TV REVIEW

Review: 'Hatfields & McCoys' isn't fighting for an Emmy

ctruman@herald-leader.comMay 25, 2012 

  • ON TV

    'Hatfields & McCoys'

    Three parts airing at 9 p.m. May 28-30 on History

    IF YOU GO

    Lisa Alther signs 'Blood Feud'

    When: 6:30 p.m. June 5

    Where: The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St., Lexington

    Learn more: (859) 276-0494, Morrisbookshop.com.

  • 'Hatfields & McCoys' trailer

Call it Field of Feuding.

Whatever you call Kevin Costner's lavishly promoted three-night extravaganza Hatfields & McCoys on the History channel, don't call it Emmy fodder.

There are some solid individual turns — Mare Winningham as Sarah McCoy, who loses her family and eventually her sanity, and the always-reliable Powers Boothe as the least bloodthirsty of the Hatfields. But Costner himself seems too heavily polished to play vengeful mountain war chief "Devil Anse" Hatfield. Considering that he was just as raggedly rough in Dances With Wolves, this is puzzling.

Nonetheless, the production has rounded up a truckload of reliable actors, a script that contains only three or four groaners an hour, and a Romanian location that looks like Eastern Kentucky/West Virginia only if you took a steamroller to great swaths of it.

Beginning Monday, the miniseries will air on History, which apparently is eager to show America that it need not run Pawn Stars absolutely all the time. (Rotund Chumlee from Pawn Stars would have made a great addition to the cast, though.)

There is plenty of blood and some good old-fashioned lovin', both in and out of the matrimonial yoke, but you'll want to keep a Hatfield- McCoy family tree by your side while watching. Otherwise, you will spend a fair amount of time thinking, "Who exactly is that, and which side is he/she on?" History has an app for that at History.com

Some other things to keep in mind while watching:

■ In no society, however low, is it polite to suggest that a man is carrying on an affair with his dog.

■ You never want to go anywhere without a gun and a knife. This is particularly true when you go to vote or take your son out for a leisurely afternoon of fishing.

■ Telegraphing plot points with items that appear early on is perfectly acceptable — after all, this isn't high-falutin' HBO or AMC — but, heavens to hillbillies, Bill Paxton as Randall McCoy really has to work to emote repeatedly over a button from a Confederate uniform. It means he is very, very sad about his daughter because she has gone over to the other side and he refuses to acknowledge her again, despite her being his favorite child and this button being his gift to her. (Remember: poor people, no malls.) So sad, bad dad!

■ Jena Malone, as cunning Nancy McCoy, almost redeems the whole shebang as a seductress who plays both sides of the feud. You might have seen Malone to considerably better effect as the heroine in Saved!, a comedy about a pregnant teenager, and in The Ruins, where everybody also dies but in mercifully short order.

■ When the pivotal scene revolves around whether a character — in this case, Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) — is too stupid to kill, you've got yourself a problem character. And no matter how pretty the stupid guy is, and how lovely a blond Hatfield and a blond McCoy look frolicking in a lake, it's the stupid you'll remember.

■ British actors stand a better chance at nailing a mountain Eastern Kentucky/West Virginia accent than the Americans in many cases. Good for you, Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield.

■ Boyd Holbrook of Prestonsburg plays Cap Hatfield, one of the more vicious, unsavory characters in a family packed with them. We meet him as he loses his eye to a particularly big sliver of wood. If you watched Showtime's The Big C last season, you saw him as a Russian romancing Gabourey Sidibe. Surprisingly, that courtship is not as awkward as the eye-sliver scene.

■ When your bar/brothel/house of unhealthy living looks as it has been scavenged from Deadwood set leftovers, and the viewer has plenty of time to notice this because it is the nerve center of the feud, you have yourself a script problem.

■ Tom Berenger as Hatfield uncle Jim Vance shows that an actor who was studly in The Big Chill and brutally ragged in Platoon has reached the official Deranged Old Coot phase of his career. Guess it's time for Rip Torn to step aside.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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