Now that the dust has settled, some guys wearing 18th-century portraits are done playing casual ballgames for the year, and we in northwest Ohio are buried under 10
feet inches of snow, it’s time to sift through the reviews of the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty series that aired last month.
Let’s start with the ones more focused purely on entertainment value. Variety seems to like it, although admittedly that venue is not known for hard-hitting reviews, nor is Deadline Hollywood’s Dominic Patten, who likes the series as a “darned good yarn.” The New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley appears to believe that the show is more entertaining than Turn, and not bad history, to boot–perhaps not a surprising admission from someone who seems not to realize that Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson was a colonist himself. On the other coast, Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles times disagrees on both entertainment and historical grounds. The A.V. Club’s Molly Eichel is closest on point for my money, suggesting that “Sons Of Liberty plays out more like an action movie than a historical drama.” She has company in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Owen, who suggests that “consider this an action film that liberates the American Revolution from the shackles of history.” Perhaps the most down on the History Channel’s revolutionary baby is Media Life’s Tom Conroy, who calls it bad history and bad drama.
If you like more quantitative measures, Metacritic lists it with a 64 metascore from critics, and 5.6 from users, while Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer measures the miniseries at 58% critical approval (mind you, that’s probably below the median). And in terms of viewers voting with their
feet remote controls, the series averaged 3.1 million viewers an episode.
And of course there was the range of debunkers, who had plenty of fodder. For the most complete take, see Thomas Verenna’s in the Journal of the American Revolution. The National Constitution Center gave two posts, beginning with a staff one assessing the damage and followed by Scott Bomboy’s piece explaining the real Sons of Liberty. And J.L. Bell, without directly surveying the series, slyly notes that the real Samuel Adams may have been slightly less dashing than that of Ben Barnes.
Most interesting are a few conservative outlets. While agreeing with each other that the series is historically inaccurate, P.J. Gladnick finds such problems perhaps as a sign of liberal media bias (that is the raison d’etre of his site, mrc NewsBusters), while Heartland Institute’s S.T. Karnick thinks otherwise. While noting that Sons of Liberty is”so historically inaccurate as to make the paranormal fantasy Sleepy Hollow look like a docudrama by comparison,” he still sees it as relevant because it presents an underdog people against an overpowerful government.
You can still make up your own mind: all three episodes are available streaming, for free, on the History Channel through mid-February.