In this rancorous political environment, America’s birthday is a chance for people to leave the verbal fireworks aside, at least briefly, and understand and appreciate what they’ve got.
TV, which typically revels in left-right shouting matches, instead is cooperating with shows that help do just that — among them an unusual documentary from filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, whose credits include 2002’s Emmy-winning “Journeys with George.”
HBO’s “The Words That Built America” (7 p.m. EDT Tuesday) offers an unabridged reading of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights by politicians of all stripes, celebrities and even kids.
As the daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the filmmaker sees the partisan divide firsthand. The especially bitter 2016 presidential election inspired her and Sheila Nevins, who runs HBO’s documentary unit, to develop the inclusive project.
The film is brief, 45 minutes, and simply executed: facing the camera solo, each person reads a self-selected passage from one of the documents. Participants include President Donald Trump and his five living Oval Office predecessors; U.S. senators, congressmen, Supreme Court justices and, among the stars, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Common.
Author David McCullough provides historical context with a spare narration.
“The Constitution is the rulebook for how this country operates” and provides a framework to assess what’s happening in government now, Pelosi said.
“Maybe if people were forced the read the document and how the system works, they wouldn’t say half the things that come out of their mouths on cable news,” she said.
That includes demands for Trump’s impeachment which, Pelosi said, don’t reflect the reality of how and why such an action could be taken.
There are a handful of opportunities in the film for determined political tea-leaf reading. Trump chose to recite the section on establishment of the electoral college. Both former Vice President Dick Cheney and Rep. Pelosi selected parts of the Constitution that address, among other issues, impeachment.
More TV options saluting the nation, in ways thoughtful or rousing:
— “America in Color,” debuting 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, Smithsonian Channel. The five-part series showcases film and photos of milestone 20th-century U.S. events that have been colorized with what’s described as “cutting-edge technology” and artistry. Liev Schreiber narrates.
The approach transforms “a past that seemed gray and distant into a cinematic experience” and makes history more compelling and tangible, channel executive David Royle said in a statement.
Filmmakers spent nearly 6,000 hours searching through archives and private collections to find 27 miles of film, much of it long unseen, which was then colored by experts in — ahem — France.
The series opens with the 1920s and includes rare footage of a Wall Street bombing; the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence; the birth of the Jazz Age “flapper,” and images of sports legends Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey.
Subsequent episodes focus on the 1930s, dominated by the Great Depression; the wartime 1940s, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor; and the cultural and political turmoil of the 1960s.
— “A Capitol Fourth,” 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, airing on PBS, online at pbs.org and on NPR radio stations. John Stamos hosts this celebration from the U.S. Capitol lawn for an audience that includes U.S. troops serving around the world. Performers include The Beach Boys; The Four Tops; The Blues Brothers (Dan Akroyd, Jim Belushi); country musicians Kellie Pickler and Trace Adkins; gospel singer Yolanda Adams; and Broadway star Laura Osnes.
— “Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular,” 8 p.m. Tuesday, NBC. The fireworks display over New York’s East River promises to illuminate the city’s skyline with pyrotechnics launched from five barges, accompanied by music from the West Point Band and Glee Club. Other scheduled performers include Lady Antebellum; Brad Paisley; Hailee Steinfeld; Jennifer Lopez; Sheryl Crow; and Charlie Puth. The telecast’s hosts, from NBC’s American Ninja Warrior,” are Akbar Gbajabiamila, Matt Iseman and Kristine Leahy.