From May 13, 2012
America: The Story of Us
My brother recently bought me the Blu-Ray of this 2010 History channel series for my birthday.
Overall--having only watched 6 of the 12 episodes--I think it is very well-done.
There's a bit of overdramatizing at parts and sometimes the music or sound effects drown out the narrator (and the electric guitar riffs are often out of place over scenes from the Revolutionary War and the like).
Speaking of the narrator, the series is narrated by Liev Schreiber, in an unrecognizable voice over (sounding a lot like David Ogden Stiers).
I like that the show focuses on some parts of our history that you wouldn't expect, such as the fact that new technologies like the new Mini Ball bullets, the telegraph, and the North's abundance of Railroads (which provided supplies and troops to the front lines) won the Civil War.
The series also makes many analogies to modern-times to help the viewer understand how much money the transcontinental railroad cost, etc. I also find the CG overviews of the nation helps to understand what they're talking about (like showing the North's bounty of railroad and telegraph lines during the Civil War as opposed to the South's meager lines).
I don't care for the series overuse of Shaky-Cam and out of focus shots (something I think most TV series and films overuse today).
As for the commentators, the series has many good university professors and historians as well as Buzz Aldrin, Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Patraeus, Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, etc. I don't understand the series inclusion of people like Sheryl Crow, Tim Gunn, Melissa Etheridge, Puff Daddy, Michael Douglas, Donald Trump (and his comb over), Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Margaret Cho, NFL stars, or even Bill Maher. Some of the people I like, some I don't, but I don't understand any their inclusions on the series (except to show different Americans?).
Some interesting notes from the series thus far:
• Jamestown was settled BEFORE the Pilgrims came to America, thus the settling of America was about business opportunities (tobacco production) before it was about escaping religious persecution.
• The colonies began as a place to grow tobacco. For the first century and a half, tobacco was America's biggest export.
• George Washington experimented with a smallpox vaccine at Valley Forge.
• When the British Navy attacked New York during the Rev War, it was their biggest assembled attack until D-Day during WWII, and the only time New York was attacked until 9/11.
• The series draws a connection from the sewing machine punch cards of the 1830s to the advances in Silicon Valley in the 20th/21st cen.
• In a twist that I didn't see coming, the "Westward" episode begins 300 million years BC with a meteor that smashes into the Appalachian Mountains, creating the Cumberland Gap that Americans use to cross the mountains and head west.
• Women enter the workforce for the first time in the 1820-1830s in cotton mills (you usually only hear about women entering the work force during WWII).
• In Oct. 1836, women mill workers protested against wage cuts in one of the first strikes in US history.
• During the Industrial Revolution whale oil was used before crude oil was discovered.
• During the Civil War, the South had 800K troops, but the North had 2.4 million.
• The discovery of Bromine led to better hygiene.
• Civil War Railroads: 24,000 miles in the North, 9,000 miles in the South. During the War, the North added 4,000 more miles of new tracks to the 400 new miles that the South added.
• During the Civil War there were 50,000 miles of telegraph lines that Lincoln used to help inform himself and his generals on the front lines.
• The Railroad cut the 6 month journey across the US to just 6 days.
• Locusts swarmed across the US in 1874 and ate half the mid-western crops. The swarm was half a mile high, 100 miles wide, 1,000 miles long, and consisted of 3 trillion locusts.
• The series points out that horses are not native to the US plains. They were brought over 400 years ago by Spanish conquistadors.
• Lassos date back to the ancient Egyptians.
• 1 out of 3 cowboys were Hispanic or African-American.
• The heyday of the cowboy on the open range lasted only about 20 years.
• The Railroad is responsible for our current times zones (begun in 1883).