by Rick Bretz
Band of Brothers (2001)
The story of Easy Company from their tough initial training through World War II’s D-Day to V-J Day. The 10 part series, based on a Stephen Ambrose book, covers the hardship and the elation of being part of a great cause. Each episode begins with an interview showing the real members of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Best Line: Lt. Winters, “That night, I took time to thank God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. And if, somehow, I managed to get home again, I promised God and myself that I would find a quiet piece of land someplace and spend the rest of my life in peace.
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
This mini-series shows the challenges, heartache and triumph of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs as they achieved the nation’s goal of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back safely.
Best Line: Astronaut Frank Borman speaking about the cause of the Apollo 1 fire, “A failure of imagination. We’ve always known there was the possibility of fire in a spacecraft. But the fear was that it would happen in space, when you’re 180 miles from terra firma and the nearest fire station. That was the worry. No one ever imagined it could happen on the ground. If anyone had thought of it, the test would’ve been classified as hazardous. But it wasn’t. We just didn’t think of it. Now whose fault is that? Well, it’s North American’s fault. It’s NASA’s fault. It’s the fault of every person who ever worked on Apollo. It’s my fault. I didn’t think the test was hazardous. No one did. I wish to God we had.
George Washington (1984)
Barry Bostwick gives an outstanding performance of a young and ageing George Washington in this almost forgotten mini-series from 1984. It covers his early life as a young officer and his wooing of Martha Custis whom he would marry. The cast includes some of the greats: Hal Holbrook as John Adams, Patty Duke as Martha Washington, James Mason as General Braddock, Jaclyn Smith as Sally Fairfax and many more. Many actors have attempted to portray George Washington and some have succeeded but Barry Bostwick comes pretty close to getting the personality and spirit of the man.
Best Line: General George Washington addressing his officers, “Gentlemen, you’ll permit me to put on my spectacles, as I have grown not only grey but also blind in the service of my country.”
This is considered one of the best mini-series of all time. Based on the novel by James Michener, It’s on just about every one’s “best of” list. The central theme identifies the many challenges and hard ships associated with settling in the West as the concept of manifest destiny was put into practice. The cast includes just about every major actor of that era. Raymond Burr, Robert Conrad, Lynn Redgrave, Sally Kellerman, Richard Crenna and Sharon Gless and more. The story crosses two centuries and chronicles the lives of people living in and around the town of Centennial, Colorado.
Best Line: “Only the rocks live forever.”
John Adams (2008)
Paul Giamatti captures John Adams prickly personality as well as his determination in forging a new country. More than that, he was perfect for showing the audience how intellectually sound John Adam’s was when arguing for his clients in court or persuading the founders to adopt a course of action. The mini-series also makes a point to show how important Abigail Adams was to her husband’s success. Based on the book by David McCullough, the series makes it a point to show the hardships the John and Abigail Adams endured.
Best Lines: John Adams, “My thoughts are so clear to me… each one takes perfect shape within my mind. But when I speak, when I offer them to others, they seem to lose all definition.”
Benjamin Franklin, “You are a guest in Philadelphia. Fish, and guests, stink after three days.”
The Men Who Built America (2012)
Before you can succeed anywhere you have to possess a vision. These men had it with some to spare. This series points the key and fill lights on the Mount Rushmore of businessmen who built America. Each segment tells the story of giants in their field. The series tells the stories of J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford and how they accumulated their vast empires and wealth. More importantly, the series tells how they worked with one another or challenged each other for another’s piece of the economic pie. If you want to know how America became an economic superpower after the civil war, this is the mini-series to watch. Many of today’s business leaders talk about what it takes to be ultra-successful in the business world during the series.
Best Line: H. W. Brands (historian) “Carnegie demonstrated that if you’re the first at whatever you do, you have a huge advantage over the people who come along later because you got the jump on them and very often that jump allows you to carve a niche and to maximize your profits within that niche.”
North and South (1985)
This series covers the friendship between two young cadets at The United States Military Academy at West Point. One is from, you guessed it, from a wealthy plantation owning family in the South and the other from a wealthy industrial and factory owning family from the North. The series tackles racism issues as well as the ideological differences among plantation owning southerners and industry building northerners. The civil war wages on and the friendship between the two main characters is tested.
Best Line: Orry talking to George, “This is our way of life, it has been for more than a hundred years! (Pause) How would you like me, to come up to Lehigh Station, telling you how to run your life, to change the way you have always lived?”
Roots is one of the most celebrated and well know mini-series since the inception of genre. It has great actors and a compelling story of slave family and slave owners. The first episodes in the series show the viewers what slave ships would have been like and how the slave trade was perpetuated by profiteers. LeVar Burton plays the lead character Kunta Kinte as we follow him from Africa to the United States. Based on the book by Alex Haley, the series shows how families were torn apart when the United States thought it was acceptable to own another human being. The all-star cast gives a bravura performance that captivated the country in 1977.
Best Lines: Omoro, Kunta Kinte’s father, holding his infant son up to a starry sky, “Kunta Kinte, behold the only thing greater than yourself!”
Fiddler, “Christmas is when White folk give each other stuff don’t neither of em need.”
Kintango, “It is impossible to kill an enemy. You may end a man’s life, but his son becomes your new enemy. A warrior respects another warrior, even he is his enemy. A warrior kills only to protect his family, or to keep from becoming a slave. We believe not in death, but in life, and there is no object more valuable than a man’s life.
Honorable Mentions: The Company, The Kennedys, Jesus of Nazareth, Shogun, Holocaust, The Civil War, The Winds of War, War and Peace, Hatfields & McCoys