Ken Burns' Prohibition a Long, Tall Drink

'A Nation of Drunkards' is the best episode: reviewers
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2011 5:12 PM CDT

(Newser) – Ken Burns' latest mega-documentary, Prohibition, starts a three-night run tomorrow on PBS. Reviewers are praising the 5 1/2-hour survey of America's war on booze, but warn that it's a bit slow and may reveal its best stuff in the first episode:

  • "It's a great subject with many present-day echoes, as the war on drugs ever more loudly raises questions of legislated morality," writes Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times. "The drama might flag or grow diffuse, but there is still a lot here to learn."

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  • "From my barstool, the best night of Prohibition—if you watch only one—is the first, on Sunday, which looks at how Prohibition became law ... Namely: America was drunk off its ass," James Poniewozik writes in Time.
  • In Slate, Troy Patterson raised a glass to Prohibition despite "certain Burnsian tics of style." Praising the first episode, "A Nation of Drunkards," he writes that "an early segment speeds through the back story of American drinking—the booze in the hold of the Mayflower, the daily ration of rum at Valley Forge, John Adams' hard-cider eye-openers."
  • Dorothy Rabinowitz is all praise in the Wall Street Journal: "How, in the United States of America, the land of the free, could Prohibition ever have come to be? For answering that question alone ... the series would have to be considered a triumph."
  • Despite "long stretches of sober boredom in the middle of Prohibition," writes Hank Stuever writes in the Washington Post, "the epic scope of it eventually takes hold and you become far more absorbed in the subject than you ever thought possible."
(Read more Ken Burns stories.)

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