I used to know a fair amount about the American Revolution. Then, I watched the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty and the part of my brain where that information is stored began to shrivel and die. It’s not just a matter of taking liberties (pun intended) with the historic record; it’s a matter of abandoning all logic and common sense.
The three-part series which concluded Tuesday night centered around unshaven hottie, Sam Adams, who ninja-like, escapes British capture in the opening scene of the first episode by climbing up downspouts, running across roofs, and jumping from building to building. Near as I can tell, given how dimly lit Boston apparently was back then, this took place in 1765. When Sam Adams was 42. He sure kept his youthful appearance and athletic skills better than I did at 42.
Naturally, the British Army comes looking for Sammy the Whammy again, this time in a tavern. Sam runs through the establishment which was not quite as large as a Wal-Mart, opens a secret door to the cellar, and escapes the clutches of the tyrannical redcoats. The cellar of this tavern is a storeroom, with quarter-windows that look out on the street. The officer in charge of the search, however, is too busy being smug and wearing scarlet to be observant, and no one bothers to check the cellar. Or to even notice that there is one, and so Sam escapes once more.
Parts One and Two show various events that lead to the Declaration of Independence including the American boycotts. Apparently, Bostonians were boycotting soap because this is the dirtiest looking cast since Eric Idle sat in the mud and called out “There’s some lovely filth over here!” during one scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Fast forward to Part Three and the fight at Bunker’s Hill, which the producers manage to make more like an episode of Benny Hill. Actually, come to think of it, if you DVR’d this Looney Tunes Presents History, just fast forward through the whole thing. Anyway, a couple soldiers are shown digging fortifications. Interestingly, they are shoveling from opposite sides of a dirt pile, not that there is any hole anywhere abouts from which this dirt might have been dug. No matter. Paul Revere (who did not take part in the action on Bunker’s Hill) shouted to anyone listening that there was only enough ammunition for “one or two shots,” although clearly the producers were not listening because once the battle begins we see men in the rear ranks loading and passing muskets to men in the front ranks three different times and the fight rages on even after that scene. Apparently, there was a revolution in mathematics taking place as well.
The real problem with such cartoon history is that the actual story is so much more interesting and improbable. For example, Sons of Liberty would have us believe that the British abandoned Boston because George Washington allowed them to retreat unmolested on the promise that they would leave Boston unharmed. This arrangement was concluded after Washington exchanges sharp-witted insults with British commander, General Thomas Gage around a campfire. In fact, Henry Knox of the Continental Army transported cannons from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York via sleds in the winter of 1775-1776 to Boston and when Gage saw Dorchester Heights rung with guns, he saw that it was in his best interest to retreat, and in a hurry. Fort Ticonderoga, by the way, had been captured in May of 1775 by troops under the command of Benedict Arnold and irregulars commanded by Ethan Allen. How’s that for fantastic plot twists and interesting characters?
Had there been a Part Four to Sons of Liberty, I’m fairly certain that we would have seen George Washington grab hold of his cloak, catch a breeze coming off the Chesapeake, and fly over British positions at Yorktown, dropping hand grenades and insults, until the last of the redcoats, chastised and no doubt dirty, marched out and surrendered.
If you watched Sons of Liberty, I highly recommend reading Patriots by A. J. Langguth as an antidote. If you didn’t watch Sons of Liberty, you missed quite a spectacle; not a historical one, but a spectacle nonetheless.