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Arts & Entertainment
Roundup: Reviews of TNT series 'Into the West'

Should you watch "Into the West," the TNT mini-series that follows an Indian and non-Indian family amid the settling of the West? The reviews are flooding in, with most critics praising the attempt to include the Indian perspective.

But while the overall response has been positive, some say the effort falls short of its goal. Judge for yourself as the first episode of the six-part series debuts tonight. Check local listings for channel and times, as there will be repeats.

Dennis Zotigh, a Kiowa/Pueblo/Sioux man who is a historian for the Oklahoma Historical Society, says "Into the West" is hardly true to Indian people. "Historical inaccuracy, perpetuation of negative stereotypes and status quo mentality abound in this production," he says. "In the roughly 10-minutes of portraying interaction with the Mohave tribe, the Indians get drunk, the young women immediately offer themselves to the explorers and a quiet village of stoic Indians hang around camp with no dialogue to speak of. Several were wearing $5.00 Mexican blankets available from Stuckey�s and Loves Country Stores."
Historian pans Into The West (The Native American Times 6/10)

One of the more interesting reviews comes from Nancy deWolf Smith of the Wall Street Journal. She likes the Indian stories, saying they are the "best acted." "There are fascinating glimpses into their society, chiefly among the Lakota-speaking Sioux, whose daily lives (including troubles with other tribes), customs and faith are depicted with respect and admiration. We are introduced to their concept of a great circle of life, symbolized in part by the medicine wheel," she writes.

But the respect for Indians only goes so far, she adds. "They seem to be marrying whites all the time, as if the show's creators think this is the only way the audience will truly embrace and relate to them." she writes. "Perhaps the most ludicrous seduction scene ever filmed appears in a segment typical of the series' new-clich mode. A young white woman is abducted by Indians, lathered with love oil by an old woman and then brutishly pounced upon by Prairie Fire, a Cheyenne warrior whom she fends off by reciting 'Miss Muffet' and other nursery rhymes (the Indians think these are evil-spirit incantations).

"But she grows to admire her suitor after he refuses to trade her to another Indian for a fancy pelt. Next thing we know, the hunky Prairie Fire [played by Jay Tavare, at right] is reclining by the fire in his tepee, as the now-kittenish abductee shakes her Ann-Margret tresses down her bare back and coos 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' to him."
A West That Never Was (The Wall Street Journal 6/10)

A common theme among the reviews is the series' attempt to portray Indians and non-Indians in the same light. Neither side is completely glorified or vilified, says Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times. "Throughout, there is a studied effort to flip television western clich�s: The first alcoholic beverage served is not a jug of 'firewater' whiskey, but an Indian drink that a tribe in the Montana Territory offers a gang of quickly intoxicated pelt traders," she observes. "(Later, of course, the treacherous hospitality is reversed: white traders pay Lakota hunters in whiskey, not guns.)"
An Old West Saga, Told From Both Sides (The New York Times 6/10)
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Mike Kelly of The Toledo Blade thinks the series "does seem to drag in parts" but says it succeeds at being fair. "Despite a few shortcomings, though, the miniseries is mostly evenhanded in dealing with a very complex story, and it's about as authentic a tale as you're likely to see about the opening of the American West," he says.
TNT plays fair on the American frontier (The Toledo Blade 6/10)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer television critic Melanie McFarland is harsher. She says the series is billed as the "Roots" of the West but says the attempt at fairness "is merely a different shirt on the 'noble savage' stereotype" and that the Indian actors aren't treated the same as the whites. She says the "Lakota characters lack dimension, emotional range and receive less screen time in episodes two and three."
'West' manifests itself as shallow 'Roots' (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer 6/10)

Other critics comment on the production. The six-episode, 12-hour series, after all, cost $50 million to make and employed thousands on sets in Calgary and New Mexico. "Said to be the largest production ever undertaken by TNT, produced in association with Dream-works Television and executive producer Steven Spielberg, it is also a lavish yawn," writes Sid Smith of The Chicago Tribune. "In the first six of its 12 hours, one can hunt in vain for some new revelation regarding the glories and hardships of America's mythic frontier."
Lavish production doesn't save 'West' (The Chicago Tribune 6/10)

Seattle Times TV critic Kay McFadden points out that TNT spent another $50 million to market the series. "The bottom line: Beware when promotion equals production," she says. "'Into the West' is a gorgeous, noble slog that unfavorably demonstrates the difference between high drama and high-minded drama."
Noble intentions can't save Spielberg's "Into the West" (The Seattle Times 6/10)

Maybe the high cost of production could have been used to hire A-list actors, suggests Miriam Di Nunino of The Chicago Sun Times. "Blink, and you will probably miss cameos by Sean Astin, Gary Busey, Beau Bridges, Skeet Ulrich and Will Patton, among others," she says.

But at least the "less than A-list" Native actors shine, she says. "More successful are Zhan McClarnon and Michael Spears a s the Sioux brothers Running Fox and Dog Star," she writes. "They create striking personas as men with conflicting views about their people's fate."
'West' side stories (The Chicago Sun Times 6/10)

Other reviews point out that the mini-series has all but disappeared from television. So TNT deserves credit for trying to bring it back, says Tom Dorsey of The Louisville Courier-Journal. "A lot of history goes under the bridge in these 12 hours," he writes. "While some of it may be a bit too strung out, give TNT credit for making the kind of historical miniseries the broadcast networks used to do that reminds us who we are, where we came from and how incredibly short our history is."
TNT deserves credit for making sprawling 'Into the West' (The Louisville Courier-Journal 6/10)

Yet the series can't pull off its ambition says Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe. "The miniseries is lousy with breadth, and woefully lacking in character shadings and distinctive dialogue," he says. "It's so in love with the idea of being a TV epic that it forgets to paint in personality details, the sort that make HBO's 'Deadwood' so vivid and Dickensian."
A mild look at the wild West (The Boston Globe 6/10)

Palm Beach Post television writer Kevin D. Thompson says viewers will compare the endeavour to "Lonesome Dove, the old CBS miniseries considered by many to be the best Western ever made." But "from what we've seen, West tells a wide-ranging story with heart and grit," he adds.
TV review: 'Into the West' (The Palm Beach Post 6/10)

Glenn Garvin, the TV critic for The Miami Herald, disagrees. "A scatterbrained amalgam of sketchy writing, choppy editing and politically correct clich�s, Into The West sets new standards for TV superficiality and bloat," he writes. "It's hard to imagine that a single work can cover everything from the Gold Rush to the Civil War, the Pony Express to the transcontinental railroad, and still manage to be so utterly uninteresting."
An epic story reduced to tedium and clich�s (The Miami Herald 6/10)

So what's the bottom line, according to Mike McDaniel of The Houston Chronicle? At 12 hours, it's really long. "It's not a masterpiece but worth watching," he concludes.
Get ready to settle in for Into the West (The Houston Chronicle 6/10)

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