‘Amerika’ Over 14 Hours Of Right-Wing Propaganda Signifying Nothing

I guess it was the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan, the overflow of the 1970s political turmoila paranoia along with the fact that Ronald Reagan was elected President that many filmmakers felt the Soviet Union would one day destroy America. It was highly reflected in the entertainment of the era even though when Stalin and Khrushchev were leaders, it was more likely. Yet there was hardly much except for On the Beach and the conclusion of the original Planet of the Apes movie.

When Leonid Breshnev came to power, he was Mister Rogers compared to the savage years of Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. There was some tough times but during the tenure of Breshnev and especially Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union was running on fumes. It’s been reported that when Gorbachev toured a supermarket in America, he actually thought they had spruced things up for him, only to later realize that supermarkets and stores all over America had a lot of goods available.

By the time Reagan was inaugurated, Breshnev was 74 and he would die on Nov. 10, 1982. Then his successor Yuri Andropov would only be in office 15 months, dying on Feb. 9, 1984. Then, Andropov’s successor Konstantin Cherneko would spend 13 months in office dying on March 10, 1985. There was a joke that everytime Reagan’s administration tried to work on meeting with the leaders, they’d die.

But Hollywood was still worried what might happen. On Nov. 20, 1983, millions of people tuned into ABC station for The Day After, directed by Nicholas Meyer, and starring Jason Robards, Steven Guttenberg, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams and Amy Madigan among others. It was about two nuclear warheads hitting areas in Kansas and the aftermath. The TV movie divided many people, with some saying the destruction and aftermath as people die of radiation poisoning was too much for network TV. Others, mostly conservatives, criticized it as it was a criticism of conservative policies.

Reagan, himself, said he had seen it a month before it aired and decided some changes needed to be done to prevent a nuclear war. Yet in response, someone felt the story could have been told with a less depressing and cynical tone. Across the pond, the BBC up the ante and made Threads which makes The Day After seem like an educational video on the dangers of electricity. Reportedly, Ben Stein, a conservative writer and lawyer, had proposed an idea a TV movie should look at what America would be like if there was a Soviet invasion. ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard liked Stein’s idea, gave him a quitclaim fee for the idea and commissioned a miniseries.

There had already been a movie about a Soviet invasion and occupation called Red Dawn that was released in 1984. But this miniseries, called Amerika, written and directed by Donald Wyre, would be different, very different from Red Dawn. NBC had also made a sci-fi alien invasion version of It Can’t Happen Here that had become popular with V: The Original Miniseries and its sequel V: The Final Battle. Then, there was the TV show, for which the less said the better.

Amerika with a cast of Kris Kristofferson, Robert Urich, Cindy Pickett, Christine Lahti, Sam Neill, Lara Flynn Boyle, Mariel Hemingway and Wendy Hughes was scheduled for February of 1987 to run over seven nights. This was during a period in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in which many miniseries would often be broadcast in late winter or early spring. A budget of $40 million had been spent and many people had anticipated Amerika to be one of the greatest miniseries of all time.

And then, people tuned in to watch the first part on Feb. 15. Those who were expecting something thrilling like Red Dawn or the V miniseries instead saw something more akin to Dallas or Falcon Crest. The focus was mainly on two sets of families, The Milfords and Bradfords, who were in the fictional Milfrod, Neb. However, a lot of the miniseries was actually filmed in Canada to take advantage of tax incentives. (What says more about promoting capitalist America than using tax incentives to save money?)

To say not much happens for the entire 14 and a half hours is an understatement. There’s maybe 30 minutes of action and 14 hours of people talking. They talk about people on screen and off screen. People walk into rooms to talk. They walk out of rooms to talk. They get in cars and airplanes to talk to people. They get out of cars and airplanes to talk to people. And that’s the problem. If you’re going to make a seven-part miniseries, every part has to pop with some interest. You could slice this in half to just seven hours and it would still lack any interest.

Part of the miniseries’ problem is it’s never made clear what happened until well then halfway in. Set in 1997, the Soviet Union has been able to take control of the continental United States. The country is now divided into about a dozen territories and it’s illegal for people to own more than 40 acres of land. This is a problem with the Milfords who used to own a lot of land.

Devin Milford (Kristofferson) is getting out of a Soviet prison after serving many years. He used to be a Congressman who ran for President in 1988. Yet it’s never clear what he actually did. I like how the miniseries sidesteps putting any blame on Reagan who would’ve been the President during the beginning of the occupation in 1987. I guess it’s set in an alternative America the same way Watchmen had Richard Nixon still President in 1985.

