With 12 chapters spread out over three discs and a total running time of more than nine hours (not including bonus material), the History Channel's America: The Story of Us
is a sprawling primer on the history of the country and its people. Starting about 100 years after Columbus with the arrival of the earliest white settlers from across the Atlantic and finishing in the present day, the series can boast episodes devoted to major conflicts like the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II; the more gradual but still significant developments that helped shape the nation (like western expansion and the mass migration to major cities); and the various elements and forces (the discovery of oil; the growth of industry, engineering, and infrastructure; the development of the automobile and other means of mass transportation, and, of course, the accumulation of vast economic and military might) that combined to make the United States the world's dominant superpower in the 20th century and beyond. To the filmmakers' credit, the darker aspects of this history--slavery and racial strife, the treatment of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII--are not given short shrift. And while much of the material is dealt with in fairly broad strokes, there are also various enlightening details in each chapter. Who knew that George Washington established a network of spies who wrote notes in invisible ink in order to deceive the British, or that the most valuable currency for those who first explored the West was beaver pelts?
A combination of reenactments, photos, CGI, models, and other elements delivers a great deal of information here, along with frequent references to Americans' pioneer spirit, devotion to hard work, and belief that if you can dream it, you can do it. Yet this isn't an especially scholarly document. The events depicted, from the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere's midnight ride to the Alamo and the Gettysburg Address, not to mention more lurid tales like the Donner Party and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, should be familiar to those with even a cursory knowledge of US history. The emphasis on star power, be it the comments from a parade of talking heads including actors, musicians, politicians (President Barack Obama among them), athletes, soldiers, and so on, or the focus on charismatic historical figures like John Brown, Daniel Boone, and many others, reflects our celebrity-obsessed culture. And the constant hyperbole (narrator Liev Schreiber intones some variation of "What's about to happen will change things forever!" at least half a dozen times in the first episode alone) becomes tedious. Then again, considering the number of Americans who can't find their own country on a map, presenting the material like a dramatic TV show instead of textbook was a shrewd idea. --Sam Graham
A riveting adventure of how America was invented, AMERICA THE STORY OF US focuses on the people, ideas and events that built our nation, covering 400 years of American history in the most extensive and in-depth television series ever produced by HISTORY. From the rigors of linking the continent by wagon trails to the transcontinental railway, the engineering of steel-structured buildings through to landing on the moon, this epic 12-part series is a grand cinematic vision of how this country was built. AMERICA THE STORY OF US brings this story to life firsthand through patriots, frontiersmen, slaves, abolitionists, Native Americans, pioneers, immigrants, entrepreneurs and inventors. From the revolutionary war that birthed the nation to the civil war that divided it, into the making of the modern world, America The Story of Us is an epic, dramatic, heartbreaking and triumphant journey that reminds us that American history truly belongs to we, the people.
Sharing their thoughts on the building of America, and what it means to be an American, are a world-class group of individuals including Tom Brokaw, Michael Douglas, Meryl Streep, Buzz Aldrin, Colin Powell, Donald Trump, John Legend, Melissa Etheridge, Brian Williams and more.
DISC 1 (Episodes 1-4): Rebels / Revolution / Westward / Division
DISC 2 (Episodes 5-8): Civil War / Heartland / Cities / Boom
DISC 3 (Episodes 9-12): Bust / WWII / Boomers / Millennium
Disc 1: George Washington, American Revolution, Declaration of Independence
Disc 2: Civil War, Transcontinental Railroad, Statue of Liberty, Henry Ford and the Model T