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The History Channel’s new special series 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America is an insightful, interesting historical retelling of ten events in the history of the United States that fundamentally changed the country in social, cultural, and economic terms.

Each segment, whose topics range from the birth of Rock and Roll to the Battle of Antietam, is written and directed by a wheel of writers and directors who take an interesting look at each event. Each filmmaker employs the use of archived pictures (as well as reenactment photographs aged and doctored to appear as though they were taken in the time period in question), live-action reenactments, visits to the locations today, and interviews with esteemed professionals and historians to give insight on the events themselves and other effects.

For example the segment focusing on the 1848 gold rush to California provides an intertwining story of two groups of travelers in and their hunt for gold via archived letters from the era. This gives the program a more human aspect and more interesting than your standard history-fare because you relate to real people who lived through significant moment in history. The film doesn’t merely talk about the gold rush though, it also focuses on the impacts the rush had on the country as a whole. The mass exodus of families from the east to the west lead to the creation of the transcontinental railroad, the creation of the stock market in San Francisco, and the displacement of native Californians and Native Americans.

The Battle of Antietam segment is a powerful portrayal and reenactment of how warfare was during the mid-19th century. There’s a certain morbid curiosity to find out what happened at the battle, and a deep feeling of shame when you see how the Northern Army was mismanaged by General McClellan. The episode also takes a look at Abraham Lincoln, quite possibly the best President the United States has ever had.

Each of the ten episodes paints a picture in a similar way, relating to actual historical significant Americans while gaining a perspective from scholars and experts who have spent their life researching how the US was changed so dramatically. The stories and information they give is all in the correct context and it never becomes dull or boring as each of the filmmakers keeps a brisk pace, never lingering on one point too long but still presents an accurate picture for you to interpret.

The series does a great job of showing how each one of the featured events had a resounding impact on life as we know it today, and sometimes the stuff we take for granted.

10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America is highly recommended for any history buff or anyone aspiring to be a history buff. For those less familiar with some of these events, it provides enough information to impress your friends and family with your newly acquired knowledge.

10 Days That Unexpected Changed America debuts on The History Channel April 9 at 9PM/8c. Be sure to check your local listings for channel number and actual start time. Also, if you want to win some 10 Days swag, check out our contest where you can win a History Channel fleece and a Relic Watch.

Episodes featured in this series include:

Massacre at Mystic – The first time the English settlers engaged in the slaughter of Native Americans after years of relative peaceful coexistence.  Known as the Pequot War, this massacre in Mystic, Connecticut set the pattern of the taking of Indian land throughout the country. 

Shays’ Rebellion: America’s First Civil WarA violent protest against debt collection and taxation practices motivated George Washington to come out of retirement to help strengthen the fragile new nation.  This was the spark that led to the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Homestead Strike – Harsh working conditions and long hours In Carnegie’s Homestead steel mill led to a union strike.  The battle fought between management and labor signaled an end to workers believing they had an ownership stake in their jobs, and widen the divide between management and labor.

Murder at the Fair:  The Assassination of William McKinley — Set against the backdrop of the 1901 World’s Fair and the dawning of the new century, the assassination of President William McKinley ushered in a new Progressive Era under the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt.

Gold Rush – The explosive effects of gold being discovered spurred tremendous financial and physical growth throughout the West.  For the first time in history, individuals – not kings or sultans – could have gold for the taking, spurring tens of thousands of immigrants to make the arduous journey West. 

Scopes:  The Battle Over America’s Soul — The sensational courtroom battle between two giants – three-time presidential candidate and populist William Jennings Bryan and big city criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow – over the teaching of evolution in a small Tennessee town.  The trial underscored a deep schism within the American psyche — religion versus science, church and state, elitism versus populism.

Einstein’s Letter – Albert Einstein’s letter to FDR that launched the development of the atomic bomb.  The result, known as the Manhattan Project, brought government and science together in a project to build the bomb and change the world forever. 

When America Was Rocked — Elvis Presley’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956, signified a whole new culture that involved teenage independence, sexuality, race relations and a new form of music. 

Antietam – The bloodiest day in American history, both sides paid a terrible price during this Civil War battle that resulted in 23,000 casualties.  President Abraham Lincoln needed this victory to insure that no foreign country would support the Confederates, and issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom Summer There was a time when trying to register to vote in Mississippi could get one killed.  When two white and one black Civil Rights workers went missing, national attention turned to the violence in Mississippi, which eventually led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

You’ve got to give it to A&E for trying something new in the way of reality shows and sporting events. Sure, Roller Derby is nothing new, and the thought of beautiful women skating around in short shorts and beating on each other should get any warm-blooded American man on his feet, but the show fails to capture most of the excitement I’m sure the matches are lush with.

