"The Kennedys" caused a big stir before it was even aired, since the History Channel refused to air it, allegedly because it was a smear job.
Well, it wasn't a smear job, and reportedly the History Channel pulled out because the Kennedys put pressure on them. But it also wasn't the great American epic that you would expect -- its stately beginning and exploration of the world-changing effects of the Kennedy administration are marred by a rushed ending and lackluster direction.
The miniseries follows the Kennedy family as John F. Kennedy (Greg Kinnear) is elected as the President of the United States, with the help of his bombastic father Joe Sr. (Tom Wilkinson) and his devoted brother Bobby (Barry Pepper). But JFK had many obstacles, both personal and professional -- he's crippled by a bad back, his father made many enemies, and his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Katie Holmes) was troubled.
And over the course of his administration, the Kennedy brothers grapple with Cuba, Russia, riots over civil rights for African-Americans, and chasing down the mob. But there are also many personal crises -- drug use, a baby's death, Joe Sr.'s stroke -- that they struggle to deal with, until the shocking assassinations that destroyed both men.
First off: is "The Kennedys" a smear job? Answer: no, it is not. However, it contains a lot of material that the Kennedy family doesn't like to publicize despite its truth: Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, the frequent infidelity by Joe Sr. and Jack, the First Family's drug use, and the fact that Joe Sr. wasn't above using crooked associations to get what he wanted.
However, the miniseries is a fair and sympathetic look at the Kennedy clan overall. The first five episodes are slow, stately and careful, outlining some of the major events of the Kennedy administration, and adding in flashbacks to show some of the family's history (such as the death of Joe Jr.). It's actually pretty amusing, although the direction is pretty lackluster, and painfully maudlin during emotional moments.
However, about five episodes in, the producers seemed to suddenly realize, "Yikes, we have only a few hours to wrap everything up! We'll have to smush everything to make it fit!" The last few episodes are HORRIBLY rushed -- the Marilyn affair takes up about ten minutes max (with no "happy birthday" song), and Bobby's entire presidential campaign is squashed into the final twenty minutes. The poor guy deserved more than that.
As for the actors, they're a mixed bag. Wilkinson and Diana Hardcastle are absolutely pitch-perfect as Joe and Rose Kennedy. Pepper and Kinnear don't look anything like their real-life counterparts, but they both give good performances -- Pepper is particularly good as the devout "good boy" who struggles to do the right thing, and he is the saving grace of the last two episodes.
The worst part, hands down? That would be Katie Holmes, who doesn't have the elegance, poise or grace to play Jacqueline Kennedy. And she has only three acting modes: pouty, smiley and blank.
"The Kennedys" is certainly a miniseries worth watching, especially since it highlights part of the Kennedy family's past that are often left unilluminated. But that doesn't mean it couldn't have used another two episodes and a better Jackie.