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Peter Jackson's Beatles docuseries adds nuance and revelations to well-known stories

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you're a Beatles fan, you might want to pile up a plate of leftovers and plant yourself in front of the TV. That's because the nearly eight-hour docuseries "The Beatles: Get Back" is out on Disney+ this week. It's directed by Peter Jackson of "Lord Of The Rings" fame and filled with never-before-seen footage of the band. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a revelation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Jojo was a man...

A bit faster, do you think - a bit faster?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One, two, three, four.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There's something magical about watching musical legends piece together songs you know will later become classic hits, and a lot of that happens in Peter Jackson's "The Beatles: Get Back."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Oh, one, two, three, yeah, I've got a feeling.

DEGGANS: Jackson spent four years sorting through over 60 hours of footage filmed of the band as they were working on the songs which would become the legendary album "Let It Be" back in 1969. And although some of this was included in the 1970 film of the same name, Jackson digs deeper, allowing the viewer to soak up lots of time with John, Paul, George and Ringo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

MCCARTNEY: The best bit of us - always has been and always will be - is when we're backs against the wall.

DEGGANS: Paul McCartney had a point. The group came together in early January 1969 with an ambitious agenda. They were going to write 14 new songs and perform them in a live concert that would also be recorded and released as a record alongside a documentary which captured the whole process. But the band only gave themselves about two weeks to pull this off. They couldn't agree where to stage the concert, and they started work in an empty soundstage at Twickenham Film Studios, a drafty space that only added stress once the group realized they were under a filmmaker's microscope.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

MICHAEL LINDSAY-HOGG: Now we're going to tape The Beatles, and I'll be quiet.

JOHN LENNON: Are you recording our conversation?

MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Jojo left his home in Tucson, Ariz...

Looking for a what? What is it? (Singing) Looking for a home to last.

RINGO STARR: Looking for a blast from the past.

DEGGANS: Still, there are the songs. Viewers can see McCartney sit down at the piano and sketch out chords for "The Long And Winding Road" or watch the band jam a version of "Get Back" with alternate lyrics that poke fun at anti-immigration politician Enoch Powell. They're building music history in their experiments, scatting nonsense lyrics until they can figure out something better, as John Lennon suggested George Harrison in this clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

GEORGE HARRISON: What could it be, Paul? Something in the way she moves - what attracted me? That's all.

LENNON: Just say whatever comes into your head each time - attracts me like a cauliflower - until you get the word.

DEGGANS: Peter Jackson has said the docuseries dispels the notion that these songs were written in a contentious environment. But while we see a lot of joking and fooling around, there's also tension both over the constant presence of Lennon's future wife, Yoko Ono, who hovers over his shoulder like a wraith, and McCartney's bossy energy. He tries, often in a passive aggressive way, to tell others what to play until one member leaves the rehearsals and threatens to quit the band.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Don't let me down. Don't let me down. Don't let me down.

DEGGANS: Eventually, the band moves to a studio owned by their company, Apple, and brings in Billy Preston on keyboards, culminating with a public concert on the studio's roof. By 1970, the band would effectively end. Jackson's "Get Back" adds nuance and new revelations to often-repeated stories which have long been part of rock 'n' roll lore. It's the perfect gift for a well-fed Beatles fan looking to while away the hours over a Thanksgiving weekend. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman, but she was another man. All the girls around her said she's got it coming. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.