×

10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: Antietam & Massacre at Mystic

An ambitious project with an unwieldy title, this 10-part, five-consecutive-night History Channel series showcases different filmmakers tackling signature events whose ramifications echoed through U.S. history.

With:
Narrator: Jeffrey Wright.

An ambitious project with an unwieldy title, this 10-part, five-consecutive-night History Channel series showcases different filmmakers tackling signature events whose ramifications echoed through U.S. history. Sunday’s premiere proves a mixed bag, with the Civil War story “Antietam” employing an intriguing medley of still photos (some created for the production) that achieves an almost animated effect, while the more conventional “Massacre at Mystic” employs re-creations and an overbearingly sappy score. The History Channel has often struggled to make history “fun,” but at least here the net has an overarching topic worthy of discussion and debate.

Both of these opening installments focus on battles that highlight how the country’s origins were steeped in blood.

The more compelling, “Antietam,” involves a grueling 1862 Civil War showdown in which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee pushed into Maryland, triggering a marathon duel with Union forces. Although President Lincoln was angry that his generals didn’t press their advantage, thus allowing the war to continue, the victory dissuaded European powers from supporting the South and emboldened Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

As directed by Michael Epstein, this opening hour flashes photos in what amounts to flipbook fashion, creating a sense of movement and pace while capturing the horror of the battle as much through the sharp observations of its academic witnesses as its arresting visual imagery.

By contrast, “Massacre at Mystic” tells what might be a more significant story considerably less well. Director James Moll chronicles the 1637 massacre by colonists of the Pequot Indian tribe as a period of peaceful trade between the groups “went up in smoke,” quite literally, in genocidal killings to grab Native American land over the next 2½ centuries.

“Mystic” begins well enough but falls apart in its second half, delivering what amounts to an extended infomercial for the survival skills of the Pequot, who have prospered by opening a massive casino on reservation land. It’s a somewhat dubious and distracting coda to the more pertinent issues presented during the first half-hour, at times in grisly detail.

Additional installments over subsequent nights will range from President McKinley’s assassination and the Scopes monkey trial to Elvis Presley’s 1956 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Fortunately, the title provides ample license for historians to weigh in on which dates fulfill the overarching title, the equivalent of sports fans assembling their all-time teams.

At the very least, this undertaking seeks to expand TV’s window into U.S. history without cheapening it — a level of care that History Channel hasn’t always exercised, as it has joined other older-skewing cable nets in the quest to become younger and more hip.

As a bonus, this franchise could obviously be replicated if deemed successful, blossoming into an ongoing series of lesser-known historical moments.

So “10 More Days That Unexpectedly Changed America,” anyone? Seems like a no-brainer given that Americans love a good sequel, and History has a way of repeating itself.

10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: Antietam & Massacre at Mystic

History Channel, Sun. April 9, 9 p.m.

Production: Antietam Producer, Caroline Suh; writer-director, Michael Epstein; camera, Michael Chin; editor, R.A. Fedde. Massacre at Mystic Producers, Christopher Pavlick, James Moll; director, Moll; writers, Lorna Graham, Michael Mayhew.

Crew: Antietam Camera, Michael Chin; editor, R.A. Fedde. Massacre at Mystic Camera, Harris Done, Ramin Fathie; editor, Mayhew; music, Nathan Wang.

Cast: Narrator: Jeffrey Wright.

More TV

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Seeks to Stop Appointment of Special Prosecutor

    Jussie Smollett’s lawyers filed a motion on Friday to overturn the appointment of a special prosecutor in his hate crime hoax case, arguing the appointment would expose the “Empire” actor to double jeopardy. Smollett is seeking to reverse an order issued last month by Judge Michael Toomin, who faulted Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx [...]

  • Jimmy Pitaro ESPN

    Dan Le Batard Tests ESPN's - and Jimmy Pitaro's - No-Politics Policy

    Perhaps someone didn’t get the memo. Ever since Jimmy Pitaro took the helm of ESPN in early 2018, employees at the Walt Disney-owned sports-media juggernaut were made aware of at least one thing: The new boss didn’t want sportscasters yakking it up about politics any longer. But Dan Le Batard, the popular radio and TV [...]

  • Rick Rubin Spotify Secret Genius Awards,

    Seven Things We Learned About 'Shangri-La' and Rick Rubin from Showtime's Series

    Showtime’s documentary series “Shangri-La” insists it is not a biographical documentary on uber-producer Rick Rubin, and it’s not meant as a four-hour advertisement for Rubin’s legendary Malibu studio, after which the four-part series is named … but it feels like a little bit of both those things. “Shangri-La” is primarily filmed at the studio where [...]

  • Elaine Paul - Amazon Studios

    Elaine Paul Exits as Hulu CFO to Join Amazon Studios

    Elaine Paul has departed Hulu after nearly six years as chief financial officer to join Amazon Studios as CFO/VP of finance. She started at the ecommerce company’s studio division on July 15, reporting to Dan Jedda, VP of digital, advertising and corporate development finance for Amazon, a company rep said. Paul’s move to Amazon, first [...]

  • Major Expansion Planned at Belfast Harbour

    Major Expansion Planned at Belfast Harbour Studios, Home of ‘Krypton’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Belfast Harbour Studios in Northern Ireland, where the Syfy series “Krypton” is shot, is set for a major expansion. The Warner Horizon-produced series has occupied the full site, which currently has two stages, since it opened in 2017. The landowners had signaled that they wanted to expand, and Variety has learned that plans for the [...]

  • Rola-Bauer-and-Tim-Halkin

    Bauer, Halkin Ride in Tandem

    ROLA BAUERExecutive managing director, Studiocanal TV; managing director, Tandem Productions “I simply wanted to continue creating great stories,” Bauer says about why she resigned as exec VP of international fiction at Germany’s ProSieben and founded Tandem. The Canadian had worked at Alliance Intl. in Paris before moving to ProSieben. “I loved doing it from a [...]

  • Shadowplay stars

    Tandem's Berlin-Set ‘Shadowplay’ Goes for Edge

    Period dramas rarely break the fourth wall, but for Mans Marlind, the creator-writer-director of Tandem’s “Shadowlands,” “we don’t have to be traditional. Especially with period, you need to be even more modern, to avoid the stiffness of costume drama,” he says. “Television’s development [is] creating audiences that are smarter, meaning we can be more and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content