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'The Kennedys' Miniseries: What the Critics Say

Historical Reenactment
Mike Sweeney/Reelzchannel

The controversial production starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes debuts Sunday on ReelzChannel.

The History channel generated a slew of headlines in January after yanking miniseries The Kennedys from its schedule.

At the time, the network claimed the mini wasn't a right fit with its brand. Producer Joel Surnow recently told The Hollywood Reporter that it was because of his conservative-leaning political views.

Whatever the reason, viewers will finally get a chance to see what all the fuss is about for themselves, when ReelzChannel debuts the mini at 8 p.m. Sunday. Meantime, here's what the critics are saying.

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman writes, "Kennedys feels like a paint-by-numbers recitation of history and a not-very-sordid waste of artistic license. Do the Kennedys look bad in this miniseries? No, they look like cartoons, and anyone with enough interest in politics and family dynasties will be sadly disappointed by the caricatures."

He concludes his critique: "Kennedys is a hamfisted mess, both slothful in its pacing and leaden in whatever underlying message was meant to be given. It’s not the Kennedy family or legacy that suffers here, but the people involved in the project. They had better hope people can’t find Reelz on their channel lineup."

The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin praises Tom Wilkinson's portrayal of family patriarch Joe Kennedy but doesn't find much else to like about the miniseries.

"It's true that there isn't quite enough history in the series -- if there was a mention of Vietnam during the depiction of J.F.K.'s presidency, I missed it, and only the highlights of other events are hit," Franklin writes. "But where The Kennedys really fails is in its attempt to make this family -- this lively family -- seem real. Pepper and Greg Kinnear are merely earnest and blandly likable as Bobby and Jack, lacking the Kennedy spark, and [Katie] Holmes hasn't deepened as an actress since her not-very-deep days in the teen soap opera Dawson's Creek. There's no chemistry between Holmes and Kinnear; there's barely even physics -- they hardly come into contact with each other."

Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh also was underwhelmed.

"[The first five hours were ] not very good," Setoodah opined on CBS' Early Show. "It's a strange production. The characters are kind of over-the-top. There's not a lot of characters. It's not very believable. And you kind of roll your eyes at some parts, because it's really cheesy."

Variety's Brian Lowry was similarly unimpressed.

"Controversy shouldn't obscure the major flaw in The Kennedys: Not mangling history or sullying a famous family, but being painfully shallow and woefully bad," Lowry writes, adding that "the whole thing plays like a bad telenovela filtered through a History for Dummies text."

On the other end of the spectrum, the right-leaning New York Post was effusive in its praise of the mini.

"[The Kennedys] is without a doubt one of the best, most riveting, historically accurate dramas about a time and place in American history that has ever been done for TV," writes Linda Stasi.

She continues: "Despite Surnow having Hollywood's most robust right-wing credentials, the movie -- which is brutally honest about power-mad old Joe and his anti-Semitic, Hitler-apologist stance -- is pretty much the true story."

The Daily Caller, which was co-founded by conservative-leaning TV personality Tucker Carlson, posted a review by filmmaker John Ziegler, who called the miniseries "riveting, entertaining and educational" and writes that Kinnear "is simply the most convincing JFK I have ever seen."

As for the miniseries' historical accuracy and rumors of an anti-Kennedy bent --  which have been the subjects of many a debate in the media -- Ziegler spends several paragraphs praising the production.

"The two hours I saw (depicting the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis) were among the most historically accurate and pro-Kennedy examples of historical docudrama that I have ever seen," Ziegler writes.