Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton star in an old-fashioned miniseries
The theory at work in History's three-night, six-hour (including commercials) "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries is a simple one: Roughly 130-ish years after its bloody roots, most (many? [some?]) Americas are aware that the Hatfield and McCoy families had a long-running feud, but they know nothing at all about the nature and the depths of said feud.
What results is a lengthy litany of grievances and miscommunications that led to a series of deaths and placed the two clans and their names forever in our cultural lexicon.
Produced by Leslie Greif, directed by Kevin Reynolds and written by Ted Mann, "Hatfields & McCoys" is an epic endeavor that manages to be exactly the wrong length for its intentions, which are simultaneously expansive, but limited.
As a point-by-point anatomy of a tragedy, "Hatfields & McCoys" barely makes it past its first night before the repeating cycles of violence become monotonous, a regrettable series of actions perpetrated with vengeful sameness by scruffy hill-dwellers who blend into a bearded mass in no time. Wave after wave of "Then, just when things could have died down, this person stubbornly made things worse and additional chaos ensued" events crash down and at least for a while, all sense of dramatic escalation is lost. [Things go appealingly bonkers on the third night, but nearly all of the second night is half-baked romance and other filler.]
With its current duration, though, "Hatfields & McCoys" comes across as way more superficial than it should. The question of why, in 2012, this story requires six hours of primetime real estate is never fully answered. It's a laundry list of unhappy occurence unbound by a grander sense of purpose. If I'm sitting through that much programming, I either need to be consistently entertained throughout or I need to be left with some sort of compelling takeaway. "Hatfields & McCoys" falters in the former and strikes out on the latter.
While technically solid, studded with good performances and, as I mentioned, satisfyingly fun in its last segment, "Hatfields & McCoys" is too repetitive and too hollow to fully justify itself. It's "Game of Hillbilly Thrones" only with much lower stakes, which is odd what with it being real and all.
The miniseries has been smartly programmed for the end of Memorial Day weekend when scripted competition is sparse. In that context, I can give it a slim recommendation if the subject matter intrigues you. If you set your expectations low, it's an OK diversion, but who sets their standards low when six hours are at stake? [Other than professional TV critics, I mean...]
More after the break...