History Channel // 2010 // 567 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // November 5th, 2011
A riveting adventure of how America was invented.
Come gather round, ye children, and listen to a story -- a story of how something remarkable happened! No, I'm not referring to the history of America, but to the history of a show on the History Channel (excuse me, History) that actually has to do with history! There are no loggers, aliens ancient or modern, or ghost hunters anywhere near this show! We, as a society, can rejoice. Okay, so one of the guys from Pawn Stars (which one? Who cares?) shows up to give his opinions on history, but I guess old habits die hard, right, History?
But lo, what's this? Is it still a typically sensationalist History presentation? Bestill my heart, children, it is! Because the interviewees here include only the finest experts on American history you can name! Michael Douglas! Newt Gingrich! Donald Trump! Melissa Etheridge! The guy who started Wikipedia! One of the blowhards from Fox News! (No, not Bill O'Reilly-the other one. No, the other one.) Children, believe me when I tell you, I just don't see how you can miss with such an enlightened lineup! Why, real historians are old and musty and, more importantly, lack glamour! After all, nothing enhances your knowledge of our shared past like learning just what Donald Trump thinks about the 1929 economic crash (spoiler alert: he didn't like it). I'm guessing Snooki wasn't available, and the Insane Clown Posse declined to appear because they thought this series was "beneath" them.
Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh, children. So, verily, come sit around me in a circle and listen, won't you, as I share all that I have learned about American history from this program. Did you know that Woodstock was the largest music festival in U.S. history? Except that it wasn't -- the 1983 Us Festival was. Did you know that Apple Computers manufactured the first personal computer for sale in the U.S. in 1976? Except that they didn't -- the MITS Altair 8800 was the first mass-market PC, released a year earlier. So, okay, the program is riddled with boneheaded inaccuracies that kinda make hash of the whole "telling the history of our country" deal. Nonetheless, all of that is easy to overlook if America: The Story of Us is at least a fairly thorough and comprehensive look at history, right? It is, my beloved, still the History Channel (okay, again, sorry -- History), after all. So, for instance, consider the section on the Wright Brothers, children. By "consider," of course, I mean "imagine it in your heads" because there isn't a section on the Wright Brothers. That's right-no segment devoted to the men responsible for one of the most revolutionary inventions in American, not to say world, history. That's okay, right, children? Repeat after me: it's not meant to be comprehensive or thorough, apparently. Why, just look at the tagline taken from History's press release: "A six-night miniseries presenting the history of how the United States was invented, looking at the moments where Americans harnessed technology to advance human progress." So, clearly, tha-okay, seriously? That's the tagline? You still want to ignore the Wright Brothers with that tagline? That makes no damn sense whatsoever! Sorry, children, I'm not mad at you -- I'm mad at History. Which is not the same as being mad at history, although at least history has an excuse. Besides, judging by the sterling track record for accuracy this series shows elsewhere, the Wright Brothers segment probably would have credited them with inventing the dirigible that won the Franco-Prussian War.
After all, children, let me remind you that you are all here to learn. So even if the "facts" are iffy and the interviews are thoroughly useless, at least you'll get to see some history taking place, right? Well, you kinda will, if you squint and hit the pause button. Here, I should point out that at least History has done one thing right: they've actually issued this DVD in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, as opposed to most of their other SD releases, which are in letterboxed full-screen. So thank you, History, for finally catching up to, let's say, 2001 technology. At least, then, you'll be able to see this show perfectly, except that it's so full of rapid-fire editing and flashy but pointless CG recreations that you won't actually see much of anything at all. Frankly, you could just put it on as background noise and still understand it; come to think of it, that might even be better. At least the stereo sound mix is loud and clear. Also this set comes with a selection of extras, mostly bonus footage from various episodes, which fills in some gaps -- well, actually, it doesn't, really, but at least there's bonus footage here. This "Collector's Edition" also includes the original 1997 show The Statue Of Liberty: Enlightening The World on a separate disc. It's old-school History Channel, meaning that it's not exactly a visual feast, but still does manage to educate. Those days appear to be long gone, unfortunately. Also included in this rather bulky package is a glossy 400-page book that's ever so pretty but not all that informative -- which makes it a perfect companion piece to America: The Story of Us.
So what have we learned, children? No, not that American history is a wonderful, awful, beautiful, ugly thing. We knew that already and didn't need some third-rate TV series to tell us that. No, what we actually learned is that History will do anything to grab ratings except actually make good reliable historical documentaries. Then again, I suppose we already knew that as well, did we not? So, hark, young ones, and listen well: don't waste your hard-earned cash on this drivel. All the flashy graphics, celebrity interviews, and fancy packaging can't hide that this is a pretty lame series. There are a few decent segments in which people tell their personal stories of events like the Great Dust Bowl and the making of Hoover Dam, but decent segments do not a good show make. You should read a good American history book instead, children. As for me, I'm gonna go lie down now. This show makes my head hurt.
Guilty, oh children, of not knowing what the hell it's doing.
Review content copyright © 2011 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 567 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage
* Bonus Episode