Some of the events are accurately portrayed in the miniseries, but others are invented — not unexpected from The History Channel. The performances are mostly pretty good, from such actors as Bill Paxton and Ray Liotta.
Like the state it celebrates, the History Channel’s “Texas Rising” has grown big. It used to be a six-hour miniseries, but now it’s 10 hours, still launching on Memorial Day.
The subject is the Texas Revolution with a special focus on the early years of the Texas Rangers, beginning with the fall of the Alamo to Mexican troops led by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in 1836.
The fall of the Alamo was a huge blow to the independence fighters, but Texan forces under Gen. Sam Houston rebounded with the cry “Remember the Alamo” and the rest is history.
First episode is at 9 p.m. Monday, May 25, on the History Channel.
It’s only partially “history” in “Texas Rising,” however, which we’ve come to expect from the History Channel. Some of the events are accurately portrayed in the miniseries, but others are invented and, at least in the first two episodes, there is embarrassingly little effort to portray the Mexicans and Native Americans as anything other than cartoon villains and savages.
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In fact, if you squint just a little, you’ll think you’re watching a John Wayne film from, say, 1960, when he directed and starred in “The Alamo.”
Our understanding of the complexities of history has evolved since 1960, but apparently not at the History Channel. Not only does the series fall back on one-dimensional stereotyping, the script by Leslie Grief, Darrell Fetty and George Nihil often eschews naturalistic dialogue in favor of oratory so bloviated, it makes “Remember the Alamo” feel like a passing comment.
Directed by Roland Joffe (“The Killing Fields”), “Texas Rising” can be enjoyed as a passable action series, though.
Sam Houston (Bill Paxton) is at the center of the action and the melodrama. After the fall of the Alamo, he needs to rally his forces and come up with a strategy to contain Santa Anna and to protect his troops from Comanches.
It takes some work to fire up the Texans after the Alamo. Some, like Col. James Fannin (Rob Morrow), defied Houston’s orders and proved less than effective leaders.
The most effective counterbalance to the declamatory dialogue is in the series’ focus on several key characters, such as Emily West (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a free woman of color who apparently had a relationship with Houston back in New Orleans.
After witnessing her brother’s execution at the Alamo, she has vowed personal revenge on Santa Anna (Olivier Martinez) and infiltrates his troops to carry out her scheme. In reality, legend identified West as “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
We also meet a couple of teenage boys, Yancey Burns (Dillon Lane) and Truett Fincham (Adam Hicks), reminders of how young some of the soldiers were.
These and other characters become key to cutting through the bombast of much of the dialogue because they humanize the story.
Other cast members include Brendan Fraser as Billy Anderson, who is part Native American; Thomas Jane and Sarah Jones as a pair of homesteaders; and Kris Kristofferson as President Andrew Jackson.
The performances are mostly pretty good, thanks to the ability of seasoned actors like Paxton to bring credibility to all the speechifying.
If every word of the series’ jingoism were true, “Texas Rising” would still fall sadly short of qualifying as real history, simply because it has no interest in telling more than one side of a complicated story. That’s not only too bad from a historical point of view, but also from a storytelling point of view.