The program is typically split into two parts, the first 20 minutes focuses on the two teams who will be competing in about a week’s time and how the players interact with their families, competitors, and each other on and off the derby rink. This is where the show falls into the same curse as failed projects like FOX’s The Casino, you just don’t really care for the characters when they aren’t being tested to eat monkey testicles or participating in an amazing race.

This isn’t to say the people participating on the show aren’t interesting, that’s far from the point, but the show has constantly billed them as the average-girl-next-door with a day job and that’s really what’s just outside your living room window, the girl next door going to work. The producers try to bring us into the lives of a focuses individual during the course of an episode (usually one or two from each team) in order to add some extra baggage to the win or loss, but these typically don’t increase the interest level by much without sitting down and being able to watch ever episode in the series.

The second half of each episode focuses on the actual Roller Derby match previewed in the previous segment. For the uninitiated the two announcers, who look suspiciously out of place, go over the rules of scoring points. As the match goes on through four quarters the editing makes it usually seem a lot closer that it might be, but there’s plenty of wipe-outs and girl-on-girl bashing in the latter 20 minutes of each episode.

With the plethora of reality shows on TV today, it’s nice to see something that isn’t a complete rip off from the three or four successful ones, but in all actuality, the genre is finally starting to mature to the point where you really have to stand out to get noticed. Rollergirls stands out in the fact it’s the only place to see Roller Derby on TV, but it also throws itself under the bus by underutilizing that fact and instead focuses on the everyday lives of the individuals.

The show is interesting, and it won’t bore you to tears, but like the famous word’s of The Guide it’s simply “mostly harmless.” You’ll watch it, and you might even enjoy yourself, but after it is said and done, you’ll have forgotten about it in a week if you’re not a die hard fan of Roller Derby or know someone on the show.

Rollergirls airs on A&E, check your local listings for channel,

The History Channel’s Digging for the Truth, hosted by Josh Bernstein, is an engaging program that explores many of the great mysteries of the past while also providing an intriguing way of following the information until the end of the program, and almost assures the viewer will do some further research.

Told in the same traveling style as the Indiana Jones franchise, in fact the press material is formatted in perfect homage to the adventure series; Digging for the Truth brings together History and procedural intrigue. There’s no secret in today’s television industry that crime solving and procedural shows like CSI: and Law & Order dominate the ratings (more so CBS’s franchise than NBC’s, but that is beside the point). By mixing these two elements together the program provides enough solid facts for any history buff as well as enough questions to keep you coming back after each commercial break.

In the episode provided as a screener, Josh traveled to North Carolina and the location of the Roanoke colony which saw all its inhabitants disappear in the early days of British colonization in the New World. Meeting with several experts ranging from those focused on the supposed integration of the colonists into an Indian tribe to those that believe they simply moved further in-land; the show makes a great effort to explore all the possibilities. As we approach the final part of the episode DNA evidence purports that the colonists may have passed on their lineage, but like a good scientist, Josh never states that a conclusion has been firmly reached. 

The show also provides reenactments of the events in which Josh is investigating which offer a perspective on the events in the correct context.

There is a curious recap after every commercial break where Bernstein goes over everything that has happened in the episode so far which seems somewhat unneeded, but I guess it may be necessary in a world of channel surfers, still, for someone watching the hour long show from beginning to end, the recap is unneeded and while they are never extremely long, it does become slightly tedious as the hour wears on.

All in all, Digging for the Truth is a very interesting series to sit back and watch. With Josh taking on such tasks of searching for The Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant there’s always something highly historical and attention-grabbing to be discovered. For history buffs or those just looking for a good hour of TV, definitely tune in.

Digging for the Truth airs on The History Channel Mondays at 9PM EST, check your local listings for channel and start time.

Campus Ladies is different, I’ll give it that, and the show is funny in an outlandish sort of way. Focusing on two middle-aged women, once recently lost her husband, the other recently caught hers with a women who “fulfils his needs” they set out to go back to college at the fictional Mid-West University.

