‘Harley and the Davidsons’ Review: Miniseries Tells Saga of Classic American Brand

But somehow the characters get left behind in Discovery’s period piece about the early days of motorcycle legend Harley-Davidson

harley and the davidsons

Discovery seems to be catering to motorcycle enthusiasts these days. Or at least it will be for an entire week with the premiere of the three-part miniseries, “Harley and the Davidsons.” This big-budget period piece marks a continuation into the scripted storytelling for the network.

The series stars Michiel Huisman (“Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black”) and Bug Hall (“Revolution”) as early 20th century brothers Walter and Arthur Davidson, and Robert Aramayo (“Game of Thrones”) as engineer Bill Harley. Together they work against a stiff market, race against rival machines and attempt to build a better bike that will take down the competition. Of course they also go through their own growing pains.

Does such a story really need three nights to tell? Perhaps not. The sweeping narrative could easily be condensed into a two-hour, made-for-TV flick and not lose much momentum. The problem with historical dramas like this is that the audience knows the outcome: Harley Davidson is an iconic brand these days, so there’s not much suspense in whether the trio is going to succeed.

That means the important storytelling needs to be done with characters, and unfortunately there isn’t an awful lot of that to be had. Sure, the actors do a fine job with what they’re given (Aramayo in particular is hard to turn away from), but the mini seems to put more of a focus on the actual races and adrenaline that comes from these bikes than it does on figuring out what makes the leading men tick. Sure, we see that they come from strict families who seem intent on telling them what to do, but by the time they break free from those conventions it begins to feel like something of an ad for a brand that’s always gone against the grain.

Rather than really dig into the history of it all, the series also manages to throw quick tidbits as us (before they got startup money they had to steal parts; Walter lost his property to the bank, etc.), but we never really see what bonds these guys together other than their penchant to make a name for themselves. As a result their arguments seem rather hollow, and as they go on to marry and have kids there’s a sense of, So what?

If you’re a Harley Davidson enthusiast, you’re bound to appreciate the endless racing and thrill-seeking elements that seem to be the spine of the series. They don’t shy away from showcasing those moments in their full glory, whether that means a win, fail or bloody battle (there’s one scene at the end of the first installment that is particularly emotional). In that sense the series is a non-stop ride.

But if you’re looking for something with a little more meat to it, perhaps you’re best served elsewhere. While this is a fun, one-off mini that takes a little too long to get the story done, it’s far from groundbreaking. Given what the actual Davidsons and Harley accomplished back in the early 1900s, that’s disappointing indeed.

“Harley and the Davidsons” premieres Monday on Discovery.