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When you think of Discovery, you probably think of the insane number of reality shows the network has aired, or the educational-driven programming such as Mythbusters and the plethora of documentaries that have come and gone. But soon, audiences will be talking about Harley and the Davidsons, Discovery's long-anticipated return to scripted drama. Far more fun than a history class, Harley and the Davidsons is a rowdy and interesting ride through the early days of an iconic American company with a legacy known by all.
Based on actual events, Harley and the Davidsons centers on the men who would go on to create the somewhat titular motorcycle empire, and the uphill climb to get there that not even wheels and engines could make any easier. We have the brains in engineer William S. Harley, played by Robert "Bizzaro Leonardo DiCaprio" Aramayo (who was Game of Thrones' Young Ned), and salesman Arthur Davidson, played by Bug Hall (Alfalfa from Little Rascals). Michiel Huisman, also of Game of Thrones fame, plays Arthur's brother Walter, who brought the early finances and also did most of the product testing by way of races. EastEnders star Daniel Coonan plays the fourth founder, William A. Davidson, a foreman who worked with the actual machinery.
As you can imagine, it wasn't the easiest thing in the world for these men to get this business of the ground, and Harley and the Davidsons tackles both the design and function hurdles that faced them as they attempted to make their product bigger and better. These guys needed to display endlessly stubborn ambition every step of the way as they pushed to rise above the competition. Not to mention patience and more patience, as failures in this field don't often lead to the funnest conversations.
And while I don't mean to inject a negative point in here, the biggest weakness with the feature-length first installment (the only one available for review purposes) is that so much information and time breezes by that some scenes come off as clumsy info-dumps. This one installment could easily be stretched out into half of the normal 13-episode cable season, with more attention given to the many different characters and situations. Perhaps that's more a reflection on modern TV and my own habits, though, than a fault of Harley and the Davidsons, but the abundance of narrative points the miniseries needs to hit does a disservice to the characters' depth at times. But not all the time.
From the bad to the good, I can go no longer without talking up the best part of Harley: the motorcycles. I'm not a vehicle enthusiast by any means, but I do have a deep appreciation for the early days of cars and motorcycles, and you can tell a lot of work went into designing and fabricating a host of prototypical bikes. They're made to look as bare bones and simple as they did at the time while also keeping the actors and stuntmen safe enough for all the riding scenes. This same crew needs to give the same treatment to Chevrolet.
Speaking of the riding scenes, there are several races that take place where director Ciaran Donnelly once again gets to show off his skills working with period dramas. (He's also been behind multiple episodes of shows such as Vikings, The Tudors and A.D. The Bible Continues, among many others.) We live in a world where seven Fast and Furious movies exist, and still Harley and the Davidson's races are exhilarating and knuckle-biting, largely because they're relatively unfamiliar vehicles with all the safety features of a flaming bag of bottle rockets. Accidents do happen, as you might imagine, and they're not pretty.
Harley and the Davidsons was written by the talented trio of Evan Wright (Generation Kill, The Man in the High Castle), Nick Schenk (Gran Torino, Narcos) and Seth Fisher (Saints & Strangers, Blumenthal), all of whom are also executive producers. The extensive cast also includes Stephen Rider (Daredevil), Gabriel Luna (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow), Dougray Scott (Fear the Walking Dead), Annie Read (Awkward) and more. This is a talented bunch, and some of them rock solid mustaches.
Not as hard-hitting a biopic as some we've seen on the big screen in recent years, Harley and the Davidsons refreshingly doesn't dwell in the misery and downfalls of its characters. It's an inspirational and adventurous journey to find the American Dream, with a hopeful tone absent from many cable shows these days. (Call it the anti-Sons of Anarchy if you have to.) Coming just less than three years after Klondike, Discovery's first foray into scripted fare, this new miniseries is definite proof that the network has the talent and the know-how to be a major player in the original programming game. But next time, we need way more than just three episodes.
Harley and the Davidsons is set to debut on Discovery on Monday, September 5, at 9:00 p.m. ET, with the second two installments set to air on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the same start time. Expect the ratings to be massive. For everything else coming to TV later this year, check out our fall premiere schedule.
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