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Series: John Adams
"I'm just Farmer John..."

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy."

2008 US HBO's Mini Series about the life of John Adams, second President of the United States, from his defense of the soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre in 1770 to his death in 1826. Shown in seven parts.

Two major themes stand out throughout this work: "Behind every great man is a great woman" and "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

Nominated for 23 Emmy Awards, it won 13 of them, setting a record for most wins by a single series in a single year.

An excellent series, with brilliant performances from Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.


This mini series contains examples of:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, we do have Thomas Jefferson to thank for the swivel chair.
  • The American Revolution: Well, obviously. Key moments of the Revolution or their aftermath are shown throughout the series including the Boston Massacre, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Declaration of Independence and many others.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Charles to John Quincy.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The prestige gained by Washington as the main general of the Continental Army makes him a virtually uncontested candidate for the first presidency, much to Adams' chagrin.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Or rather, Awesome Moment of Swearing In. George Washington becoming the first president is truly a sight to behold. From the other Founding Fathers gathering behind him to walking towards the balcony where the audience hears the buzz of a crowd until a woman shouts "There he is!" and thousands of people cheer as Washington appears to take his oath. "God bless George Washington! President of the United States!"
    • Though Washington does deflate the mood a bit with his soft-spoken taking of the oath, forcing everyone to lean forward.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Adams, to a degree while representing America in France. Franklin eventually gets him removed because of it. Ambassador Genet while whipping up support for the French in America is very much this.
  • Bald of Awesome: John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
  • Bilingual Bonus: John Adams gets confronted with both French and Dutch during his stay in Europe. That he does not speak a word of French is greatly hilarious to the French king.
  • California Doubling: The show takes place in various parts of colonial United States, including Philadelphia and Boston. However, the entire mini-series (save the the European scenes) was shot in Virginia.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Charles does this to John in "Unite or Die," when he describes their lack of contact when John and Abigail were in Europe.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Some members of Congress still feel loyalty towards the king, though grieved by him.
  • Contrived Coincidence: More like remarkable coincidence, Adams and Jefferson did die the same day and exactly 50 years after the The Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • Cool Old Guy: Dr. Benjamin Franklin, natch.
  • Courtroom Antics: John Adams when defending the British Soldiers after the Boston Massacre.
  • Culture Clash: Funnily enough not as strongly between enemies US and UK. John and Abigail Adams seem more baffled by the land of their allies, France.
  • Daddy's Girl: Nabby.
  • Dan Browned: Some minor historical inaccuracies, but...
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Vive la France, baby.
  • Deadpan Snarker: George Washington certainly had his moments. And in general this was sort of Ben Franklin's thing.
  • The Dutiful Son: John Quincy.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Benjamin Franklin succeeds in Adams toning down his obnoxiousness... a little.
  • Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: A rare aversion. Every character's teeth get noticeably more hideous-looking the older they get. In fact, George Washington is so tight-lipped, his teeth are never shown (he had false teeth).
  • Fan Disservice: Sarah Polley naked? Thank you. Covered in scratches? Jesus Christ...
  • Fish out of Water:
    • To say that Adams doesn't fit in at the French court is an understatement.
    • Adams' meeting with George III, in all its awkwardness, surely counts as an example. Behold.
  • The French Revolution: Causes a lot of problems during Washington's presidency.
  • General Ripper: Alexander Hamilton. The enemy X is Revolutionary France.
  • The Good Chancellor: Adams to Washington during his time as vice-president.
  • Happily Married: John and Abigail Adams. A stark contrast to the French court.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Alexander Hamilton. Here he doesn't get much screen time, but what little he does have makes him look like Adolf Hitler mixed with Otto Von Bismarck. In reality he was philosophically conservative, a militarist, and a big government fan, but he was also one of the most senior American revolutionaries and had some very good reasons for advocating war preparation against Revolutionary France's flouting of American neutrality.
    • His idea for the nation to take on a degree of debt and pay it off to give America decent credit is generally Vindicated by History going by the opinions of most historians and economists. Even George Washington agreed with him on that one.
    • He's one of the the main reasons the USA even has a constitution and he practically saved the states from the disastrous Articles of Confederation. The show also doesn't mention his strong anti-slavery views.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Adams is the one who is embarrassed when he runs into Franklin while the latter nude, inside a bathtub and enjoying the company of Madame Helvétius. Subverted in that they are seemingly just playing chess.
