I hope other history buff/bakers out there are as impressed as I am with the new HBO series John Adams. The first two episodes began airing this week, with more to follow. I confess I’ve lingered over both the last few evenings, savoring every last historical morsel. It’s well past time someone gave Mr. Adams his mass-media due. What with all the movies and TV shows that have been devoted to Washington, Jefferson and Franklin over the years, Adams has been as unpopular in death as he was in life. The tide now seems to be turning, thanks in no small part to David McCullogh’s excellent book John Adams which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.
Unlike so many films and TV shows about Colonial America, John Adams is more than just a live-action History 101. Rather it’s an hours-long explication of the ideas and the events that animated the founders, few if any of whom realized the implications of the project they were engaged in. The confusion and doubt of the Continental Congress (the majority of whom believed they were working to repair their Colonies’ relationship with England, not found a new nation) is one of the series’ most refreshing aspects. Typical productions of this type depict the founders strutting about in tricorn hats, puffed up with purpose in knowledge of the destiny they are about fulfill. John Adams, on the other hand, makes you feel their human-ness and all of their everyman foibles. One of my favorite moments so far is the long pause that follows the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. The camera sweeps along the length of the floor to show the delegates slouched back in their chairs, arms slack, mouths agape, eyes staring out into space as if to say: oh, mama mama…oh, mama mama mama…oh mama, are we ever in for IT!
It’s a brilliant moment. But then John Adams has a lot more going on in it than civics. It’s rife with compelling human stories, not to mention details of Colonial-era living that a geek like me just eats up: what it was like to get a smallpox vaccination back then, what tarring and feathering was really all about (both as you probably guessed were horrific). Sadly, there’re precious little of the story that’s told from a baking and pastry perspective, a grave omission to my way of thinking. I’d have thought at least a fleeting reference to the Colonial baking community was warranted, maybe a shot of Ben Franklin famously munching his rolls in the streets of Philadelphia, something of that sort. But then I suppose the producers had other priorities in mind. A pity, since that’s the only thing that’s preventing me from giving the series five stars.