John Adams [2008] 7 Episodes

It's enough to make John Adams cry.

We will tell you up front, this take is scathing.  If you do not read another sentence, do yourself a favor and avoid wasting 7 hours of your precious life on this questionably embellished series.

The Fortress has a solid foundation of knowledge concerning the revolutionary period.  It was a unique time where a hand-full of great men came together in one place, and for a common goal.  We could learn a lot from those times.  HBO’s John Adams series either tramples or misrepresents the education, passion, honor and sincerity of the era.

The series portrays Adams as a selfish, petulant and mentally unstable individual always teetering on the verge of some sort of breakdown.

The series portrays Adams as a selfish, petulant and mentally unstable individual always teetering on the verge of some sort of breakdown or blow-up.

Whatever you may think of the founders, the producers of John Adams had an agenda to not only “humanize” them, but made efforts to impugn their character.  In reality Adams was such a devoted family man, and yet painfully sacrificed month after month away from them for year after year.  Washington himself wanted nothing more than to retire and yet literally for the country’s sake took on his second term as president.  After leaving he would live less than 18 months more.

According to the series George Washington, father of our country and war hero was constantly unsure, weal-willed and a little strange.

According to the series George Washington, father of our country and war hero was weak-willed, constantly unsure and a little strange. This version could barely look you in the eye. Do your own unbiased research on Washington and see how wrong this depiction was.

We went into John Adams having heard some favorable media buzz.  However favorable buzz from the mainstream media is rarely a good thing in regards to the founders.  Next we should have been tipped off by the early and generous overuse of the fly-buzzing sound effect.  Oh there were flies then as there is now, but the sound was used to make a constantly squalid impression.

Finally another tip-off was the excessive use of the Dutch angle.  We already know that tripods are passe, but now we cannot even hold the handheld camera level?  It was like watching the 1960’s Batman TV series if the entire episode took place in the Penguin’s lair.  The cumulative effect of the handheld camera and Dutch angle left you feeling continually off balance and a little ill-at-ease.

One of history's greatest romantic couples, John and Abigail Adams was portrayed as strained, tense, and unfufilling.  Also the insinuations between Abigail and Thomas Jefferson were uncalled for and utterly ridiculous.

One of history's greatest romantic couples, John and Abigail Adams was portrayed as strained, tense, and un-fulfilling. Also the insinuations between Abigail and Thomas Jefferson were uncalled for and utterly ridiculous. They confirmed the producer's agenda. (Noticing the Dutch angles?)

You could learn more about the personalities of the founders from the the fanciful musical 1776 [1972] than you can from this dark, monotone, overly gritty and music-less piece.  Do not waste you time watching this agenda driven material.  Instead read David McCullough’s heavily sourced books John Adams and 1776 and see what these guys really thought in their own words and those of their contemporaries.

There is a definite current tendency to filter all people and all eras through today’s overly cynical and morally relative eyes.  However there really was such a thing as a man of virtue.  Not perfect by any means, but upstanding.

Thomas Jefferson was portrayed as dull, somber, and creepy.  It was hard to sense what he was after except that you were not sure you liked it.  It was weird.

Thomas Jefferson was portrayed as dull, somber, and creepy. It was hard to sense what he was after except that you were pretty sure you would not like it. He was an overly and unnecessarily weird character. This guy wrote our Declaration of Independence?

Some of history’s greatest documents came from a small group of dedicated men.  HBO’s John Adams would have you believe that the founders were unenviable, overly flawed men who stumbled kicking and screaming into successfully pulling off the greatest revolution in history.

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10 thoughts on “John Adams [2008] 7 Episodes

  1. I couldn’t disagree more with your conclusions on this series. I thought it depicted with great clarity how disjointed and chaotic our War for Independence was. Yes, there were artistic liberties taken for sure, but I did not find any that really violated the spirit of the Revolution or the Founders. Washington was depicted as I understood him to be, a great patriot, but perhaps expressing falsely a reluctance to leadership, who hated political factions or parties. A popular, confident man, but one who expressed himself with great humility.

    • It is the disease of our age to project our foibles onto great men of the past. The era was chaotic indeed, but the founders were exceptional, despite what many today would like to “revise” and have us believe.

