Picks and Pans Review: The Fifties
The History Channel
(Sun.-Fri, Nov. 30-Dec. 5, 9 p.m. ET)
The '50s: a bland, boring time, when even President Eisenhower had nothing better to do than play golf. The '50s: a time of tense waiting, when the social forces that were to explode in the '60s smoldered beneath the deceptively tranquil surface. This ambitious documentary miniseries is partial to the latter perception of the decade but finds considerable humor in the former. Based on the 1993 book by David Halberstam (who appears frequently as a commentator), the eight-hour production makes extensive use of TV commercials, B-movie trailers and other evidence that the '50s could be hilariously square.
Some may complain that it dwells on the frivolous, that it cares more about Elvis than Ike. But The Fifties knows when to put entertainment aside, as in its potent treatment of the CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala and the school integration crisis in Little Rock. Its best feature is not sweeping historical statements but individual portraits of influential Americans—from the persistently famous, like Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, to the all-but-forgotten, like Peyton Place author Grace Metalious. We're favorably impressed by The Fifties, but we're not sure History Channel host Roger Mudd shares our opinion. From the way the veteran newsman takes advantage of his brief screen time to stick in his two cents, we get the distinct feeling he'd rather tell the story himself.
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