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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts-Once Masters of Sex showed that Mad Men didn’t own the historical drama, a new surge of networks trying to retake a piece of that niche’s pie have sprung up. Some, like Cinemax’s The Knick (which I’ll get to next time) have the prestige of big time directors behind it. Others, like WGN’s Manhattan, which premiered earlier this summer, remain hidden in the seas of basic cable.
It’s 1943 in America and the world is still deep in the trenches of World War II. In Arizona, a team of scientists is working on a top-secret project that could change the tide of the war. That project turns out to be the Manhattan: the project that created the first atom bomb. Unable to discuss it with anyone, not even their families, the scientists struggle with their personal struggles and the consequences of their invention.
World War II era America is not new territory for a setting of a television series, yet Manhattan manages to make things seems fresh. WGN has developed a slow-moving, but engaging recreation of surprisingly not-oft explored topics in pop culture. The ramshackle community of the Manhattan Project is presented with stunning detail and the stakes simmer with authenticity.
This is also thanks to an extensive core of actors who fuel the fire of this steadily burning show. John Benjamin Hickey does wonderfully as Frank Winter, the leader of the team: a man wracked with secrets and guilt. Olivia Williams is lovely as Frank’s wife Liza. Ashley Zukerman does well as Charlie Isaacs: a newcomer to the facility with his own agenda. There are also a load of great supporting performances from Harry Lloyd, Christopher Denham, and Daniel Stern.
Manhattan is another well-crafted historical drama to add the ever-increasing amount of shows like it. The acting is solid, the writing stands tall, and the accuracy is polished and stunning. Though it has come out during a sudden surge of great period dramas, it is well worth a chance to delve into the complex world of an ambitious group of people.
Manhattan is on Sundays @ 9 pm on WGN.