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Thursday, October 14, 2010

TV Show Review: God in America

God in America

American Experience/Frontline Series

WGBH (PBS) & Frontline
360 minutes
October 11-13, 2010

“Since the days when the Puritan "city on a hill" beckoned on the horizon of the New World, religious faith and belief have forged America's ideals, molded its identity and shaped its sense of mission at home and abroad.

For the first time on television, God in America explores the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America, from the first European settlements to the 2008 presidential election. A co-production of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and FRONTLINE, this six-hour series examines how religious dissidents helped shape the American concept of religious liberty and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation's courts and political arena; how religious freedom and waves of new immigrants and religious revivals fueled competition in the religious marketplace; how movements for social reform -- from abolition to civil rights -- galvanized men and women to put their faith into political action; and how religious faith influenced conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War.

Interweaving documentary footage, historical dramatization and interviews with religious historians, the six-part series is narrated by actor Campbell Scott and includes appearances by actors Michael Emerson (as John Winthrop), Chris Sarandon (as Abraham Lincoln. and Keith David (as Frederick Douglass), among others”
(from PBS.org).

When I first heard about this series, I was very excited that American Experience and Frontline would take on such a huge subject and one that is usually handled with kid gloves. To talk about religion in this country can be a touchy subject. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion…up until the point when someone is offended (which these days seems to be pretty easy). Whether we like it or not, religious beliefs have been an integral part of the creation of this country and have left a legacy that really needs to be understood and embraced to know where we came from. While many of the events covered in this program are touched upon in school, it is highly unlikely they really get to the crux of the issue. I have to applaud American Experience and Frontline for taking this project on.

Now with that being said, this was a grand slam out of the ballpark for me. I am pleased that they used real experts from the fields to talk about this topic – religious studies professors, historians, and the like. They not only understood the religious aspects but also the historical and why the religious aspect was so important to that event or time period. I think there is nothing worse than when you have someone who is not an expert trying to impart knowledge to you in a form such as this. Also, when you are taking on the issue of religion, which is very close to so many people, you really want the right people for the job.

My biggest complaint was really the issue of length and lack of excitement. Now, I understand that this subject doesn’t exactly lend itself to great dramatic scenes that steal the show, but I found myself extremely bored. I would be ok for the first hour of the show, but really couldn’t focus on it after that. Possibly if the show was on for only 1 hour at a time, or if the overall show was not 6 hours, it might have been better. As it is, I didn’t watch all 6 hours, I just couldn’t focus and that was really hard for me to do. Each 1 hour episode is available to view online now, so I may tackle it that way to see what I missed.

Overall, I think that this was well presented and certainly a valuable use of funds and time.

If you are interested in watching any of the episodes please check out the God in America website on PBS.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Thank you for bringing that to our attention.

    People outside the US might not have been aware of the programs. And it's useful to know that the programs can be watched outside the US.

    I had a look at the start. The guy thinks America is a special place. He might like to learn that lots of other counties think that they are special too. Shall we call that a sign of the 'American Ego'.

    But the program does touch on a lot of very interesting ideas.

    I don't know if the program says much about Iraq. I don't think I'll have the patience to get that far.

    Issues such as Iraq (Islam), which does involve America, are some of the religious issues that American faces today.

    I had a brief look at a review in the Washington Post, which ended by effectively saying 'Where was God?'

  2. I was mostly interested in the parts before the twentieth century, and I haven't gotten a chance to watch them all yet, but I really enjoyed the section on Abraham Lincoln. Interesting stuff, there. Looking forward to watching the two earlier episodes.

  3. I haven't watched past the Civil War part - so I have no idea how they handled the current time period.


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