Series takes on history of 'Mankind'

Mankind: The Story of All of Us

8 p.m. Tuesday


Posted 9:45am on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012

How's this for an audacious history lesson?

In its new big-event TV series, the History channel will recap the entire story of mankind, covering every monumental event that has happened involving this little blue planet of ours, dating all the way back to the Big Bang itself.

What's more, the network will cover it all in a mere 12 hours of programming.

Which means one thing is certain: There's little possibility of getting bored while watching Mankind: The Story of All of Us, because this is a history lesson that zips along at breakneck speed.

No time to dawdle when there are so many tent-pole moments in world history to address.

The six-week series makes its two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Tuesday on History.

If you were among the 5.7 million viewers who watched the Emmy-winning America: The Story of Us on History in 2010, you know already what to expect from this follow-up.

The same production team, headed by former Discovery Channel President Jane Root, is working from the same storytelling playbook, just on a much larger scale.

That means you'll get a lot of battlefield re-enactments (one thing that never changes about man is his propensity to make war), a lot of marginally useful computer-generated special effects (visually stimulating but often illustrating nothing) and too much pointless celebrity talking-head commentary (because the filmmakers evidently were dead set on weaving people such as Anthony Bourdain and Brian Williams into the mix).

But on the plus side, you'll also get an unconventionally structured and oft-enlightening version of world history that puts a premium on pinpointing pivotal course-changing events, the sometimes overlooked moments that led to man's greatest achievements in technology, travel, engineering and ideas.

"It's not every day that you set out to tell the entire story of civilization," network President Nancy Dubuc says. "This series will redefine history as we know it for people throughout the world: how it's told, how it's watched, how it's taught and how it's experienced."

No one can accuse the History channel of thinking small with Mankind: The Story of All of Us.

Key chapters in our collective history that are covered in the series include surviving the Ice Age, discovering farming techniques, the sacking of Rome, empire-building under Genghis Kahn, inventing movable type, discovering the New World, the fall of the Aztec Empire, the birth of the Industrial Revolution, mastering flight, exploring space and mapping our own DNA.

But to tell this epic human story, the filmmakers also embrace a relatively new academic discipline known as "Big History," which attempts to show how man's ongoing journey has been guided by cosmic events often stretching back not just hundreds or even thousands of years, but millions.

This is the kind of show that wants to point out that a solar flare 93 million miles from Earth not only can melt a path for the Vikings to reach North America 1,000 years ago but also disrupt cellphone service today. This is the kind of show that wants to demonstrate how connected we all are across time.

What Mankind devotes relatively little of its finite running time to is recapping political history.

This is the wide-canvas version of history, one that emphasizes engineering, science and innovation, which the filmmakers maintain is the real story of man.

Man dreams, he discovers, he invents, he builds. He moves forward by leaps and bounds, one astonishing breakthrough after another.

From humble beginnings, man has pushed his knowledge and ability to new heights, to the point that he now creates his own environment, shapes his own history and controls his own destiny.

It has been a glorious journey. Now it's the stuff of great television.

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