After so much fuss and a controversial migration down the cable grid, “24” co-creator Joel Surnow’s lavish but dullish eight-part miniseries, “The Kennedys,” favors a curiously prim restraint as it speedily tears through the story of the political dynasty.
It’s as if, after all that hard work to resurrect and besmirch the Camelot era down to every last Boston “r,” “The Kennedys” (beginning Sunday night on ReelzChannel) is too embarrassed to really look at the Kennedys and instead concentrates its energies on looking like the Kennedys in something about the Kennedys.
The television movie takes an in-depth look at the private joys and public tragedies of one of the world's most influential families. "The Kennedys" recreates some of the political crises John F. Kennedy dealt with early on in his presidency, as well as events leading up to his and Robert F. Kennedy's assassinations. The miniseries premieres April 3 at 8 p.m. ET.
It all ends up being as harmless as a game of Kennedy paper dolls — and it is fully within anyone’s First Amendment rights to pose them however they wish. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the key people portrayed here are all dead. Whether you want to turn them into “The Sopranos” or “The Simpsons,” knock yourself out. Put them on “Glee” for all anyone cares.
As far as this particular telling of the story goes, you could get more controversy and upsetting imagery by simply Googling the Kennedys. When, at last, the president (Greg Kinnear as JFK) and his wife (Katie Holmes as Jackie), take that fateful 1963 motorcade ride through downtown Dallas and the gunfire cracks dramatically . . . well, the camera looks away instead of providing Zapruder-style gore. Slightly more blood — a mere drop by today’s standards — spills in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen, when Robert F. Kennedy (Barry Pepper), is shot and killed in the series’s ’68 denouement. It’s difficult to recall any gentler assassination portrayals — real or re-created — in the entire, often trashy, quasi-fictional Kennedy oeuvre, especially considering how violent Surnow’s “24” could get.
In the same way, “The Kennedys” bashfully looks askance at so much of the scandal that it wishes to plumb: Jack’s sexual peccadilloes are portrayed as infrequent and with abbreviated modesty; he never actually has a scene with Marilyn Monroe (Charlotte Sullivan), whose overdose death we only hear about on the radio, instead of seeing firsthand. Even Dr. Feelgood’s frequent doses of pain relief (to both Jack and Jackie) have all the excitement of a trip to the school nurse, failing to conjure a frightening haze of a doped-up White House.
That leaves, I suppose, the fuss over the mafia stuff and election-rigging — in which Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (Tom Wilkinson — all tortoise rims, spittle and hammy malice) commingles with the likes of Sam Giancana (Serge Houde) and a toadylike Frank Sinatra (Chris Diamantopoulos) and also conspires over the years with all manner of corrupt fixers to get his son elected.
From its first moments, “The Kennedys” sketches its characters with the precision of a fat Sharpie marker: Here, Joe is a study in pure, selfish, power-mad greed. Nothing is beneath him. He kisses his mistress-assistant farewell in the Hyannisport foyer on election night 1960, while an out-of-focus Rose Kennedy (played with dour piety by Diana Hardcastle) comes sharply and wordlessly into view from her perch on the staircase — it’s all very “Falcon Crest.”