So far, “AMERICA: The Story of US” is living up to my hopes. Though far from being a detailed and scholarly examination of American history, it is a well-made, accurate, and interesting video outline of the economic, social, and political events that created the United States. In short, it is just right as a television introduction to the entrepreneurial energy, innovation, political events, and social issues that made this nation. Tonight’s episodes on westward expansion (rightly portrayed as a phenomena that marked the American experience even before the founding of the U.S.) and the nation’s first industrial revolution (it enriched the nation and inevitably sparked the sectional outrage over slavery that led to the Civil War) were excellent.
The sprinkling of talking heads ranges from the superb (H.W. Brands of the University of Texas, Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Republican gadfly/activist Newt Gingrich) to those gratuitously chosen for their star power (I don’t need Sheryl Crow to lecture me on history, particularly since her bromides remind me that her credentials as a commentator could be based on her controversial take regarding personal hygiene). I also want to note that any documentary that gets Al Sharpton and Bill Maher to share the stage as commentators with Rudy and Newt is an accomplishment, if not a surprise. No one can accuse the producers of failing to assemble a diverse chorus of individuals to sing the nation’s praises or lament its mistakes.
My students who have watched the documentary are enthusiastic about the series, saying it is interesting and informative. At this point, I am willing to offer a “well done” to the programming folks at History Channel. Obviously, I will be watching more episodes.