    • Well, at the moment they were just playing chess. Knowing both Franklin and Mme. Helvétius, the chess was probably a prélude to something else.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Adams' only response to a scathing newspaper article that hurls numerous physical insults at him:
    Abigail (reading a newspaper): Before it is too late to retrieve our deranged affairs, the people must demand the immediate resignation of old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams.
    John (shrugs and puffs his cigar): I'm not crippled.
  • Kavorka Man: Benjamin Franklin - ambassador, inventor, statesman... skank? By all accounts, however, this is correct.
  • Large and in Charge: Washington.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Mundane example when Vice-president Adams, to his surprise, is excluded by Washington from the government meetings and the day-to-day ruling of the country.
  • The Magnificent: Adams insists the President's dignity should have several honorary and bombastic titles or surnames, but Washington overrules him and sets it as "Mr. President and nothing more"
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to a certain degree.
  • Pair the Smart Ones: Why John and Abigail have such a good marriage.
  • The Presidents:
    • George Washington: Appears throughout most of the series. True to form, his influence is felt even when he doesn't appear in the episode. Played by David Morse.
    • John Adams: Naturally.
    • Thomas Jefferson: Adams' ally, best friend, rival, enemy, and best friend again.
    • John Quincy Adams: Interestingly enough, the show watches John Quincy from a young, bookish little boy all the way to ascending to the presidency.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Abigail, but only once, in France.
  • Pretty Boy: Edward Rutledge, most definitely.
  • The Quiet One: Thomas Jefferson. Truth in Television, natch, and lampshaded by Adams.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Boston Militia.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: John Adams is Red to Thomas Jefferson's Blue. Also, Alexander Hamilton is the Red to Jefferson's Blue.
  • Reunion Kiss: Actually reunion sex upon Abigail's arrival in France. Those two really missed each other.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Hot tar. OW.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: John Adams is visibly impressed when his wife puts on a nice dress at Versailles. Apparently Truth in Television.
  • Shout-Out: Several to 1776
    • In the final episode of the series, Adams is pacing nervously and Abigail says to him, "For God's sake, John, sit down". Her words are identical to the repeated line from "Sit Down, John", the opening number.
    • When John sees Trunbull's painting, he scathingly remarks that he "is no Rubens." Reminiscent of the play when he tells Franklin that the man painting his portrait "is no Botticelli."
  • Shown Their Work: Far more accurate than most works about The American Revolution. It's based on a legitimate work of history.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Ambassador Genêt, and how!
  • Smart People Play Chess: Combined with a fair amount of Squick for Adams (and hilarity for us), when Adams heedlessly barges into Franklin's quarters at the American Mission in Paris...only to find Franklin playing chess in a bathtub with Madame Helvétius.
  • Southern Gentleman: A lot of the Southern delegates—including Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson—are also portrayed this way. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina stands out though. When he privately informs Adams that his colony - pardon - state is willing to vote for independence he says that one of the reasons the southern delegates delayed for so long is that they are used to a more "courtly forum".
  • Strange Bedfellows: France of the Ancien Régime and the Rebellious States.
  • Stunned Silence: The delegates of the Second Continental Congress after they pass the Lee Resolution, making the United States an independent nation, July 2, 1776.
  • Talk to the Hand: Rutledge casually waves the back of his hand at an angry Adams and his supporters during the debate over independence.
  • Tar and Feathers: Adams witnesses a British tax collector being tarred and feathered by an angry Boston mob. Can serve as a Tear Jerker and horrific for some, conflicting emotions and all. Sure, the mob was angry over a rightly felt injustice, but to see a man screaming in agony for only trying to do his job is enough to make anyone feel for the unbearable pain he must have gone through.
  • Tears of Joy: Adams awakens after a serious illness to the news that the British have surrendered at Yorktown. After several moment of digesting the information he breaks down in tears and kisses the messengers hand over and over.
  • Vice President Who: Adams is chagrined when President Washington excludes him from Cabinet meetings. He later chafes at the uselessness of his office.
    • His annoyance at the uselessness of the office is actually one of the things that resulted in changing the nature of the Vice Presidency. As originally envisioned (and indeed, what happens to Adams), the Vice President was actually second place in the Presidential election. In other words, the guy who ran for the Presidency and lost to the victor. This was rectified relatively quickly, and the Vice President became the running mate to the President that is much more familiar in modern times.
  • War Is Hell: The first time Adams actually sees the army he created, it's suffering from cold, hunger, and smallpox.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Charles Adams gets this treatment in the series; with his father being largely absent during his childhood and teenage years, Charles becomes resentful, neglects his own wife and children and devolves into alcoholism and self-destructive behaviour before dying an early death. Not quite how history really played out, and more likely done to invoke Rule of Drama.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Invoked by John Adams to Sam Adams following the Tar and Feathers scene.
  • Woman Behind The Man: Abigail, so very much.


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