ReelReviews #99: Roots: The Next Generations (1978), Episodes 4-7

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FEB. 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS: TNG (1978)  Parts 4-7

 

Gosh, what happened to my episode by episode blogs on the Roots miniseries?

 

Unfortunately, this was a February project, and seeing as we’re now into March 2077, I feel behind on my blogging. I still want to continue to provide an overview on the series, so all the remaining episodes of Roots: The Next Generation will get a capsule review here, as will be the case for all the episodes of the 2016 remake of Roots. So without further ado, here is my take on the remainder of Roots:

 

PART 4  (1932-1934)

The fourth episode of the miniseries takes place during the Great Depression and finally introduces us to the author of the story: Alex Haley, who is about 10 years old during the events of this episode.  Episode 4 was much ado about nothing:  there’s very little plot in this installment, but it’s still a compelling story because it shows how the Haley family survived during the worst time of economic plight in America. One particularly good part was Simon Haley’s experiences with a black farmer who is quite willing to discuss farming techniques with him – except when the white owner of the farmer is around. The episode also contained a heartbreaking shock for me when Alex Haley’s mother Bertha reveals that she’s been having internal bleeding and ends up dying a rare illness when Alex is still a young boy. Perhaps more than anything else in the entire Roots saga, this tragic event is lifted directly from real life rather than Alex Haley’s attempts to reconstruct the past from folklore, and the sudden passing of his mother does help explain Haley’s interest in trying to preserve his family’s past history before it is lost in the mist of time.  A quiet episode, but a solid one.

** ½  out of ****

 

PART 5  (1939-1945)

Part 5 was one of my favorite portions of the entire miniseries, as it revolves around Alex Haley as a 17 year old trying to find his way in the world and blaze a path different than his father. Simon Haley has high expectations of him and hopes he will become president of a “negro university” one day, while Alex discovers he would rather be a writer. Much of this coming of age story is set during World War II, where Alex ends up enlisting in the Navy (again, different from his father, who was an army vet during World War I) and puts his writing talent to good use when an older officer sees the love letters he’s written back home and is willing to pay him to write romantic letters for him. This soon become a job for him as all the men aboard the ship learn about it and want similar “services” from  Alex. A lot of events happen over the course this of this episode, which is both a fun and necessary part of the saga.

***  out of ****

 

PART 6 (1946-1950)

Part 6 is the closest The Next Generation comes to a “delete scene” type of episode that is reminiscent of the superfluous Roots: The Gift in the original miniseries. This episode deals with Alex’s struggle to become a professional writer during peacetime, and it also shows how he encounters racism first hand for the first time in his life when every hotel in a white town has “no vacancies” for the night even though there are plenty of rooms and he is dressed in his full dress naval uniform. In the end, Alex finds his way to prevail as a professional writer after years of struggle, but at the expense of his marriage. Roots: TNG did deal with this character weakness of Alex Haley in an honest manner, seeing as the real Alex Haley went through three failed marriages and all the episodes of the miniseries depict him as too focused on his work to see that his home life was falling apart. A good episode, but an unnecessary one.

** ½  out of ****

 

 

PART 7 (1960-1967)

At last, after 7 episodes of the original Roots and 7 episodes of The Next Generation, this 200 year journey through Alex Haley’s family history draws to a close. The final episode is a solid one. Unlike some of the earlier casting, the three actors who portrayed Haley (ending with James Earl Jones as a middle aged Haley in this one) were believable as the same character, and this episode essentially does a biopic of the Alex Haley the audience knows, showing his writing career interviewing controversial figures like Malcolm X and George Lincoln Rockwell (Haley’s wife notes in the episode that they are “two sides of the same coin – both preach racial hatred and separatism, and Haley agrees to a point but says Malcolm X’s anger has a reason behind it.  The episode also has a frank depiction of Simon Haley being uncomfortable with his son ghostwriting Malcolm X’s autobiography, since Simon is a devout Christian and Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam preaches an anti-Christian message, but eventually Simon reads the book for himself to see the talent of his son’s words.  The conclusion of the episode where Alex Haley “discovers” his ancestor Kunta Kinte by traveling to Africa was very convincing aside from the fact that today’s public is aware that Haley never met an African “griot” that had the tribal history of the Kinte family. In any case, it serves the plot device well, and the final moments of the episode showing flashbacks of both the original miniseries and next generation miniseries characters tied everything together nicely. It ended abruptly, but had reached the point it needed to.

***   out of ****

 

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