      If it were only Washington where as you say “artistic liberties” were taken it would be bad enough, however each founder was treated with equal disdain. This was the producers intent and fits HBO’s political bias.

  2. Fully disagree with your interpretation of what you’re seeing and your entire article does very little to back it up, you didn’t like the filming angle, the lack of music, or the small artistic liberties taken by the director. That hardly qualifies as making the movie inaccurate. The overall accuracy of the portral of the time and the sacrifices that went into founding this great country far out weight whatever small discrepencies you can find. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what political agenda you think HBO has most of the movies they put out are so liberally extreme that I waited patiently for John Adams to approve of gay marriage just to see that this movie was very down the middle politically. This was a great series and maybe if there were more movies as captivating and accurate as this one more people would have at least a minimal grasp on history which has led us to where we are today.

    • We appreciate the comment, but disagree. You casually sweep aside all our examples of technique the filmakers used to set their bias tone. Techniques that are cumulative; that are real. Such a dismissal cannot be justified simply with your personal experience of being “captivated” with the series. “Liberties” taken by the director and “discrepancies” in the portrayals all went in one direction. There was no coincidence.

      The founders were a very literate, well written and prolific group. Their character is documented by friend and foe alike and there to found by anyone willing to look. Sadly, most will not look and are ignorant of America’s roots. They are instead influenced by this slanted portrayal which in our opinion was not even true to the book. Certainly it was not fair to these men on the whole. NONE of which was even portrayed with as much normalcy as given Harrison Ford in Air Force One!

      We do not think you are denying that HBO has a political bias (if you are, you may also think that Hollywood does not have a political bias). We agree with you that people should have “at least a minimal grasp on history”. However, we think they could get off their butts and learn it for themselves rather than sit back and be spoon fed the against-type depictions proffered here by a few well connected individuals.

  3. Thank you for your honest review. I went looking for honest opinions on this mini-series. After reading the book, I felt enlightened. A true patriot and statesman was revealed to me. The relationship between John and Abigail was so satisfying; moreover, it was lovely and endearing. However, the movie was difficult for me to watch. The spirit behind it was not the spirit I felt as I read the book.
    I am glad to know I was not the only one who felt this way.
    Thank you

    • You state one of the very reasons Fortress Takes is here. To validate opinions that may go against popular culture or media interpretation. This review was easy for us to do, because we felt so positively about the life of patriot and statesman (as you rightly put it), John Adams. The book did indeed portray him through facts as one willing to sacrifice his own precious time with his wife for the sake of his country. You are on target. The spirit of the book and that of the HBO series were quite different. We think the political leanings of HBO are showing.

  4. Just got a new plasma HD TV and this series was the first disc we watched . I thought my expensive purchase was defective when the Dutch Angle was shown. Thanks for your take. I am greatly relieved. could not figure out was was going on for a moment.
    I thought the series gave me a sense of what early life was really like.
    We take all our modern comforts for granted and seeing the harshness of life back then was a revalation. Especially, the tar and feathering and the shipboard leg amputation scenes.
    I don’t think any one really has a complete handle of the series accuarcy, but you can see that NOTHING much has changed with the politics then and now.

    • We appreciate your comment, Phil. Yes, the filming technique. Ugh. We suspected a bit of a political bent to the whole production, exemplified by the dutch angles and “kooky” depictions of these great men.

      We agree with you that the series brought to light some aspects of life in the 1700s that many today would find harsh. There is nothing wrong with modern comforts, but hard work for one’s own benefit can bring prosperity.

      As for the politics, we think “yes and no.” Yes, politicians are politicians. But these founders were mostly self made men who did not seek a life-long vocation of politics, unlike those of today. And they were more grounded in values that are wanting in many modern politicians.

      Washington and Adams were men willing to give it all up for country, and both dearly loved their wives from which they had to endure long separations. There was no jet to whisk Adams across the Atlantic to France, and passage was certainly no Carnival Cruise Line.

      Thanks for weighing in, Phil. Enjoy the new TV and watch some good stuff.

      Those are some clean uniforms.
      Those are some clean uniforms.

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