Kennedy friends, family and fans abjure the 8-part series debuting Sunday

Greg Kinnear, left, portrays JFK and Katie Holmes portrays Jacqueline In this scene from The Kennedys, an eight-part movie premiering Sunday at 8 p.m., on the ReelzChannel network, carried locally by Verizon Fios.

Reelz Channel

Greg Kinnear, left, portrays JFK and Katie Holmes portrays Jacqueline In this scene from The Kennedys, an eight-part movie premiering Sunday at 8 p.m., on the ReelzChannel network, carried locally by Verizon Fios.

As expected, the new miniseries The Kennedys trashes a beloved American icon, presenting him as a bumbling blowhard who withered under the mighty glare of Papa Joe.

But enough about Frank Sinatra.

Let's get to John F. Kennedy and brother Bobby, who, if you believe the early rumors, are so mistreated in this eight-hour, $25 million biopic from uber-conservative producer Joel Surnow.

The overall tone is so positive, even reverent, that you'll find yourself scratching your hair out trying to decipher why History Channel dumped its most ambitious project in January and why one cable network after another passed on it before the off-the-radar ReelzChannel secured it for a song.

It may have something to do with the fact that the first four hours deal heavily with Joe Kennedy, played with steely determination by two-time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson. The film doesn't shy away from his racial slurs, political manipulations and bullying tactics. The sons come off better, especially Teddy Kennedy, whose personal crises don't get a single mention.

Greg Kinnear's performance as JFK bleeds sympathy. Yes, he's a rascal, fooling around with everyone from a campaign worker to Marilyn Monroe, but he's racked by guilt — not to mention extreme back pain, the death of his infant son, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If anything, The Kennedys goes overboard to present the president in heroic terms, flashing back to his days as a playboy teenager willing to give up the social scene to fight in World War II. Upon the death of his older brother, he transforms into a master campaigner and, eventually, a crafty president.

His brother, Robert, comes off clean as a whistle — a high-pitched, loud and sometimes obnoxious whistle. Barry Pepper carries a pained look that's supposed to express either deep concern or constipation.

Some of the supporting cast members come off as cartoon characters. Charlotte Sullivan's Marilyn Monroe is so unhinged she makes Charlie Sheen look sane. Katie Holmes as Jackie doesn't do a whole lot more than whisper and tiptoe through the production.

Nothing in the course of eight hours should do any damage to the Kennedy legacy. The show wouldn't necessarily be screened for a college history course, but anyone with even a fleeting interest in 1960s politics should to take the time to view this imperfect miniseries about an imperfect family.

Controversial flick

What's the big stink about The Kennedys appearing on ReelzChannel? The History Channel, which produced the project for $25 million, and other major cable TV outlets declined to put it on the air after Kennedy supporters slammed the project based on their review of preliminary scripts. The Hollywood Reporter has said that JFK's daughter Caroline Kennedy and JFK's niece Maria Shriver worked furiously behind the scenes to persuade executives to pull it from the schedule. The timing is great for ReelzChannel, which just announced a deal with Bright House Networks to bring the channel to systems in five states, including Florida. Since Bright House's main competitor locally, Verizon Fios, already carries Reelz, this means most Tampa Bay area TV viewers will now be able to see The Kennedys, which debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. and continues April 5-10.

Kennedy friends, family and fans abjure the 8-part series debuting Sunday 04/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 9:54pm]

    

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