‘The Roosevelts’ Begins on Public TV

RooseveltsIf the vivid subjects of “The Roosevelts” (PBS, 8 and 10 p.m., check local listings) dominated the White House for 19 of the first 45 years of the 20th century, they dominate the whole of public television this week, with Ken Burns latest historical opus, a 14-hour, seven day miniseries that will repeat its two hour episodes twice each night, with weekends cleared for binge bio-watching.

Indeed, one is supposed to be able to watch the whole of “The Roosevelts” by tomorrow. Soon it will be available on tap.

But luckily enough, it’s full of a grand sweep of history, as much as any of his epic films, even as it decides to move the whole thing chronologically, freely moving between Theodore Roosevelt, and then a generation later to Franklin and Eleanor. If you’re not paying close attention, you might not keep up with which Roosevelt the insistent, sometimes grating narrator Peter Coyote is speaking.

It’s odd at first to hear Paul Giamatti providing the voice of Teddy, but Edward Herrmann, pretty much the official voice of FDR in film, is splendid and authentic. And a newcomer to the filmmaker, Meryl Streep, is a revelation as Eleanor – full of the ringing her voice had.

It’s amazing to be reminded what American went through in this swath of half a century, and Burns’ teams digs up even more interesting nuggets to bolster it further. “The Roosevelts” is not competition for the networks new fall season; it’s a standard setter they will never be able to reach. Bully!


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