From there we follow various characters drawn to the area, from cowboys to con men, and trace the family lineage of Lame Beaver's descendants, all the way down to 1978, when the series' end takes place. At that point, all bloodlines have converged in Paul Garrett, a man descended from all the noteworthy characters in the earlier episodes of the series ("Damn near incestuous", says Paul of his family tree). Paul is a reluctant torchbearer of the legacy of his family and of the town, but he feels he must win a local election to see that his family's values are upheld and that the conservation of the land, sacred to his ancestors, is ensured.
Even this overlong synopsis is truncated and omits scores of key characters and events, and the mini-series in turn omits much from the novel that would have made more sense if it had been included in the TV film. But then, Centennial would've been even more sprawling. It'd make an ideal cable series these days (but please, no remakes...).
I admit it's easy to get carried away with the story, and not stop to appreciate the fine actors featured in this production. Robert Conrad (Wild Wild West) steals the show as Pasquinel, though Richard Chamberlain (The Thorn Birds) is amazing as Alexander McKeag. Michael Ansara gets a more dignified role than usual as the pivotal character Lame Beaver, and Barbara Carrerra is wonderful, and looks great, as Clay Basket. The present day character of Paul Garrett is perfectly embodied by a grizzled David Janssen (The Fugitive), who also serves as the series' narrator. I've always assumed this was Paul telling the story to writer Lew Vernor, portrayed by Andy Griffith, which is odd as the novel is written from the POV of Vernor, so I wondered why Griffith didn't narrate. Regardless, Janssen's voice-overs are excellent. Other performers stand out in my mind but this blog needn't be too long-winded, so I'll just close with a partial list of onscreen talent that stood out to me: William Atherton, Chad Everett, Gregory Harrison, Christina Raines, Sally Kellerman, Stephen McHattie, Lynn Redgrave, Timothy Dalton, Dennis Weaver, Glynn Turman, A Martinez, and many more, I'm sure.
So although I usually chronicle indie, underground, cult, foreign, and genre fare, I had to make a huge exception and spill a profuse amount of electronic ink on this rather sublime and (at the time anyway) historic storytelling event, all 21 hours of it. Centennial is a compelling saga of epic proportions, yet it never feels overlong or pretentious (though there are some utterly unnecessary flashbacks in later episodes of earlier scenes that drove me crazy; the show's running time could've been clipped about an hour without those). If anyone is interesting in tracing the family trees of fictional characters (and in the Wold Newton community I belong to, this desire is common), and/ or if someone craves solid historical drama and has the patience, I highly recommend Centennial (all 21 hours are available rather affordably on DVD now).
Next: 2013 Part Ten: a trio of Japanese goodies... finally.