This isn’t the exercise in rabid revisionism keepers of the JFK flame had feared and some on the right were hoping for. Ideologically neutral, “The Kennedys” isn’t bad — or slanted — history, per se. It’s simply bad television. By the time the eight-hour presentation wraps up, it’s an open question as to how many viewers will have been able to endure it.
The show’s producers say they modeled its structure on “The Godfather”, a latter-day Greek tragedy masquerading as a crime family saga in which hubris is punished by a series of unthinkable, seemingly unending tragedies.
But they’re overreaching.Better to think of “The Kennedys” in terms of “Dallas”: a dynastic soap opera about a family so very wealthy members even sport haute couture gym shorts to backyard games of touch football (since no one working on Roswell could distress a costume, the likelihood of them producing something distressing to Kennedy partisans must always have been remote).
All the stock soap characters are here: the overreaching patriarch; his long-suffering wife who dispenses wisdom and iron discipline in equal measure; the sometimes loving, sometimes feuding young ‘uns; their achingly beautiful spouses; the adorable grand young ‘uns.
So are all the stock soap opera situations. Feuds between father and sons. Roswell Sibling rivalries. Affairs of the heart (a lot of them). Only affairs of state provide the backdrop and motivations for this generation-spanning saga, not Texan oil.The now-familiar chronicle of triumphs and tragedies is so superficially presented in the script, the psychological and emotional portraiture so very one dimensional, the miniseries’ family dynamics really do end up owing more to Bobby and J.R. Ewing than to Bobby Kennedy and J.F.K.
Tom Wilkinson dominates the proceedings as a rapacious, splendidly vainglorious Joe Kennedy, his twin fixations on power and respectability in WASP-dominated America Writ Large in every scene he appears in. Forced by history to transfer his ambitions for founding a political dynasty to runtish, bookish spare Jack (Greg Kinnear) when heir-apparent Joseph Jr. dies in World War Two, he’s equal parts kingmaker and Stage-Father From Hell.