- Bill Paxton (center) stars as Sam Houston in the new miniseries Texas Rising.
After the less-than-impressive 2004 version of The Alamo, which starred Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, came and went without much fanfare, it would be hard to fault any Texan for being a bit skeptical about whether or not History channel's five-part miniseries Texas Rising can live up to the state's iconic past without giving it the same Hollywood-type sheen that was detrimental to director John Lee Hancock's big-screen attempt 11 years ago.
While the San Antonio Current still needs to see eight and a half hours of the 10-hour TV epic, the first episode, which premieres Memorial Day, starts off problematic enough to wonder if tuning back in for the rest would be worth it.
Texas Rising picks up right after Mexican troops, led by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna (Olivier Martinez), defeat Texian defenders at the Alamo mission. When news gets back to other Texian fighters, they patiently await Gen. Sam Houston (Bill Paxton) to make a decision on their next course of action against the better-equipped Mexican Army. Ready to take revenge for the deaths of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis, Houston's men are not too pleased when he has to make them retreat until they are battle-ready.
The first episode of the miniseries makes no qualms about characterizing Houston and Santa Anna on opposite ends of the spectrum. Paxton's Houston is fragile, his military tactics questioned by his soldiers. He has nightmares and spends most of his time standing on a proverbial soapbox while stock cadences play over his speeches. Santa Anna is played more ruthlessly. He commands a firing squad to execute survivors and breaks a chicken's neck. Martinez also gives an air to the character that's different from previous adaptations, which might prove fruitful. Other notable characters introduced in the premiere episode include frontiersman Deaf Smith (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Emily West, aka The Yellow Rose of Texas (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and a giggle-worthy Brendan Fraser sporting pigtails and shooting arrows.
When a grisly-looking drifter (Ray Liotta) slices open the neck of a Mexican soldier snacking on a nopal, it is evident Texas Rising isn't playing by the same rules as other similar productions. The series might be able to get by for a while with its violence, but without a compelling narrative like History's recent success Hatfields & McCoys, it could end up being another wasted opportunity to bring Texas history to the masses, and without including Moses as a Founding Father.
Premieres 8pm Mon, May 25 on History