Last night I caught the National Geographic Channel’s “The Real Abraham Lincoln.” I was sorely disappointed. It had to be the least informative Lincoln documentary I’ve ever seen, taking a dry and superficial ”just the facts” approach that played out like Lincoln’s Greatest Hits. It breezed through the highlights of his life story with no real insight at all, telling the audience what happened without explaining or illuminating it.
One of the things that irritates me about TV documentaries is their cavalier attitude toward imagery. They tend to throw up any photo or still shot that suggests something being mentioned in the narration, whether it really belongs there or not. NatGeo’s Lincoln program was no exception. When the voice-over related that Lincoln went to Springfield and joined a law firm, we saw a shot of the office building he shared with Herndon, despite the fact that he started this partnership well after he moved to the capital. Segments on Lincoln’s courtship with Mary Todd and the birth of his children included pictures from his presidency. And the guy playing Lincoln was an absolute dead ringer—maybe the most convincing I’ve ever seen—but he wore a beard throughout. These are seemingly minor matters, but they indicate a carelessness with the material that bothers me.
Inexplicably, there were a couple of times when the narrative abandoned Lincoln entirely to discuss the role of railroads in the war and the development of photography. I think there was more time spent on these topics than on Lincoln’s response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, or on his prosecution of the war in general. Anyway, if you’re thinking about tuning in when it airs again, you might want to skip it.
On an unrelated note, yesterday was this blog’s heaviest day of traffic ever, by far. Go figure.