Though not great, History’s miniseries is a step in the right direction for the network
If you have watched the History Channel as of late, chances are you have noticed a significant lack of programing relating to actual history. With shows like Pawn Stars, Swamp People and Top Gear dominating the channel’s line-up, many have criticized History’s executives as being more focused on gaining viewership rather than creating insightful and informative programming. Granted, History’s sister networks, Military History and H2, have filled in some of the gaps, but these channels are not widely available, leaving some history buffs wanting more.
So, when History announced they were launching a six hour three-part miniseries titled The World Wars, many people, myself included, were actually looking forward to it. They advertised the program as a chance to understand how the leaders of World War II were shaped by their actions during World War I and how those actions led to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. I felt, if done right, it would be a program that could efficiently tie both events together and explain how these leaders rose to global prominence. What we got, however, was a rushed lesson in world history.
The series mainly focuses on the lives of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin. Each part consists of dramatic re-enactments and interviews with historians, professors, politicians and even key military figures. I actually thought this was a brilliant approach, as it allowed the viewer to not only feel as they are in the room with these historical figures, but also get some understanding as to why these decisions were made. At times, the actors may seem a bit cheesy, but they all do a pretty good job in portraying their unique historical figure. My personal favorite is Ian Beyts, the actor who plays Winston Churchill. He gets Churchill’s look and persona down perfectly, and he is just giving his all while portraying the British Bulldog. At times, I did feel like I was watching Churchill himself rather than an actor portraying him.
The three part series covers events between 1914 and 1945, and it has the right idea how to tell a story… during the first part. The first section focuses solely on a nine year period between the start of WWI and 1923, and does a decent job detailing the rise of certain leaders in their respected countries. While I do wish each leader was given brief background to their upbringing and childhood, I am pleased that there is not a lot of filler material. It goes into a fair amount of overlooked moments, as such Churchill’s role and downfall in British politics, as well as how Hitler even got involved with the National Socialist Party in the first place.
But after that, the next two parts are completely disappointing. Everything feels rushed and nothing is given a lot of time to be discussed by historians or acted out by the actors in these sections. For example the second part rushed through a fair amount of Hitler’s rise to power, while also not going into much detail about Stalin’s role as leader of the Soviet Union. The last part focuses solely on WWII after Pearl Harbor, and even then a lot of the moments with the actors were dubbed over by analysis, making the viewer seem disconnected with what is being portrayed. To me, this series could have easily been made into an eight-hour four part series in order to make sure each individual was properly analyzed and detailed instead of rushed through to fit an important time frame.
In addition, the analysis, which I did enjoy, definitely could be improved upon. While I did appreciate insight from modern military personnel and political figures like Senator John McCain, I feel that time could have been better used with insight from other scholarly sources.
There is also a major problem regarding the accuracy of the information presented. While there were none that made me wish to immediately turn the channel, there were some that did not help the series out. Although these inaccuracies were not too copious, they were prevalent enough that I would not use The World Wars as a study tool for any final exams.
Regardless of these minor issues that could be easily fixed with better editing, this should be the kind of program that History should run on a normal basis. While I have nothing against shows like Pawn Stars, there is a desire for programs like The World Wars as well. When the series opened, it attracted with an average audience of 3.4 million people. Mark Burnett’s The Bible – another series about stories from, well, The Bible, attracted an audience of 13.1 million when it premiered in April 2013. People do want shows like this, and I’m sure History is capable of producing more programs like this. Seriously, how many other nonsense shows are there on television or online that can fill our time if History got rid of some of their shows and replaced it with historical programing?
In conclusion, The World Wars is, at the least, worth watching once. The analysis is good, and the acting is decent. However, don’t feel too disappointed when you watch Part Two and it isn’t as detailed or as informative as Part One was. If you’re interested in watching something that will jog your memory on all the stuff from high school you forgot about, it’s definitely worth that one viewing. Even though I am a bit disappointed with the overall product, I’m glad I saw it and look forward to History’s attempt to actually portray history, which will probably be shown between two mini-marathons of Swamp People.