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Boomer Bust

As someone who thinks the only good thing about the '60s was the career of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, perhaps I'm not the best person to review NBC's eponymous opus about the turbulent decade. As someone who hears a Jefferson Airplane album and conjures up warm memories of hippies being doused with tear-gas, maybe my objectivity and open-mindedness about the miniseries can be called into question. As someone who thinks that the greatest contribution the Baby Boomers will make to mankind will be when they start to die off en masse in a few years, it's safe to say that you and I would have been better off if I had just watched L.A. Doctors on Monday night.

But Monday night, all the other Vidiots play canasta, so you're stuck with me.

My sniveling hatred for the subject matter, the counterculture and most of the music to come out of the 1960s aside, I probably would have enjoyed NBC's foray into the world of docudrama had the acting not been wooden, the dialogue stilted and the storyline loaded down with clichés. Unfortunately, the producers, writers and actors of "The '60s" fed viewers a hearty helping of tired bromides about Vietnam ("We didn't even know who we were fighting!") awkward expository dialogue ("Remember the last time when we were in Chicago? Mayor Daley threw quite a welcoming party then."), and -- worst of all -- sanctimonious cant about how the Baby Boomers would be the generation "to make a difference."

If by difference you mean "leave the planet in worse shape than you found it in," well, then mission accomplished, Sunflower. But what "The '60s" turns out to be is four hours of congratulatory back-slapping, a view of history through the tinted lens of smug Boomer conceit.

Big fan of clichés? "The '60s" is the show for you, friend. Take one of the central families of the miniseries, the Herliheys. One son goes off to the 'Nam, comes back all traumatized and apparently becomes a member of the Ron Kovic-Look-Alike Squad. The other son becomes an antiwar activist and spends most of the show putting flowers into M-16 with the sort of self-satisfied grin on his kisser that's just begging the National Guardsman to smash in his jaw with the blunt end of the rifle. The daughter goes to Northwestern, gets knocked up by a bug-eyed singer who covers Manford Mann tunes, gets thrown out of the house by her fuddy-duddy old man and runs off to Berkeley to raise her bastard spawn.

That's all one family, mind you. Presumably the third son, who holds down a key post in the Johnson Administration crafting foreign policy, was written out due to time constraints.

Do you dig it when pointless musical montages are used to forward the plot in lieu of actual narrative? Then, brother, saddle on up to "The '60s." The miniseries seemed unable to string together four minutes of pat, tepid dialogue without breaking into a '60s rock anthem that played over grainy footage of the Kennedy assassination or the Tet offensive or some other seminal moment.

The reason for this Time-Life Sounds of the '60s approach to drama became obvious during the commercial breaks. That's when NBC was busily hawking the two-CD soundtrack to "The '60s." Because what better way to commemorate the lasting values of the peace and love and anti-materialism than by making a quick buck off a crassly packaged compilation album?

Think it's just groovy when miniseries wrap up in a neat, tidy package? Then, stare in wide-eyed wonder at the glory of "The '60s," Moonchild. The miniseries wraps up with a big, backyard barbecue in which the slutty daughter and her fuddy-duddy old man reconcile, the hippie-trippie peacenik son wins his conscientious objector status with the help of his now-understanding father, and the traumatized veteran son decides that he's perfectly happy looking like Ron Kovic after all. Meanwhile, the one-time girlfriend of the hippie-trippie peacenik who had spurned him to sleep with a radical '60s anarchist shows up at the barbecue because it's the peacenik who she really loves. And then everyone -- fuddy-duddy old man, hippie-trippie peacenik, traumatized vet, slutty daughter, bastard spawn, one-time girlfriend -- plays a touch football game while a '60s rock anthem swells up in the background.

You know. Just like it happened in real life.

While it's all well and good to pretend that this kind of rapprochement took place as the '60s faded into the '70s, perhaps the greatest fault of "The '60s" is its failure to show the bill coming due for a decade of hedonism, vanity and neglect.

"Hi there," another guest at the rip-roaring '60s barbecue might have said. "I'm Crippling Disillusionment. I brought my friends, Skyrocketing Illegitimacy Rate, Crumbling Social Institutions and Rampant Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Please... carry on with your touch football game. We'll just wait here in the corner until you're done. We plan on staying with you folks a long time."

Oh well. Maybe in the sequel, "The '70s: Screw You, Boomer Assholes."


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