lived the drama .. later most of what they depict on this show came to light.. but not in the detail.. no one can accurately portray anyone without some faults showing.. it is what it is.. a mini-series on a prominent family.. by actors..

      • e.g.m.

        i have been watching the series and i feel that any actress who plays an icon doesn’t stand a chance primarily because there are a million critics in america that feel they could portray the role better. i do not know much about katie holmes however, i find her to be the one star in this series that i am impressed with. from me to you katie should you ever come across this review from me, an unknown, thank you.

      • BertieorBirdie

        Great thinking! That really berksa the mold!

    • msroncon

      Too funny Stacy!!! I liked the movie so far. Nothing new to me however. Katie as Jackie was great. As a matter of fact the cast is awesome. I’m so happy Reelz (the channel I watch daily) picked it up and didn’t feel bullied by anyone. Kudos to Reelz.

      • J

        Seriously, how does one find this channel? Their website says I get it, but cable box does not agree!

      • Ziggy

        kNMzYI You’ve hit the ball out the park! Incredible!

    • jen

      wow. another insightful comment from someone who doesn’t seem to get the concept of a “review”

  • Dennis in Ohio

    The impersonations are not THAT bad, but SO, SO many commercials, it was ruined. I won’t watch the other episodes.

    • amc

      I agree. And it was the same commercials EVERY time.

    • Rachel

      I must agree i started to watch the series however after the second set of commercial i decided i wasn’t going to waste my time with a series that could probably be done in three nights with fewer commercials.

  • Mary

    I forgot it was on but my parents we’re watching it so I joined. I like it so far, though it’s definitely not perfect. I really don’t like Katie Holmes but I will say she was good in the scene on the porch talking to Joe Sr. about divorcing Jack. Barry Pepper is one of my favorite actors and he’s wonderful in this. He’s quickly making Bobby my favorite Kennedy. Too bad I don’t have ReelzChannel when I go back to school though, I’ll have to find it online somewhere to wathc the rest.

    • Cindyliu

      I wasn’t familiar with Barry Pepper, but he really does make a good Bobby.

      • Mary

        He really is great underrated actor. Watch him in 61*, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Knockaround Guys and 25th Hour.

  • Nothing Can Keep Us Together

    ew is being a bunch of snobs. i will be watching. and u better recap the borgais since this website was too stupid to recap JRM and the tudors

  • Smithwmj

    Fascinating topic made mundane by cliched flashbacks – one after the other – that feels as jerky as if you’re still driving an Oldsmobile from the Kennedy era. A great cast – Kinnear as JFK, Tom Wilkinson as Joe, Sr. and Barry Pepper has Bobby – but they’re never allowed any extended scenes where they can act. I just wish the director had gotten the he’ll out of the way and let them act though.

  • steve johnson

    I didn’t know that Joe Kennedy sounded exactly like Hannibal Lecter. I’ll never watch it again. Awful…

    • amc

      I thought the same thing! I wondered where Anthony Hopkins was when I heard him talk!

  • deedeedragons

    That’s what you get for hiring Joey Potter to play Jackie Kennedy.

  • John

    I disagree- this was a brilliant beginning to what is going to be a interesting perspective on one of Americas most loved family. The acting so far is great, the story is just being set. As far networks passing on this- it wasn’t because it was bad it was because the series is not all politically correct. The truth is not always flattering. Im glad the pubic gets to see this series.

    • dman

      and what makes you think this is the truth? because it’s on the tee vee box?

      • Madison

        Seriously?!?! What makes you think it wasn’t? Every major plot point is documented.

      • foster bias

        It’s true because historians have been writing this stuff for years.

      • Ana170

        So why are scholars attacking the show for being inaccurate if it’s all true?

      • jay

        You idiots believe whatevers on tv. Nomatter history, (or reelz which has never aired anything of significance). It could say were all communists and you’ll raise your hand and stomp your feet. RATINGS, is all they care about. So if making the most mysterious presidential family more dramatized than the average. They’ll make hitler seem like a freakin boy scout. Get the facts straight and leeve the cards as they lay.

    • AltDave

      I was a 10-year old Catholic boy when JFK was elected, followed his story religiously (npi), saw him in person the day before he was killed in Dallas. I’ve followed the familys’ ups and downs over the years, believed in the Camelot-thing for a long time, saddened as the truth has slowly been revealed over the years. That said, I have been quite pleased with THE KENNEDYS and will be sticking with it. The acting has been good to great, and for all the bitching about Surnow’s politics I feel the story has been quite fair to the Kennedy legacy. It’s neither a glorification or a hatchet-job. The old Kennedy mystique dies really hard though, and Mr. Tucker is still wearing his rose-colored glasses judging from his misguided criticisms of the show.

    • jay

      I think reelz should fabricate some vampire saga before ruining an american icon

    • Chyna

      You’ve hit the ball out the park! Incrdeible!

  • rich

    Pretty good so far!

  • bianca

    I think The Kennedys is great so far. I like all of the actors will be setting my dvr for this!

  • peggy

    As a baby boomer that grew up during this era i am appaled. What a shameful display of voyeurism. It isn’t bad enough that it is horrid acting, the person playing Bobby is obviously portrayed about 20 yrs older than he was in 1960. The problems with this production are so extreme that I can’t cover it all in this blog. No wonder the family and the History channel didn’t want to air it. So sad to think that there are some people that absent the ability to know the truth will assume this is it. Shame on Reelz (really, you can call yourself that) Channel was so desperate for viewing that they aired this trash!

    • Roger Ebert

      What do you expect from a right winger? Surnow crapped all over this.

      • Mia

        If you really are Ebert – get over yourself – You’d be kissing the arse of any lib slob who would have done the same thing to the Bushes talking about hpw wonderful the acting is and throwing emmy praise all around – the only reason why this is getting trashed is because a CONSERVATIVE produced the damn thing.

    • Orval Faubus

      You people make me laugh. They say if you tell a lie long enough and loud enough it becomes the truth. That is exactly what has happened with the Kennedy’s. Joe Kennedy was one of the most corrupt men in American history, and the apple(s) didn’t fall far from the tree. The ACTUAL Kennedy story is much more interesting than the horde of liberal revisionist historians would have us believe.
      P.S. If you believe the history channel presents accurate representation of history, you’re grossly miseducated.

      • JIM

        THOUGHT IT WAS VERY GOOD…UNTIL MY SATELLITE
        (DIRECTV) STOPPED!!OUT FOR 2 HOURS..LUCKY IT’S ON AGAIN AND AGAIN IN THE FOLLOWING DAYS!

      • Vinny

        BION I’m impressde! Cool post!

    • jay

      I agree. Mistakin the kennedy family for dawson’ s creek. I say make a reality show in the writters name and fabricate. Let’s see if they like the demolition of there family legacy.

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