Six years after the advent of The Kennedys miniseries comes its follow-up, one I don’t imagine anyone was really clamoring for: The Kennedys – After Camelot. In it, Katie Holmes reprises her role as Jackie Kennedy, soon to be Onassis, and shares her screen time with Ted Kennedy (Matthew Perry) in what more or less amounts to a selective chronicling of the family’s downfall. It’s also a by-the-books biography that flirts with scandal while wanting to remain exceedingly reverential to the family on which it is based.
Maybe we’re all a little more cynical than we used to be, or maybe it’s that the Trump family feels like some perverse inversion of the Camelot dream, but just about everything in Reelz’s miniseries feels stale. Because it’s covering a sweeping swath of history for two (and later three) characters, nothing is broached with much depth or intrigue. Beginning with Robert Kennedy’s assassination and Ted Kennedy’s political aspirations (which perished alongside Mary-Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick), as well as Jackie’s struggle to want to stay within the Kennedy family and escape it, After Camelot had the opportunity to meaningfully track the relationship between the Kennedy’s most staid pillar and its biggest wild card. Though Jackie and Ted weren’t close initially, the two became so through simply surviving so much family tragedy.
What After Camelot does provide are some soothing shots of well-coiffed New Englanders strolling on beaches all over the world in navy blazers, stripped shirts, and restrained 60s and 70s attire (Of note: Holmes directed the third hour). Perhaps the most soothing interlude is Jackie joining Ari Onassis (Alexander Siddig) in the shade outside of a villa on his Greek isle as they look fondly at the children playing by the water. But this is also exactly the kind of arms-length worship that public has always engaged in with the Kennedys, and After Camelot should have gone further. Of the many long-suffering wives, Ethel (Kristin Booth) is sidelined early, and Joan (Kristen Hager) mostly just drinks in the background. There’s plenty of story to be mined here about the Kennedy in-laws (beyond Jackie), but instead we get a tonal mishmash between that and the horrifying decisions made around the Chappaquiddick incident (which felt reminiscent of Bloodline’s tagline: “We’re not bad people, but we did a very bad thing.”)
Of course, what you really want to know about are the accents, and they aren’t that bad. Holmes embodies the reserved but hopeful Jackie much more so than Perry feels right as Ted (though Holmes has had more practice at it). But the reality is that the material is never more than a boilerplate biopic, plodding along with a conventional set up and a schmaltzy score that tries to infuse emotion where it hasn’t been earned.
Eventually, the miniseries shifts its focus to John Kennedy, Jr., but he gets the shortest end of the stick story-wise. This isn’t really about him, and yet, things end with the pronouncement that the aspirations of Camelot died with him, which feels sloppily tacked on. It’s also a bleak and strange ending to a miniseries that feels like it didn’t really need to exist. Joan tells Jackie on one of their beach strolls that being part of the Kennedy family is like an addiction. That has certainly been true for America for a long time. After Camelot is an example, though, of why it’s time for us to rehab and move on.
Rating: ★ — It’s time to let them go.
The Kennedys – After Camelot premieres April 2nd on Reelz.