But because his father, Will (Ford Rainey) is upset at Devin for losing the family farm, there’s tension when he returns. All Milfords have to live under one house. Devin moves back in with his brother, Ward (Richard Bradford), and sister, Althea (Lahti). It just so happens Devin was a Vietnam vet who was married to Amanda Bradford (Cindy Pickett) whose husband, Peter (Urich), is the county administrator. And he’s being primed by Soviet leaders to be governor general of a new section of America to be called Heartland.

Soviet colonel Andrei Denisov (Neill) is the one who wants to entice Peter in this new position. Also upset over Devin’s release is his other ex-wife, Marion Andrews (Hughes), a high-ranking judge in the Chicago area where she’s moved her children. Hughes’ character is one of the most annoying because she spends most of the time on screen going full Karen whenever something doesn’t go her way. She’s also involved in a relationship with a high-ranking Soviet general Petya Samanov (Armin Mueller-Stahl).

Part of the criticism of the miniseries was how it portrayed the women characters as weak or used as sex objects for the Soviets. Denisov is also involved in a relationship with a young actress, Kimberly Ballard (Hemingway). Althea is often having sex with Major Helmut Gertman (Reiner Schone), who is the highest-ranking military officer over the Milford area. The fact that most of the characters are so interconnected is all part of the plot of convenience.

There’s never really any clue of how bad things are all over the rest of the world. What we do see is that the harsh economy has turned many people all over the Milford area into homeless “squatters.” Apparently, Congress still exists and there’s a President but the President is mostly a ceremonial position. This leads a lot to wonder how things are all over the country.

Apparently, the Soviets were able to take over following a bloodless coup. There was something about EMPs detonated in the ionosphere that crippled the communications of America which in part made it impossible for America to contact U.S. forces abroad and allies to launch a counterattack. So, ergo, American leaders had to accept a surrender. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense.

Sadly, there is some action in the sixth and seventh part but it seems to be too much too late. There’s an attempt by Soviets to disband Congress that leads to a massacre by Soviet forces. It creepily foreshadows the Jan. 6 insurrection coup attempt. And there is a final revolt in the Milford area by the townspeople that ends rather unresolved. It’s never really made clear whether they were successful.

The miniseries was already controversial even before it aired. Chrysler pulled all ad promotions. Conservatives thought it underplayed just how violent a Soviet takeover of America would be. Liberals considered it nothing more than right-wing paranoia. And there’s a lot of it here. The United Nations was upset the miniseries portrayed it as an occupying forces under Soviet control. And others felt it might harm American-Soviet relations.

Journalist Christopher Hutchins said that it wouldn’t be talked much because people would lose interest and not see it. And he was right, to a degree. After the first two nights, viewership dropped off considerably. It got a 19 rating and a 29 share of American households, but that was low considered to the 49 rating and 62 share The Day After received. Some people alleged ABC of doing it to apologize to the Reagan Administration for public concern following The Day After.

There aren’t many good scenes in the 14 and a half hours even though it does touch on why some people would be so willing for a takeover. Because some of the people of Milford hate the Milford people, they’d be gladly see them fail. And Marion is a huge opportunist. But V did this way better with Neva Patterson’s character. To say there’s never a clear indication of what is going on in the rest of the country if not the world, it never seems the American military or Americans themselves would be so willing and things done so easily.

I really don’t see many of American military forces so blindly letting the Soviets take over. As other critics have noted, the miniseries relies a lot on the suspension of disbelief. It’s probably for the ludicrous plot and the fall of the Soviet Union over the next few years the miniseries fell into obscurity. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reorganization of Germany, the Romanian Revolution, the failed coup d’etat overthrow of Gorbachev in August of 1991 and then the Belavehza Accords that totally dissolved the Soviet Union, it was hard to watch it more seriously.

Even by the late 1980s, times were a-changing. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on Dec. 8, 1987 more or less no longer making the Soviet Union a nuclear threat. So Amerika pretty much became old news as the Iran-Contra Affair became more scandalous. And Hollywood decided they didn’t have the Soviet Union to kick around anymore.

Because of the criticism and the less than stellar reception, Amerika has never been reshown nor released on the home video market. Bootlegged copies can be found on YouTube. But even watching it on YouTube, it feels more like background noise and The Wather Channel would probably be more interesting.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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