THE SHOW "American Masters: The Boomer List"
WHEN|WHERE Tuesday at 9 on WNET/13
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nineteen accomplished boomers -- one born in each year of the boom (1946-64) -- speak about themselves and their times. They include: Billy Joel, who is first up, activist Erin Brockovich, playwright Eve Ensler, astronaut Ellen Ochoa, actor Samuel L. Jackson, ex-49er Ronnie Lott, actor John Leguizamo, IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty and comedian Rosie O'Donnell, who appears at exactly the one-hour mark.
MY SAY After a few minutes of this -- or at least after Joel -- "The Boomer List" nearly threatens to reaffirm that old complaint many non-boomers have about this vast demographic spread -- we're just a little too self-satisfied and a little too devoted to the word "me."
But that concern slides by fairly quickly. These are enormously accomplished people who have interesting, even important, things to say about themselves, and before too long, this collection of life stories begins to impress on viewers (or at least this one) some of the generation's enduring accomplishments: gay rights, gender equality and, of course, civil rights. Many boomers have done a lot more than talk about themselves during the past 60 years.
Certain themes play over and over. Some are tragic -- Vietnam, AIDS -- others triumphant, like the story of Julieanna Richardson, a Chicago archivalist who has preserved thousands of African-American oral histories. The film can be something of a Rorschach test too, or a reflection of what resonates most with you. (Tim O'Brien, Amy Tan and Deepak Chopra could have filled the entire two hours, as far as I'm concerned.)
Meanwhile, the two Long Islanders speak passionately, and compassionately, about ... Long Island. O'Donnell (born in 1962) talks about "the public school teachers" in Commack who "saved my life." Joel (1949) proudly proclaims a self-identity that many millions of fans have never had cause to doubt: "I'm someone who grew up in a town called Hicksville. That's who I am."
The problem with "The Boomer List" is the list, which is far from representative -- culturally, politically or socioeconomically. There's not -- for example -- a conservative in the mix here. It's as though "The Boomer List" has edited them out of the big picture.
BOTTOM LINE Famous boomers eloquently explain themselves, but the "list" is somewhat arbitrary and not even remotely representative.