The style of the series is modeled after the classic fish-out-of-water genre where the women learn the finer points of attending college including keggers, keg-stands, and Jell-O shots. Their adventures don’t end with alcohol though, as they are roped into a rather humorous contest to see who can use their condom first. They are up against their new found friends who manage to run out of luck and show how inept they are with women.

The highlight of both episodes that I was able to view was Barri (behind closed doors) getting it on with Anthony Anderson while Will Forte (of SNL fame) attempts to make a move on Joan, who’s looking for a nice guy.

Being billed as an improv-comedy makes an impact on the show, not always good though. There are times when I belted out laughing and others where the jokes fell pretty flat.

The show itself is interesting to watch because of the characters, who we’ve all seen here and there from past college films, including the annoying, whiny roommate who you just want to kill after about the first 30 seconds on screen.

The show seems to have the knack for brining in guest stars to fill out the cast at opportune times (the pilot features an appearance by Jane Kaczmarek), and the comedy is there, although so far only in bit-sized doses. Maybe a guy working at an entertainment website may not be the best to review a comedy aimed at women, but there’s nothing harmful in sitting down and watching a few episodes to see what the other half finds entertaining.

The History Channel’s Ape to Man is an interesting look into the origins of the human race as told through a timeline investigation and reenactments of some of science’s biggest discoveries in the last 130 years.

The program stretches from Eugene Dubois’ discovery of Homo erectus in the late 19th century through the Piltdown hoax and beyond as the origins of Homo sapiens come into light with the remarkable discovery of "Lucy" the oldest ancestor of humans.

The hoax, referenced above, was formulated in the 1912 when scientists were looking for the “magical link” between apes and man that would bridge the mental and physiological traits of both species into an intermediary specimen. The hoax, revealed decades later caused the findings of later scientists to be dismissed, even though they were correct. What was the perpetration for the hoax? A huge rivalry between Britain and Germany and the British drive to have the “middle man/ape” be British.

As a firm supporter of Darwin’s theories of evolution I found the program to be entertaining and informative especially to see a visual representation of the human evolutionary “tree” branching out into many directions, some ending, and some leading into centuries of evolution. The recreated footage of primitive man and ape also provides a visual representation of what many of the programs interviewees describe.

Ape to Man premieres on The History Channel August 7th at 9pm (ET/PT)/8pm (CT).

Firstly, AMC must be commended for importing Hustle, a scripted drama, and not re-imagining it for the American audience, or turning it into some kind of weird reality show. As we have seen over the past few years, British imports are hit or miss when they are redone for the U.S. The Office is a prime example of a show that successfully made the transition whereas bombs like Coupling merely showcase NBC scrapping the bottom of the barrel in an effort to create the next Friends.

Besides the commendation for leaving well enough alone, AMC should be rewarded for introducing this vastly entertaining series to American audiences. Mixed with two parts Ocean’s 11 and one part Snatch, Hustle is a fun series to watch as it manages to keep you guessing, even though you might know what is going on. The unmistakable British flavor to the series keeps it fresh and should draw in viewers of the aforementioned Guy Ritchie’s work. One has to wonder why it took nearly two years for the series to make its debut in the United States.

Hustle stars Adrian Lester as Mickey ‘Bricks’ Stone who completes a two year stint in prison for a crime unrelated to the grifting he does for a living. In the debut episode airing January 14, 2006 at 10PM on AMC, Mickey manages to round up his crew composed of Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn), Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister), Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray), and newcomer Danny Blue (Marc Warren), and entice them into one more “long con.”

The series has enough style to boot with playful editing and careful cuts as to not give too much away, but also keep the viewer entertained and watching, even though the premiere’s story is a bit on the shallow end as far as character development goes. One can only hope they focus on some of the characters in upcoming episodes, possibly giving us some story as to where they came from, and why they do what they do.

Complete with a twist ending that you may or may not see coming as the episode winds down, Hustle doesn’t disappoint providing an appealing 52 minutes of planning, execution, and a few laughs along the way.

Will watching a group of grifters and con artists be entertaining for an entire season without becoming stale? It’s impossible to say at this point, all I know is, after screening the episode running tonight on AMC, the series has been added to my DVR of choice.

Hustle premieres tonight (January 14, 2006) on AMC; check your local listings for starting time. The episode will also be rebroadcast January 20, 2006 for those who miss it tonight. Don’t forget to help yourself to some Hustle swag by entering our contest currently running on Entertainmentopia.

Need more info on tonight’s premiere? Download an exclusive trailer for your iPod Video and iTunes.