‘Celebrating America’ TV Review: Tom Hanks Hosted Biden Inauguration Special Proves A Solemn & Successful Affair

“Good evening America, proud to be here in cold Washington DC,” said Bruce Springsteen tonight kicking off the Celebrating America apogee of today’s unprecedented inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

If you had any questions about the tone the concert special was going to aim for, the Boss’ choice of an acoustic rendition of his hymn themed “Land of Hope and Dreams” tune should have provide the answer. The Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss-produced event was more a steady commemoration than a celebration for a wounded nation and body politic.

You can put all the Black Puma, Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard, DJ Cassidy, Ozuna and Luis Fonsi, Katy Perry, Foo Fighters, prerecorded Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons and Demi Lovato you like on-screen, and please do. However,  the core of tonight was always to be found in Springsteen’s lyric of “faith will be rewarded.”

Perhaps words we need to put on the currency in 2021, along with Harriet Tubman’s visage.

Hosted by Tom Hanks, the man that maybe everyone in America likes, the semi-live special was perhaps the most traditional part of an unconventional day except for the oaths that the new POTUS and VPOTUS took on the Capitol steps earlier. Still, as much as Celebrating America was like numerous star-studded inaugural shindigs from past administrations, it was also very different.

Even with a Miami set Jon Bon Jovi belting out the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and extraordinary “every day heroes” ordinary Americans taking the spotlight, Celebrating America was also a distanced solemn and restrained affair for a nation hobbled by the Covid-19 pandemic and the jarring violence of the attempted MAGA coup just two weeks ago.

“In the last few weeks, in the last few years, we’ve witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land,” the clearly cold Oscar winner and Greyhound star Hanks himself stated surrounded by a National Guard protected DC that is more fortress than city tonight. “But tonight, we ponder the United States of America, the practice of our democracy, the foundations of our republic, the integrity of our Constitution, the hope and dreams we all share for a more perfect union,” he added, as only a veteran of such Presidential events can credibly.

Showing up in the first half hour of the 90-minute special, the newly minted President himself was even more blunt, with no trace of the Uncle Fluffy persona he sometimes brings to such occasions. “As I said earlier, we’ve learned again that democracy is precious, and because of you, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said in the temple to the Great Emancipator.

The first herself, Vice President Harris was on point too. The first woman and the first person of color to be Veep, the former California Senator echoed the President’s sentiment in her own remarks in front of the lights in memorial to the more than 400,000 Americans so far who have died from the coronavirus

Democracy may have prevailed over the pre-fascism of Donald Trump as power transfer to the 46th POTUS and 49th VPOTUS. Yet, with crisis on every front facing the new administration, tonight was fittingly low key finale of the Rise Of Biden franchise.

A trilogy that began with the hugely successful semi-virtual unconventional Democratic National Convention last summer and continued through Election Day and its Wilmington, Delaware centric aftermath. Celebrating America was full of those foot stompin’ cross country Zoom sing-a-longs that originated at the four-night DNC and remote testimonials of our better angels.

In fact, the special had many of the same players from before from the man at the top, his right hand woman to the Boss. Celebrating America even saw Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington reprise their hosting roles from part of the four-night DNC and the return of Lin Manuel Miranda.

The concert showed some thinking outside the box too.

There was the Hamilton creator and star reciting a Seamus Heaney poem and having Biden digitally join him to finish the final line. There was selections of the inaugural words of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan, as spoken with added eloquence by Kareen Abdul-Jabber, Dolores Huerta, the always hearty Brayden Harrington and Miami Marlins’ general manager Kim Ng. There was John Legend singing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” at night with an empty Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop, a stirring scene reminiscent in some ways of when the EGOT winner performed the legendary singer/songwriter’s songs at Sundance a few years back

Otherwise, Celebrating America successfully capped an Inauguration Day that started with the sad scurrying out of town by the boorish (to put it mildly) Trump and then saw one made for TV historical moment after another full of symbols and substance galore. Because, if this subdued search for a greater unity in a fractured union had a defining moment, it wasn’t from the rockstars or songwriters, the closing fireworks or even the colossal tasks facing Biden and Harris.

It was the three elders of the tribe united across party lines and generations aching to see America recover from the damage and destruction of Trump’s term and the forces unleashed anew.

“The fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country,” said George W. Bush in parsed language with his predecessor Bill Clinton and successor Barack Obama by his side in a city that hasn’t been so peaceful in recent weeks.

It’s not the first time the three amigos have been shoulder to shoulder, but today at the WWII Memorial may have been the most vital time they’ve ever come together.

“Mr. President, I’m pulling for your success. Your success is our country’s success and God bless you,” the Republican said to Biden with words similar to the letter he left Obama in 2009. “You have spoken for us today. Now, you will lead for us. And we’re ready to match with you,” Clinton chimed in. “Joe, I’m proud of you,” said Obama of his former VP.

It was a PSA for the USA, and maybe the calming medicine of a message that we and the world needed to hear.

Or to quote, Amanda Gorman’s beautiful poem of earlier today and said by the Vice President too: we will rise.

“Faith will be rewarded.”

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