Friday, November 21, 2008

New Show: Empires

Episodes: 17 full length, 55 minute episodes, broken down into categories by topic
Clips: None
Studio: PBS
Rank: A -
Sit up straight and sharpen your pencils-- it's history time!

PBS brings us a slew of history lessons, and each one is a prime example of how authoritative and well-produced a program can be on a limited budget. There is an authentic desire to communicate historical knowledge that makes the History Channel look like a joke.

The topics, each of which have 2-4 episodes, range all over human history: first century Rome, Israel under King David, feudal Japan, the Renaissance, and the rise of Martin Luther. The unifying theme, "empires," is a little weak, as it evokes military empires, which are not the focus of these pieces. However, these faithful lessons undermine the common assumption that a military empire operates in a vacuum. Instead, as the programs collectively show, military victories and defeats are often just the climactic third act in a broader cultural story, a cultural story that dictates how the military conflicts will bear out. In this context, some of the greatest battles in history become formalities, won or lost long before the first soldier sets foot on the field.

Each episode gives an overview of a historical age in a particular region, featuring interviews with historians, dramatic recreations, and long, lingering shots of relevant period artwork.

All 17 episodes are now on my queue. Highly recommended!

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