The '60s (1999)
A miniseries in search of a soundtrack album. Bad vibes, man, and so on.
9 January 2006
Is there any other time period that has been so exhaustively covered by television (or the media in general) as the 1960s? No. And do we really need yet another trip through that turbulent time? Not really. But if we must have one, does it have to be as shallow as "The '60s"?

I like to think that co-writers Bill Couturie and Robert Greenfield had more in mind for this two-part miniseries than what ultimately resulted, especially given Couturie's involvement in the superb HBO movie "Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam" which utilized little original music and no original footage, letting the sights and sounds of the time speak for themselves. This presentation intercuts file footage with the dramatic production, but it doesn't do anyone any favours by trying to do too much in too little time; like so many of its ilk, it's seen from the point of view of one family. But the children of the family seem to be involved tangentially with almost every major event of the '60s (it's amazing that one of them doesn't go to the Rolling Stones gig at Altamont), making it seem less like a period drama and more like a Cliff Notes version of the decade.

The makers rush through it so much that there's little or no time to give the characters any character, with the stick figures called our protagonists off screen for ages at a time - the children's father is especially clichéd - and then when they're back on BLAMMO! it's something else. Garry Trudeau could teach the filmmakers a thing or two about doing this kind of thing properly. In fairness, Jerry O'Connell, Jordana Brewster, Jeremy Sisto, Julia Stiles and Charles S. Dutton give their material the old college try, but they're wasted (especially the latter two); it's undeniably good to see David Alan Grier in a rare straight role as activist Fred Hampton, and Rosanna Arquette (in an uncredited cameo in part 2) is always welcome.

What isn't welcome is how "The '60s" drowns the soundtrack with so many period songs that it ultimately reduces its already minimal effect (and this may well be the only time an American TV presentation about post-60s America never mentions the British Invasion - no Beatles, no Rolling Stones... then again, there's only so much tunes you can shoehorn into a soundtrack album, right?). Capping its surface-skimming approach to both the time and the plot with an almost out-of-place happy ending, "American Dreams" and "The Wonder Years" did it all much, much better. Nothing to see here you can't see elsewhere, people... except for Julia Stiles doing the twist, that is.
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