You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

America at a Crossroads

Evenhanded almost to a fault, this six-night, 12-hour, 11-film project represents a laudably ambitious endeavor for public television, especially with commercial broadcasters having virtually abdicated primetime coverage of Iraq to focus on sexual predators, true crime and celebrity mischief.

Host: Robert MacNeil.

Evenhanded almost to a fault, this six-night, 12-hour, 11-film project represents a laudably ambitious endeavor for public television, especially with commercial broadcasters having virtually abdicated primetime coverage of Iraq to focus on sexual predators, true crime and celebrity mischief. Perhaps inevitably, the disparate slate of productions yields an uneven experience, with some material feeling like a watered-down study guide for those who haven’t followed current events since the “Shock and Awe” campaign began. Whatever its flaws, though, credit PBS for inviting political heat to shine a fragmented light on the most divisive and depressing issue of our times.

Derived from an open call for films issued in 2004, scheduling “America at a Crossroads” over consecutive nights during the period between TV’s rating sweeps is a clever strategic maneuver — assembling subject matter that in some instances has been explored elsewhere and, by creating an event around it, magnifying its impact.

Putting perhaps its best foot forward, the series opens with “Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al Qaeda” — a thorough, methodical recap hosted by the series’ overall host, “The Newshour’s” Robert MacNeil. The two-hour production delves into the historical underpinnings of the group, what motivated Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and, most pointedly, their now-fulfilled goal of luring the U.S. into a fight on Middle East soil, thus ensuring that Muslims “perceive America as the infidel invader of Muslim lands.” Indeed, one expert dubs the invasion of Iraq “an unexpected gift” that has hastened Al Qaeda’s resurgence following the military setbacks it suffered in 2002.

Still, the tone of “Jihad” hardly resembles the customary partisan finger-pointing of cable news, and subsequent installments encompass a wide range of narratives — several highly personal in nature — to illustrate the complicated relationship between the West and Islam as well as the wrenching experiences of soldiers and civilians caught in that maelstrom.

The second night, for example, deals with U.S. servicemen from two perspectives: “Warriors” profiles a handful of soldiers stationed in Baghdad, putting a human face on their situation. The more powerful “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” mixes work authored by current soldiers with commentary from those who wrote about previous wars.

“You’re afraid a lot … And fear does not bring out the best in us,” one Vietnam vet observes, in a way explaining how wartime abuses can occur. “It brings out a lot of ugliness, and you really hate the people who make you feel afraid.”

Not all the pieces mesh so neatly. Night three pairs a straightforward “Frontline” report, “Gangs of Iraq,” with “The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom,” a sort-of “My Dinner With Andre” featuring neocon Richard Perle — still a staunch defender of the rationale behind the war — in what amounts to egghead smackdown, debating various ideological opponents regarding its wisdom and prosecution.

“Europe’s 9/11” examines homegrown terrorism in Europe, while “Faith Without Fear” profiles Muslim dissident Irshad Manji, whose outspoken criticism of religious extremism has subjected her to death threats. “The Brotherhood,” meanwhile, investigates whether a Muslim organization is sponsoring terrorism, and “Security Versus Liberty” tackles a hot-button issue Ted Koppel already dissected for Discovery Channel — namely, the balance between security and civil liberties.

Few viewersare likely to devote an entire week to this immersion course, but the hope prevails that key moments will sink in — such as the indelible sequence where a soldier discusses an older Iraqi man whose son was accidentally slain chanting, “Just kill me now” through his sobs.

PBS might not win any ratings battles by wallpapering its lineup with sobering analysis of Iraq and terrorism for a solid week — and potentially exposes itself to renewed assault for a perceived liberal (or more accurately, anti-Bush administration) tilt. By doing so, however, the service is fulfilling its mandate to broadcast in the public’s interest, at a time when that is too-often blithely associated with whatever interests the public.

America at a Crossroads

PBS, Sun.-Sat., April 15-20, 9 p.m.

Production: Presented by WETA Washington and developed by the Corp. for Public Broadcasting. Executive producers, Jeff Bieber, Dalton Delan; series producer, Leo Eaton. Executive producers: "Jihad: The Men and Ideas Behind Al Qaeda," Clive Syddall; "Warriors," Karl Zinsmeister, Ann Zinsmeister; "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," Tom Yellin; "Gangs of Iraq," Sherry Jones, David Fanning; "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom" and "Europe's 9/11," Phil Craig; "Faith Without Fear," Gordon Henderson; "Struggle for the Soul of Islam: Inside Indonesia," Ann Derry; "Security Versus Liberty: The Other War," Jennifer Lawson, Lisa Zeff; "The Brotherhood," Steve Hewlett; "The Muslim Americans," Susan Mills.

Crew: Running Time: 12 HOURS

Cast: Host: Robert MacNeil.

More TV

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Norman Reedus and Ryan Hurst'The Walking

    Norman Reedus on 'The Walking Dead' Without Andrew Lincoln: 'He's With Me Every Day'

    After saying goodbye to most of the original cast on “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus still feels his former co-stars with him during each episode. “I’ve seen so many people come and go,” he said during a “Walking Dead” panel on Friday at PaleyFest. “Right now on the show, the ghosts of all those guys [...]

  • Series Mania: De Mensen, Reel One

    Series Mania: First Details on Co-Pro Pitching Project 'Capturing Big Mouth' (EXCLUSIVE)

    LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth. The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Make Progress in Contract Talks, No Blackout After Deadline Passes

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives went down to the wire Friday on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. The companies stayed in talks past the midnight Eastern contract expiration and the channels stayed up on AT&T’s platforms. Sources indicated early Saturday that the threat of a blackout had been averted. [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating show in which a group of singles will check into a tropical resort and compete to check [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content