Review of Public Television’s American Masters presentation on Merle Haggard,
22 July 2010
Review written by Tom Wilmeth
I think the folks at PBS should slow-down a bit on their American Masters series. The latest entry was dedicated to the great Country Music artist Merle Haggard, but instead of a biography it was more of a hagiography. And a saint he ain’t, as he would be the first to tell you. The first hour was an acceptable if not outstanding portrait of the young and troubled artist. But in the last half hour it was made clear that Country Music was doomed without Merle’s leadership. Well shit. Haggard wouldn’t tell you that even at his crankiest.
Many talking heads filled the screen with praise, but curiously missing was Willie Nelson. Also absent was the great television footage of Johnny Cash indicating to the public that Haggard had truly served hard time in prison, although that point itself was made clear if not belabored. These omissions smacked to me of limited involvement on this project and perhaps of a hastily assembled program. Merle Haggard is uniquely important to Country Music, but I saw nothing in this 90-minute program that would convince the uninitiated to become familiar with the man’s work. And that’s too bad. Merle deserves better than the empty accolades found here.