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Franklin

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

Benjamin Franklin was a pretty impressive dude.

He signed the Declaration of Independence as one of America’s Founding Fathers. He was also the first Postmaster General of the United States. He invented bifocals (which this double-visioned reviewer greatly appreciates). And while he didn’t discover electricity, he did help further our understanding of it by flying kites during thunderstorms.

But as fans of Hamilton know (the Tony-winning musical about the Founding Fathers written by Lin-Manuel Miranda), Franklin wasn’t busy firing his musket at British Redcoats during the American Revolution.

Nope. When Congress realized America was (in Miranda’s words) “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned,” they sent Ol’ Ben to France, hoping the old man—who barely spoke French and had a recurring case of gout—could somehow convince the French monarchy to send men, money and weapons to aid their fight for liberty.

And that’s where this story picks up.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as gung-ho as Lafayette (yes, that Marquis de Lafayette, the young French nobleman who we get our first glimpse of here as a headstrong youth just itching to stick his sword in any British soldier he can find) to hop on a ship and fight the British.

The last time France got involved in an American conflict, they lost Canada and quite a few other territories. Plus, they’re not entirely sure they trust Franklin. After all, he was previously a proud British citizen. His son is currently sitting in an American prison for treason (unlike his father, he remained loyal to the British crown). And his grandson, Temple (who is accompanying Franklin on this overseas journey), seems to be comfortably falling in with the French aristocracy—not championing the inalienable rights of man.

Who’s to say that Franklin won’t change his allegiance again? And who’s to say that, even with French aid, the Yankees can prevail against the global superpower that is Great Britain?

Founding Falters

Franklin is based on A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, who drew from “new and little-known sources” to bring us this chapter of Franklin’s life. But how much we can trust those “little-known sources,” and how many liberties Apple TV+ takes with the book itself, is beyond my pay grade. I can’t be certain how much of Apple TV+’s Franklin is fabricated.

What I can say is that this TV-MA show doesn’t have nearly the moral inclinations Franklin says he’s keen on teaching young Temple.

Upon his arrival in France, Franklin almost immediately begins a flirtation with a married woman. It’s unclear if their dalliance becomes physical at this early juncture, but it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question: Franklin (whose wife passed away three years ago as the series begins) fathered a son—Temple’s dad—out of wedlock.

But the woman’s husband is having an affair with their daughter’s governess (we see the couple copulating from a distance when the wife spots them going at it in the garden). We see more than a few women of the night walking the streets of France. A gay man acts as Franklin’s translator and escort, helping the American to navigate the French aristocracy. And we later hear about a trans person who was banished for cross-dressing.

We’re also dealing with a war, of course. And as the series progresses, so does the violence. Many soldiers, including Lafayette, are injured in the American Revolution, often receiving rudimentary medical care on the battlefield. Others are killed in France for rendering aid to the Americans. And Franklin himself is in danger, since it would be all too easy for a British spy to eliminate him from the board, thus snuffing out any hope of French aid.

This miniseries certainly gives us an interesting look at the life of one of our most prominent Founding Fathers. But it falters in telling a story that could ever be approved for a high school history class.

Episode Reviews

Apr. 12, 2024 – S1, E1: “Sauce for Prayers”

Benjamin Franklin and his grandson, Temple, arrive on the shores of France, hoping to gain aid for the United States against their war of independence against Great Britain.

We hear about the deaths of many American soldiers in lost battles, and it becomes clear that America is going to lose the war if they can’t get help. Franklin tells Temple that they’ll stay in France until that aid is rendered or the pair of them are hanged. Elsewhere, friends of Franklin make light of how he’s putting them in danger. Lafayette says he wants to kill British soldiers because British soldiers killed his father. Franklin says he feels inclined to punch a young man in the nose.

When a man asks Temple what he thinks of French women, Temple responds that he hasn’t met any, since Franklin is “keen” on moral education. We spot many prostitutes. A gay man flirts with Franklin in a joking manner. Several women wear cleavage-baring gowns. Franklin’s poor ability to speak French results in him making a sexual innuendo. We briefly see Temple wearing nothing but a long shirt (that covers his privates) when he is changing clothes. A couple gets very touchy-feely at a party. Someone jokes about getting a sexually transmitted disease.

Lafayette takes Temple to a sort of night club, where folks drink heavily and a contortionist performs. People drink wine with meals. A young man is spurned by his father for arriving to a gathering already smelling like booze. A man drinks alcohol to pass the time.

Franklin is prone to egotism, noting that he won’t correct false conjectures about himself, good or bad. He also flirts with a large number of women, who fawn over him in fascination of his fame. But this is all a bit hypocritical since he gets frustrated with Temple when the young man begins to exhibit similar behaviors.

A man passes gas, which leads to many jokes about flatulence and bowel movements. We hear some racist comments against Native Americans (though one woman tries to stop her friends from saying such nasty things). Some people can be rude. Franklin encourages Temple to lie. People are hired to spy on Franklin and his colleagues. We see evidence of corruption in the monarchy and police force. Several people break the law to aid the American cause.

God’s name is misused once. The s-word is said once in French (with English subtitles). There’s a single use of “d–n.”

A man says he is named after many deceased people because his mother wanted him to have the “protection of heaven.”

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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