FEB 17, 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS: TNG (1978) Part 1: 1880-1883
Welcome back, Roots! Part of the fear of doing a sequel to an iconic film or television show is that the followup product won’t be able to recapture the magic of the original. In the case of Roots: The Next Generation, that fear appeared to be unfounded. Although it went through some vast changes from the original miniseries, the first episode was very much in the spirit of the original series.
The new Roots picks up in the 1880s, with the descendants of Kunta Kinte now living in Tennessee. I was wondering if they would be able to tell a compelling narrative to continue the story along after slavery was defunct, seeing as that element was the biggest part of the original miniseries. The first episode of Roots: TNG is much quieter and low key than the later Roots episodes, but in some ways its better, since the story is more personal. It’s also someone more grounded than the over-the-top dramatic escape and “happily ever after” wrap up of the previous miniseries.
The actors were very well cast in this episode. Georg Stanford Brown reprises his role as Tom Harvey from the previous miniseries; whereas a new (age appropriate) actor plays his father Chicken George, who dies at the age of 83 in this episode after injuries sustained from falling into a fire. Some other reviews I’ve read online complained that Tom Harvey seemed out of character in this installment compared to the way he behaved in the previous miniseries. However, I saw no inconsistency in the two versions of Tom Harvey, and chalked up this version’s attitude to the fact the character had gotten older and more cynical. Other characters even call out Harvey for hypocrisy, when he forbids his daughter from getting engaged to a light-skinned black man who can pass for white, even though Harvey’s own father was half white.
One scene that was particularly blunt but likely realistic for this time period is when a white man in town falls in love with the local black schoolteacher and insists on marrying her. His father disowns his son, and looks like he is about to break out in tears as he refuses to even make eye contact with his son, telling him “You are now a nigger”. The father still maintains his humanity though, and promises his son, “No harm will come to you, or… the woman”. Given that the story takes place in the late 1800s, I could imagine such a scenario actually occurring.
Roots: The Next Generation starts off slowly and takes a white to engage the audience, but once it gets you invested in its characters, it grabs the audience and makes you curious what will happen next. In many ways, this was exactly why the original Roots worked so well. This particular episode didn’t have anything especially exciting happen, but it was a story that was worth seeing, and I am eager to find out what happens next.
*** out of ****