So two years ago I started seeing all kinds of advertisements in the Metro around D.C. for a forth-coming series on HBO about John Adams, our nation's second president. The tagline was "He united the states of America."
In D.C., stuff goes over really well. Here's the intro:
I didn't see the series at the time, but I'm watching it on DVD right now. It is by every measure spectacular. It's patriotic without being propagandistic.
The birth of America and its first few steps as an infant democracy are well known, and the hagiography of our Founding Fathers is well established. John Adams is easily lost amidst Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton. (Indeed, of the five mentioned in the last sentence, only one does not appear on our coinage: Mr. Adams.)
Playing to this -- he in one scene disappoints the French aristocracy when he is introduced as John Adams, rather than Samuel Adams, his charismatic and reactionary cousin -- the film-makers establish John Adams as an under-dog and an every-man. As we are introduced to these world-striding collosuses (notably Washington and Franklin), the viewer is star-struck along with Mr. Adams. He is surprised to be met, on his return from his English Ambassadorship, by cheering crowds ... but the Congress ignores him once President Washington walks into the room 10 minutes later. These scenes reinforce our national ideal that every American can be a great American (even if they don't get credit), but never in a way that is sappy, cheap, or cloying.
Here's the scene where Thomas Jefferson shows his first draft of the Declaration of Independence to Adams and Ben Franklin. It demonstrates that while Jefferson had the eloquence and the prominence to make the document ring, Adams was the driving passion behind it. The poignancy of the scene is underscored by the fact that we know Adam's and Jefferson's friend/partnership will end in bitter alienation.
The best bit is where Jefferson just shrugs and says "Well, it's what I believe."
I'm only half-way through with the series. I may have another post on the subject when I finish.