Discovery Channel will present a three-night miniseries next week entitled HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS. About the founders of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle brand, it tells the story of how the company came to be at the start of the age of motorized bicycles, and how it weathered the fierce competition of the era.
Michiel Huisman (Treme, Nashville) stars as Walter Davidson, a directionless man who has just lost his farm to eminent domain and doesn’t know what he wants to do next. That is, until his younger brother, Arthur (Bug Hall, The Little Rascals), who normally is jumping from one scheme to the next, comes to Walter with a great idea. Arthur’s friend, Bill Harley (Robert Aramayo, Game of Thrones), wants to be an engineer, and has designed a motor for a bicycle that can do what no other company is doing as well. Walter gets on board, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or discovery. Whichever.
As you might surmise from my snarky tone at the end of the preceding paragraph, it seems a little strange to me that HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS is airing on Discovery instead of the History Channel. True, there is an invention at the core of this, so it’s not completely off-brand on Discovery, but it still seems better suited to a network that has produced a bit of scripted programming before now. But I guess every cable channel is blurring the lines these days in creating their own content, so if Discovery were to make the leap to scripted fare, this is probably the right place to start.
Anyway, getting back to the merits of this particular project, it works all right for what it is, I guess, but isn’t particularly memorable. It reminds me of a Wonderful World of Disney movie a bit in how sanitized the story appears to be. While there is conflict present between the characters, the roughest edges seem to be smoothed down, and at the end of the day, it’s certain everything will work out just fine. Admittedly, we know the brand found success, but I can’t believe it all happens as easily as it is shown to here. Wikipedia and a quick online search seems to back up that impression.
From the beginning, it feels like HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS is concerned much more with presenting a drama than with teaching its viewers anything. Coincidences happen when needed, the villain is a one-note caricature, and you just know if Walter is on the bike, he will win the race. It’s formulaic and predictable in a way that real life never is, and that better examples of this genre don’t fall in line with. Not to mention, what few female characters there are are barely footnotes with very little development at all.
Now, I’ve only viewed the first night of three; it might get better. But early indications are bad enough that I likely won’t finish it. In 2016, there are a multitude of programming choices, and there just isn’t time for the mediocre ones.
This makes me sad. For one thing, while not a motorcycle enthusiast myself, looking into the backstory even a little, it seems like a really compelling, better-made miniseries could do something neat with this tale. For another, the production did bring in solid group of actors, with Huisman in particular having played a number of meaty characters as of late, so I can’t blame the casting. No, it seems the story is just underdeveloped and simplified way too much for my taste. I would not expect to see this up for any big awards this year.
HARLEY AND THE DAVIDSONS premieres Monday, September 5th at 9/8c.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.