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March 24, 2022

Why We're Hooked on HBO's "John Adams"

Thanks to his wonderful fifth-grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Stelter, my now-12-year-old son Matt is completely jazzed about anything having to do with the American Revolution.

I'll confess, my fifth-grade social studies teacher didn't inspire such enthusiasm, and (while I've never shared this with Matt) I had always equated American history with "Read chapter 6. We'll have a test on Friday." But now Matt's enthusiasm is inspiring my own.

Mrs. Stelter made the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the battles that followed, come alive for her students. Matt would come home from school last year talking endlessly, and in great and gory detail, about what hardships the soldiers endured in their fight for liberty. (Mrs. Stelter knew how to throw in just enough yucky stuff to keep the boys enthralled.)

It was Matt who first started talking about HBO's new series, "John Adams." We started watching it as a family the other night and we're hooked. Starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, the series sucks you in from the first five minutes. (Executive producer Tom Hanks read David McCullough's Pulitzer-prize-winning book by the same name and decided this mini-series had to be made. Thanks, Mr. Hanks.) HBO also offers a free teacher's guide and a student's guide on the website, which you can download as a PDF file.

The series is definitely not for young kids. It's appropriately rated TV-14, and I think it's probably fine for mature middle schoolers. (Randy and I are pretty careful about Matt's exposure to movies and T.V., and we don't let him watch most other shows rated TV-14 just yet. But we happily made an exception for this one.) There have been two pretty hairy scenes so far — one showing a man being tarred and feathered and another showing Abigail Adams and her children being vaccinated for smallpox. (I didn't know how it was done back then. Yikes. Let's just say I'm happy to be alive in 2008.)

HBO shows lots of repeats of each episode, so it's not too late to catch up if you haven't started watching it. (There's also an episode guide, with a synopsis of each show, on their website.) And if you don't have HBO? Not to worry. This seven-part series is sure to be available, not too far down the road, on DVD. Either way, if you have older kids, check it out. Heck, if you have NO kids, check it out. It's terrific.

P.S. Here's Matt as Thomas Jefferson last year during a production of "Walk Through the American Revolution," put on by Mrs. Stelter's class in conjunction with a terrific company, California Weekly Explorer, Inc. (Don't ask how many cotton balls I glued to that backward baseball cap!)


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Love this show, too! I really needed the history refresher and Laura Linney is fantastic!

My husband and I met doing Revolutionary War reenacting during the Bicentennial and we still reenact with our kids and my husband's dad whenever we can fit it into our busy schedule. Living in Pennsylvania just 20 minutes from Valley Forge, we have lots of opportunity to get immersed in the 18th Century. I'm glad there are movies that bring it to life for folks in other parts of the country!

Thanks for the comments, traveling mom and Sandie. Yeah, I needed the history refresher, too.

Sandie, I love that you and your family do the Revolutionary War re-enacting! That sounds interesting and I'll bet you have a great time doing it.


I understand that episode 3 features ben franklin in a bath with his french mistress. Not sure if this would be appropriate for my 5th grader, but have not seen it yet. Unfortunately, he saw the first two episodes and wants to keep going.

Yes, that was definitely in episode 3. It is certaionly an issue, morality-wise. It led to Matt and me having a discussion about Ben Franklin and his history with the ladies, and I had a chance to share my thoughts on it. So watching it together, at least your child doesn't see this stuff in a vacuum.

As for what is actually visible in the scene, not to worry. In fact, they are in the tub with a chess board between them, playing chess! And there's no real nudity.

I like that Mrs. Adams gets to make a comment to Ben (in the following episode, if I remember right) about his carrying on...

You were right, nothing visible. Obviously what I had read overhyped this scene, as well as John and Abigal's reunion in episode 4 (also nothing to worry about.)

Abigail's comment on Franklin's proposals to his mistress had the whole family laughing...."An inconvenience to Mrs. Franklin, surely."

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