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Joel Surnow (“24”) has put together a gorgeous period piece that recreates the Kennedy years, going back to the 1940s when Joe Sr. was grooming his namesake for politics and ultimately the White House.  “This country is ours for the taking” is a hallmark line spoken by Joe Sr as he clutches both Joe Jr. and Jack under his arms.

I don’t know what Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver were so worried about.  They pitched a fit and behind the scenes pulled it from airing on the History Channel which paid to produce the multi-million dollar project. The vaunted and much publicized miniseries The Kennedys didn’t expose anymore about the old man Joe and his sons than has already been written. If you’ve read The Sins of the Father – Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded by Ron Kessler (1996), you know pretty much what kind of man Joe was.

Barry Pepper portrays Bobby Kennedy, who’s been described as his mother’s son — morally straight like Rose, but ruthless like Joe Sr.  Pepper is outfitted with dentures and a prosthesis over his nose to assume Bobby’s appearance.

Greg Kinnear is remarkably believable as Jack, and Katie Holmes has captured Jackie’s charm and sophistication.

But the real scene stealer is Tom Wilkerson whose portrayal of Joseph P. Kennedy is outstanding, personifying the ruthlessness, raw ambition, control, and brutal determination for which the the Kennedy patriarch was noted.  As Kessler writes in Sins, “He founded a dynasty that — thanks to his great wealth and single-minded tutelage — produced the nation’s first Catholic president.  It also yielded three senators, an attorney general, and three congressmen.” Joe Kennedy was also anti-Semitic and an appeaser who sided with Neville Chamberlain while serving as FDR’s wartime ambassador to Great Britain.

The Kennedys was fascinating escapism at its best.  It accurately portrayed the Kennedy clan while remaining true to history to the nth detail.  I followed along on the Reelzchannel site which had running Tweets from viewers who were commenting in real-time, and an app that provided information about the characters and events as they appeared onscreen, providing links to even more info.  For example, during the segment about the 1960 presidential election, viewers were offered a brief synopsis of the campaign, with links to the campaign announcement, buttons and posters, the Kennedy/Nixon Debate and transcript.

Reelzchannel will repeat tonight’s two hour premiere this evening and again on Monday. Episodes 3 through 6 will play on subsequent nights (Tu/Wed/Th/Fri).  A The Kennedys marathon recapping all six episodes (six hours) will air next Saturday, culminating on Sunday night with the two-hour finale.

Don’t miss it.

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