Critical Condition: Roots

Roots (TV One, 8.30 Sunday)

“The original Roots was marred by choices now seen as pandering to white audiences, like a slave-ship captain with a tortured conscience. The remake is resolute in producing credible historical fiction and presenting it through a slave’s perspective. It is also disinterested in assuaging white discomfort … A propulsive, plot-driven narrative and performances remarkable for their emotional depth and physicality keep you constantly engaged. A strong imagination for the slave experience yields dramatic richness and cultivates great empathy.” — Entertainment Weekly

Roots is emboldened by modern cable leeway and top-notch makeup work to make every lashing seem more lacerating, every blow more hobbling (but oddly, not when it comes to the old-age effects), though the series avoids ever feeling exploitative, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Amid beats of the story that are sure to push viewers toward outrage, disgust and sadness, the darkest parts of Roots are intended as learnable and teachable moments in a series that isn’t for the youngest of viewers, but will surely follow its predecessor to become a classroom favourite.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

“The new Roots is essentially a series of interlinked TV movies, each one focused on a particular generation of the progeny of Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby). The transitions can be bumpy as new characters are established and relationships are quickly — and sometimes thinly — sketched out. That said, the first instalment, directed by Phillip Noyce, starts out strongly and chronicles Kunta’s life in Gambia with a great deal of energy.” — Variety.

“This new version serves the same story of survival across generations in a slightly slicker package. The action scenes, such as they are, are rendered in a more visceral fashion. Even the cockfights of the brash Chicken George in episode three are thrilling, assuming you forget that this is a dramatic recreation of two animals forced to kill each other for sport. The makeup and physical effects are also superior. Every scar and cut is affecting … The acting is also supremely improved.” — The Guardian.

“The first episode in the four-night, eight-hour 2016 iteration of Roots is both a horror film and an action movie. Its opening half-hour is devoted to establishing the life and relationships of Kunta Kinte (British actor Malachi Kirby) and then ripping him away from his home and family in Juffere, West Africa … The producers of the Roots remake set themselves a daunting task. As brutal and compelling as their series is, it will always be in the shadow of the original. But whether you’re a proponent or a critic of the new Roots, it’s unlikely you’ll quickly shake the image of Malachi Kirby’s burning rage-filled eyes.” — The Telegraph.

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