Time and history have a way of revising presidential reputations. Harry S. Truman left office in 1953 as one of the most unpopular presidents ever. But after his death in 1972, Truman became a kind of folk hero. When David McCullough’s biography of Truman was published in 1992, presidential candidates from both major parties claimed that they were the most like Truman.
One of those candidates was George H.W. Bush. “41” (8 p.m., HBO) offers a friendly, home movie-style recollection of the life and political career of the first president Bush, who, like Truman, has seen his stock rise almost 20 years after his presidency.
There are many conflicting reasons why people are currently affectionate toward Bush the elder, but discussing them is not the point of “41.” This film unfolds like one of those packaged biographies produced for political conventions. But those hagiographies don’t run more than two hours.
Bush, who turned 88 on Tuesday, has witnessed a lot of history in his lifetime, from his service in World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union during his term and his decision to liberate Kuwait in the Gulf War.
Bush devoted much of his career to some difficult and thankless assignments: presiding over the Republican National Committee during Watergate; representing the United States at the United Nations during the contentious Vietnam era; and heading the CIA when that agency was under political attack. A child of privilege, Bush never had to be taught the meaning of the expression “noblesse oblige.”
Like most efforts of this kind, “41” is interesting for words unsaid and names unmentioned. Dan Quayle? Michael Dukakis? Clarence Thomas? Not much there. Bush expresses paternal pride in the fact that his son George W. Bush became “43,” but the psycho-dynamics of their relationship and his son’s repudiation of his policies and advice (particularly with regard to Iraq) will have to wait for another film.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Competition becomes fierce on “Breaking Pointe” (7 p.m., CW).
• A patient refuses treatment on religious grounds on “Saving Hope” (8 p.m., NBC).
• The Oklahoma City Thunder hosts the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals (8 p.m., ABC).
• Punk rockers adjust uneasily to dad status in the 2011 documentary “The Other F Word” (8 p.m., Showtime).