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We Were Overcome

NBC looks back at the sixties, and maybe the most surprising thing about the mini-series is how much the producers got right -- starting, of course, with the music.


On the right track: Antiwar protesters in The '60s.  

If only for Cliff Gorman as Father Daniel Berrigan before he was arrested, and David Alan Grier as Fred Hampton before he was shot, The '60s (Sunday and Monday, February 7 and 8; 9 to 11 p.m.; NBC) is worth a dumbfounded look. To the radical priest and the Black Panther, add a nosegay of flower children -- Carnie Wilson, daughter of Beach Boy Brian, as Mama Earth on the Hog Farm commune; Jordana Brewster, granddaughter of Yale president Kingman, as a Barnard stormbird during Mark Rudd's tantrum of the cadres; and Donovan Leitch, son of Dylan wannabe Donovan, as a pot-addled Haight-Ashbury rock musician -- plus some post-traumatic-stress disorder after war crimes in Vietnam, and all you need to complete this Jackson Pollock splatter flick is a blur of politics and art, anarchy and co-optation, parody and self-righteousness, fab music, Tinkertoy sex, red-dwarf drugs, ad hoc class analysis, and gee-whiz Götterdämmerung.

And any docudramatic mini-series seeking to celebrate the idealism of the era, even as it wallows in the excess, could have been much worse. Maybe this one even wanted to be. Proposing to show us, from the parallel points of view of a white middle-class Chicago family and black folks besieged in the Mississippi Delta, everything that went down from the Freedom Rides to the Days of Rage, with pit stops at Watts and Woodstock, The '60s starts off as if it aspired to be "Party of Five Goes to China Beach" or "Buffy the Weatherperson."

Katie Herlihy (Julia Stiles) is suspended from high school for dirty dancing and ends up begging for food for her fatherless child in the Summer of Love. Her jock brother Brian (Jerry O'Connell), when he doesn't get a football scholarship to Notre Dame, joins the Marines and ends up shell-shocked in Vietnam. Her other brother, straight-A's Michael (Josh Hamilton), graduates from the Catholic Left at Berrigan's Loyola to the "Clean for Gene" McCarthy campaign, always carrying a torch for Sarah Weinstock (Brewster), the nice Jewish girl from the Upper East Side who'd really rather sleep with SDS firebrand Kenny Klein (Jeremy Sisto), who in his ugly turn will end up batching bombs in a Greenwich Village brownstone. Meanwhile, Emmet Taylor (Leonard Roberts) sees his preacher father (Charles S. Dutton) hosed down in Birmingham, burned down in Greenwood, and gunned down in Watts before reading Soul on Ice and starting a Panther breakfast program.

Michael and Sarah are, if not John Reed and Louise Bryant, at least Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw. They talk cute by quoting Bob Dylan lyrics at each other. They even show up at the Newport Folk Festival where Dylan went electric. But then Michael and Sarah show up everywhere -- stopping a troop train, levitating a Pentagon, getting wet with Grace Slick at Woodstock and thumped on with Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman at the 1968 Democratic Convention. As the two best-looking Blue Lagoonies in the mini-series, they're obviously destined to mate. The only hitch is Sarah's infatuation with the macho rubbish of Kenny Klein. And if for a minute you imagine that they won't be able to resolve this problem, by both becoming what Grace Paley once called "a kind of medium-level worker in one tendency in the nonviolent direct-action left wing of the antiwar movement," you have never watched television. Equally inevitable are Brian's transformation into Ron Kovic in the Oliver Stone film version of Born on the Fourth of July and Katie's naming her child "Rainbow."

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