What Does Underground’s Success Mean?

14 months ago, I wondered what the failure of Amazon’s Civil War drama series, Point of Honor, meant for the Civil War in popular culture. I worried audiences didn’t reject the show because it was objectively terrible but because they just weren’t interested in the Civil War. I saw promising signs in Hollywood—with Free State of Jones being adapted for the screen (coming this June!)—but it looked like the Civil War Era and my television weren’t going to be friends anytime soon. It wasn’t long before I heard about Mercy Street and things started looking up. Then came news the History [Channel] was remaking Roots. The jury’s still out on Roots, but Mercy Street was a solid, if slightly disappointing, stab at serialized Civil War fiction. Throughout, Underground was completely off my radar. WGN’s bold slave resistance drama seemed to come out of nowhere and turned out to be one of the best (maybe the best) depictions of the Civil War Era on TV. What Underground achieved  demonstrates how rethinking what “Civil War popular culture” means can draw new audiences and make for riveting, smart, and original entertainment. Read More

Are Things Looking Up for the Civil War on TV?

Mercy Street PBS Cast

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Josh Radnor in Mercy Street.

Two months ago, I rejoiced that Amazon users did not greenlight Point of Honor. On the other hand, I wondered if the reason had less to do with the show’s crappiness and more to do with a general lack of interest in the Civil War from TV audiences. Surveying the scene now, it looks like producers don’t share my concerns. No less than three major networks are developing projects dealing with some aspect of the Civil War era. I have some reservations but the fact this is happening at all–and on the heels of the sesquicentennial, when one would expect Civil War fatigue–seems like a win. Read More

What Does Point of Honor’s Failure Mean?

Point of Honor is dead! Long live Point of Honor!

By now, many of you know Amazon did not greenlight Point of Honor. Given that the pilot episode was almost universally panned–including by me (other examples are here, here, and here)–we can call this a win for good history and good TV, but I’m reluctant to declare total victory. Viewer votes determine which pilots Amazon greenlights, so Point of Honor‘s failure clearly indicates audiences weren’t impressed. But why weren’t they impressed and what does that mean for the current state of the Civil War in popular culture? Read More

Entry 2: The Trials of a Confederate Abolitionist

Point of Honor, “Pilot.” Directed by Randall Wallace. Written by Carlton Cuse and Randall Wallace

Release Date: January 15, 2015.

Available: Amazon Pilots

I have a slight soft spot for Randall Wallace’s breakout film, Braveheart (I still remember seeing it at the old Gateway 6 in Brampton, Ontario, as a teenager), so I was determined to remain objective going into Point of Honor. One negative review had already appeared by the time I fired it up on Amazon last night, and both Kevin Levin and Keith Harris had justifiably slammed the trailer. Unfortunately, it only took about ten minutes for me to realize this thing is a train wreck, both historically and artistically. Read More

On Point of Honor

Just wanted to note that I only recently became aware that Amazon is launching a new series, Point of Honor, on January 15. The narrative centers on a Virginia planter family who join the Confederacy but also free their slaves. Ta-Nehisi Coates has already voiced some fair criticisms of the premise on twitter but I’m going reserve judgment until I see it for myself. I’ll try to work in episode-by-episode reviews alongside the things I’ve already planned to cover over the blog’s first few months.