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Lincoln on TV: But Wait, There's More

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Feb. 18, 2022

Regular readers of this blog might recall that just a few days ago we previewed the History Channel's three-part biographical series on Abraham Lincoln that premieres on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 20.

It turns out that another massive series on Lincoln, Apple TV Plus' "Lincoln's Dilemma," premieres today on the pay service. It is based on historian David S. Reynolds' recent book Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times. The four-part series focuses on Lincoln and the the extraordinarily divisive issue of slavery, which tore the nation apart after Lincoln won the 1860 election.

The series seeks to make the issue topical by placing it in the framework of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Daniel D'Addario, a TV reviewer for the venerable show business publication Variety, wrote of the Apple series, "The point this series makes is that, indeed, we're hardly outside Lincoln's moment at all -- that the tenuousness and the peril of his era persist, as does the fundamentally unresolved question of race in this country."

The roughly four-hour series also emphasizes the interplay between Lincoln and Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass over the issue of emancipation and the role of freed slaves in fighting the Civil War. Actor Bill Camp voices Lincoln and Leslie Odom Jr. is Douglass.

The talking heads in the Apple series include journalist Jelani Cobb, who is also an executive producer for the series; Wellesley College Historian Kelli Carter Jackson; Lincoln biographers Michael Burlingame and Sidney Blumenthal; and Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Another reviewer, Scout Tafoya writing on the website Cult of Mac, found the series compelling. "The film makers' intent is admirable. They set out neither to undersell or oversell Lincoln and his views on slavery, or how history has sought to simplify the historical figures of the 1860s, and how the Great Emancipator was or was not an adequate moniker for the 16th president of the United States."

The History Channel's 7 1/2-hour series will play out over three nights, It is based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2018 book Leadership in Turbulent Times, in which she looked at four U.S. presidents -- Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

While the dueling epic series again show how relevant Lincoln remains in today's America, more than 11 hours of video biography can probably be too much for all but the most insatiable of Lincoln's fans. Of course, thanks to video screening services, these shows can be watched at viewers' leisure, which can make the process more palatable.

And both series are perfect for binge watching!


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