ReelReviews #38: Roots: The Next Generation – Part 2: 1896-1899


FEB 18, 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS: TNG (1978) Part 2: 1896-1899


The second episode of Roots: TNG follows up nicely with the story threads that were left hanging in the previous installment. The audience learns what’s happened to the white man who married the black schoolteacher, where Tom Harvey ends up in his fight for political equality, and what becomes of Tom Harvey’s daughter after she grows up.


What I particularly enjoyed about the second episode is that it balanced its tales about this family’s struggles very well. While Tom Harvey ends up being humiliated by the local good ol’ boys club when he tries to register to vote, his son-in-law Will Palmer finds that the local white banking establishment is going to try and salvage the lumber mill he works at by making him the CEO of the company (a particularly effective scene since the ominous opening of him being called into a room of wealthy white men for unknown reasons leads him and the audience to believe that something bad is about to happen).  Naturally, this leads to a confrontation at the end between Tom Harvey and Will Palmer, where they argue about the best means of advancement in white-controlled town.


A few parts of the second episode veered a bit into too much 70s camp for my tastes.  Some of the scenes of the white establishment in town plotting together to oppress the blacks came across as very Snidely Whiplash type scheming, and one character that was enjoyably bad was veteran character actor Harry Morgan (of the M*A*S*H* and Dragnet fame) as Bob Campbell, a blunt-spoken cranky old drunk that is the former owner of the lumberyard. Morgan’s character was at least memorable, and it’s interesting that Roots is remembered as a landmark “black” themed television event when both miniseries had some of the most interesting characters and best actors in the role of various white characters. (In the case of Morgan, I though his character was poorly conceived but well acted)


The episode ended on a nice touch that was a “callback” to an important theme in the original series (the family keeping their tradition from Africa of holding up a newborn child to the stars). In this case, however, the scene felt a bit too “Hollywoodized” for my tastes, as Tom Harvey is not familiar with the tradition of his ancestors but is felt “driven” to do it by some unknown instinct calling to him.


In any case, I liked the episode. Roots, both the original and the sequel, have their share of flaws, but they are solid entertainment and explore an important part of American history.


** ½  out of ****



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