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BEGINNING OF A DYNASTY // 'The Kennedys' puts their life in perspective

Do you know your Kennedys? You think you do until The Kennedys ofMassachusetts begins marching across the TV screen.

What is a colorful look at the early beginnings of this powerful, political clan soon becomes a maze of Kennedys - three generations' worth. Trying to figure out who's who (and their historical significance) is half of watching six hours of the Rose and Joe Show.

The other half is trying not to chuckle at the really bad Boston accents the huge cast had to take on.

But this six-hour miniseries is addictive, just like a soap saga, because the sexual exploits of Joe and then son John are set on the table like a big crock of baked beans.

This is a splashy production with superb costuming, grand houses and interesting historical perspectives, drawn from Doris Kearns Goodwin's best-seller The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. So yes, it's also very entertaining.

The acting in the Kennedys is half-baked. No one person is handed a wholly developed role, so not much depth is afforded any of the characters. Of course, that ties in with the Kennedy trait of burying personal feelings and putting on a public face - even with each other.

Heading the cast are William Petersen as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr. (1888-1969) and Annette O'Toole as Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890-).

In case you plan to keep track, others include (get your scorecard ready): Pat Hingle as Patrick Joseph Kennedy (1858-1929); Charles Durning as John Francis Fitzgerald (1863-1950); and then the nine Kennedy kids, Campbell Scott as Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. (1915-1944); Steven Weber as John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963);

Deirdre Lovejoy as Rosemary Kennedy (1918-); Tracy Pollan as Kathleen Kennedy (1920-1948); Hallna Radosz as Eunice Mary Kennedy (1921-);

Kristen Kelly as Patricia Kennedy (1924-); Randle Mell as Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968); Beth Herzog as Jean Ann Kennedy (1928-);

and Matthew Dundas as Edward More Kennedy (1932-).

Part 1 is the driest, Part 2 the spiciest and Part 3 the saddest.

The miniseries opens with the meeting of Rose and Joe in 1906. They have a slow, stiffly proper romance, leading to marriage in 1914. By 1926, they have seven of their nine children. Rose is pregnant in every scene, and Joe is out in Hollywood about to sow some of those infamous wild oats.

Night 2 throws some glamor the viewers' way. It's 1928, and Joe has become the lover of film star Gloria Swanson (played swanky to the max by Madolyn Smith Osborne). His father's death and the Wall Street crash in 1929 have a sobering effect, however. But by the time son Teddy is born in 1932, Rose is wise to Joe's philandering and tells him no more children; hence the prolific couple go the way of separate bedrooms.

The conclusion brings the large family to life as individuals, as most of the children are adults by World War II. But tragedy strikes with daughter Rosemary's lobotomy, and the deaths of the young and energetic Joe Jr. and Kathleen.

The miniseries ends with JFK's inauguration as president in 1960, so don't think that this is another John Kennedy TV story. Jackie is just a face in the background as the 43-year-old president is sworn in.

The Kennedys of Massachusetts looks at the lesser-told formation history of this intriguing tribe.

Just one more note: Author Doris Kearns Goodwin is a friend of the Kennedys (her husband wrote speeches for John and was a personal friend of Bobby's). But Goodwin's friendship (she was invited to Caroline's wedding) doesn't seem to bias this story much. The former Harvard instructor presents anything but a rosy view.

In fact, if you come out of this six-hour saga liking Joe Sr. very much, then you are indeed a Kennedy-phile.

AT A GLANCE The Kennedys of Massachusetts is a six-hour miniseries airing Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m. on WTSP-Ch. 10 and WWSB-Ch. 40.