J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The American Revolution, pts 2 & 3

Timothy Murphy was the original American Sniper. With his grooved rifle, Murphy singled-handedly turned the tide of the Battle of Saratoga and pretty much the entire war along with it. He is exactly the sort of scrappy unassuming hero that continue to get their due in the second and third installments of American Heroes Channel’s three-part The American Revolution (promo here), which continues right after Monday night’s’ premiere with The Empire Fights Back.

Ironically, the Revolutionary War never looked good for the Patriots until they finally won it outright. Things looked particularly grim when George Washington’s Continental Army was stranded in Brooklyn. That was bad news even in late August 1776, especially with the Redcoats advancing from Long Island and the British Navy hastening to cut-off the East River. It would be Joe Pesci-esque Col. John Glover who organized their daring retreat, allowing them to fight another day.

While Glover is definitely the ranking hero of Empire, the second and third episodes spread the overdue ovations around a bit more than the Joseph Warren-centric Rise of Patriots. In the two succeeding episodes, Oneida chief Han Yerry, Virginia slave James Armistead, Portuguese immigrant Peter Francisco, and teenaged girls Sybil Ludington and Betty Zane get their just due. At one time, the latter might have been familiar to some readers through the biographical novel written by her great-grandnephew Zane Grey, but name recognition for both Zanes has probably fallen off in recent years.

However, arguably the most intriguing figure of Empire is John Honeyman, a Patriot spy who was so successful, we are still unsure if that was really his name. There are several good candidates for movie treatments in AHC’s American Revolution, with Honeyman being at the top of the list (and requiring the most creative license).

Throughout Empire and the concluding Return of the Rebels, the series maintains it focus on heroism (as it well should, given the name of the network) and its implied endorsement of American exceptionalism (while still acknowledging without belaboring the gross inequities of slavery, which is a tricky balancing act). It also maintains the quality of the first episode, largely on par with some of the better (but often less heralded) PBS historical programs.

In fact, there is a real market for programming like American Revolution. People have an appetite for hook-y digestible history without a lot of ideological soapboxing that the History Channel is not serving the way it used to. Those serious but not necessarily scholarly military history buffs should definitely enjoy AHC’s American Revolution. Recommended for general audiences, episodes one and two air back-to-back this Monday (12/15), with the conclusion following this Tuesday night (12/16) on Discovery Communications’ American Heroes Channel.

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