April 23, 2021

The Roosevelts on PBS

Ken Burns has turned his documentary lens on one of our presidential families, the Roosevelts, Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor in a seven part series now available on the PBS site.

The photos, film footage and narration allow you into the public and private worlds of these three well-known personalities. All three had personal obstacles to overcome in their young years: Teddy grew up an asthmatic weakling, Eleanor ended up an orphan who had to live with her grandmother and Franklin was lonely and unpopular throughout his school years. The stories are so compelling that you forget you are watching a documentary.

The voices-overs are particularly excellent with Peter Coyote as the official narrator, Paul Giamatti voicing Teddy, Edward Hermann as FDR and Meryl Streep doing a spot-on impression of Eleanor Roosevelt. I had fun guessing the other voices which include John Lithgow, Patricia Clarkson, Keith Carradine, Ed Harris, Josh Lucas, Amy Madigan, Billy Bob Thornton and Eli Wallach. Some of my favorite historians (David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, George Will and others) also appear as “talking heads” with salient comments about all three subjects.

The series begins with the birth of Theodore Roosevelt and finishes with the death of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962. Each episode is around two hours long making a fourteen hour total for the series.

The free programs expire this weekend on the PBS site so if you don’t want to binge-watch, you may end up buying the series on DVD. Or wait for a streaming service to wisely add the series to their catalogue.


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