Uncomfortable Thanksgiving TV, Pt. 3: Boring Pilgrims


For once, the New York Times‘ Virginia Heffernan offered a decent review, this one of the History Channel’s documentary about the pilgrims, Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower: “[It] awakened new curiosity about competing myths of origins: both the first story (about the noble search for religious freedom) and the second (about the cruel seizure of someone else’s land). For that reason, it is a terrific way to celebrate Thanksgiving and an antidote to it.”

She did leave one useful fact out: Nothing says good time like historical reenactments, and this one is three hours long. Also, note how the story here is really about the pilgrims: a good two-plus hours is spent watching them try (unsuccessfully) to set up camp in Boston and trudge back and forth across the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. It apparently took the pilgrims about nine weeks to cross the Atlantic, but watching it feels like 40 years.

Once you wake up from your second nap, you’ll notice weird History Channel oddities—like why is Squanto wearing a J. Crew henley? And why did the pilgrims gift the Wampanoag Indian chief Massasoit the LL Bean windbreaker? The big Thanksgiving dinner between the pilgrims and the Wampanoags comprises just the last 10 minutes of the three hours, but some interesting facts are dropped: they actually feasted together for three days, and it’s unclear whether the pilgrims invited the tribe or the tribe just happened to show up. The highlight of the show are the concluding quotes from the commentators, particularly Linda Coombs and Jonathan Perry of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. Their insight is sobering, touching, and like Heffernan said, worth remembering on Thanksgiving Day.

“By that act of them their coming and settling, life here was changed forever. because the life we live even today is not the life we would have made for ourselves. That life is our god given right, but we have not been able to get back to it yet.” – Linda Coombs, Wampanoag Indigenous Program

For more information on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, go here.

Desperate Crossing will replay on Thanksgiving Day at 8pm ET/7 C.