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Making Sense of Making History

by Kim Curtis, Research Editor
April 27, 2017

During the first episode of the new television comedy series Making History, a history professor named Chris lectures his undergraduate students about the American Revolution. “History is made by unremarkable people doing remarkable things,” Chris says. “How are you going to make history today?”

Making History: (from left to right) Leighton Meester, Adam Pally and Yassir Lester in the “The Shot Heard Round The World” episode of Making History, which originally aired on Sunday, March 12 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Jennifer Clasen/FOX

Directed by Jared Hess (writer and director of the movie Napoleon Dynamite), Making History introduces us to Dan (Adam Pally, Happy Endings and The Mindy Project), a facilities manager for the same fictional college in present-day Lexington, Mass., at which Chris lectures. At the end of each workday, Dan travels through time, via his late father’s duffel bag, to Lexington in 1775. Dan’s girlfriend in 1775 is Deborah (Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl), who happens to be the daughter of Paul Revere.

In Making History‘s first episode, Dan and Chris (Yassir Lester) climb into the duffel bag and time-travel to Lexington on April 21, 1775, two days after the American Revolution should have started. The rebellion has been delayed because Paul Revere is too depressed and angry to make his famous ride. It seems that his daughter Deborah has broken her engagement to a blacksmith and has another suitor (who, unbeknownst to Revere, is Dan). Can Dan, Chris, and Deborah figure out a way to kick off the Revolution so that the America we know today can come into being? As the characters discover, Making History asks how our actions (“unremarkable people doing remarkable things”) can affect the outcomes of history.

At face value, accuracy seems important to Making History creator and executive producer Julius Sharpe. In January, Sharpe told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour:

One of the first things we [Making History‘s production team] did is we had a physicist who is way smarter than any of us come in. The thing to me was getting to a point where people who are obsessed with the logic of time travel won’t be distracted by what we’re doing, but people who aren’t necessarily as sci-fi literate and don’t care about it won’t constantly be plagued by discussions of like . . . photons. I think the thing for us was getting, at least in Season 1, the rules as simple and clear as possible so that they were out of the way and you weren’t thinking about it and you could just enjoy the fact that they had gone [through time].1

Sharpe takes this approach to the show’s scientific accuracy and applies it to the show’s historical accuracy as well. By sticking to the basic facts and spirit of the Revolution, Making History avoids getting too caught up in the minutiae, which might be detrimental to attracting (younger) audiences who otherwise might not be interested in history. For those audience members, Making History can serve as a jumping-off point to learn more about the people and events of the Revolutionary War as well as history in general.

For example, Paul Revere did indeed have a daughter named Deborah (b. 1758). Deborah married Amos Lincoln, a mason who participated in the Boston Tea Party. The couple had nine children. Incidentally, Amos wed two of Paul Revere’s daughters. After Deborah died in January 1797, Amos married her sister Eliza later that year. In addition, Amos Lincoln’s brother Jedidiah married another Revere sister, Mary. But wait . . . there’s more! Amos and Jedidiah’s cousin Thomas was the father of Abraham Lincoln.2

Also, consider the second episode’s portrayal of the Battle of Lexington, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Dan, Chris, and Deborah decide to coordinate the start of the Revolutionary War since Paul Revere and the other colonists don’t seem to know what to do about the occupying British forces. Deborah resolves to disguise herself as her father and warn everyone, on horseback, about the imminent British attack. At Dan and Chris’s urging, the colonists position themselves in front of a barn filled with their weapons, but the colonists and British would rather debate gun rights than start fighting. So, Chris and Dan, hidden behind a bush, fire “the shot heard ’round the world,” which leads to the battle’s commencement and (inaccurately) to the first American victory of the war. According to historian David Hackett Fischer, while some witnesses claimed they heard the first shot come from behind a hedge (similar to from where Dan and Chris shot), other witnesses swore the first shot sounded from behind a stone wall or around the corner at Buckman Tavern. Ultimately, no one knows from where or how the first shot happened, but Making History enfolds Chris and Dan into the action by having them fire the first shot.3

Although Making History depicts the colonists defending their arsenal at Lexington, the weapons actually were stored at Concord and Worcester. The Battle of Lexington happened almost accidentally; the British were supposed to go to Concord for the stockpile, but the Lexington colonists intervened. Unfortunately, Lexington was hardly an American victory; seven colonists were killed, and nine were wounded. The British only endured one injury.4

Overall, while Making History includes some clever commentary of race and gender relations, its infantile humor sometimes distracts from its strengths and dates the series.5 Still, Making History consistently explores the ever-changing balance between how best to serve historical accuracy and entertainment and how best to make history accessible to everyone.

Making History airs on Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

 

Notes

1. “Making History: Why FOX’s New Comedy Turns a Duffel Bag into a Time Machine,” IGN Entertainment, last modified Jan. 11, 2017, http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/01/12/making-history-why-foxs-new-comedy-turns-a-duffel-bag-into-a-time-machine.

2. William Richard Cutter, New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of Commonwealths and the Founding of a Nation, 2 vols. (New York, 1913), 2:670.

3. David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York, 1994), 193.

4. Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride, 80, 89, 198-200, 197.

5. At one point, John Hancock tricks Chris into drinking from a chamber pot. In another scene, after Chris makes a speech, Samuel Adams says to him, “You bombed up there, brother!” An interesting dynamic, for a future discussion, is the fact that Chris is an African-American attempting to navigate 1775.