by Julian Spivey
WGN America is new to the original programming game, but its second original series “Manhattan” (which premiered in late July) is the best new drama on television this summer.
“Manhattan” is a period piece set in the 1940s during World War II in the New Mexico desert where the Manhattan Project is taking place with dueling groups of scientists tasked with trying to build a bomb to end all wars.
There is the main group of scientists led by Reed Akley (David Harbour) and the new hot shot scientist Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) that have the in with and full backing of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man in charge of the project, and the rogue group of scientists led by Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), who are the black sheep of the operation.
Winter is the prime focus of the series and is an extremely serious and determined man with no time for joviality in his life or from his team. Every week he tracks the number of American men lost to the perils of the war and knows that if he doesn’t figure out the key to “the bomb” first somebody with the enemy overseas will.
Hickey’s performance of this incredibly determined scientist has been the highlight of the show’s first four episodes and really is one of the best portrayals of madness driven greatness on television.
The supporting cast of the show has been terrific early on, as well, particularly Olivia Williams’ performance as Frank’s wife, Liza, a botanist who gave up everything to move across country with her husband for his work, and the younger Abby Issacs (Charlie’s wife), played by Rachel Brosnahan, who did the same thing. The way the women have to acclimate to life in the Los Alamos desert in the worst of conditions and under equally worse circumstances is one of the most interesting aspects of the series.
The drive between the dueling groups of scientists to build “the bomb” is an interesting storyline and one that I hadn’t thought much of in the past. While “Manhattan” is not a 100 percent accurate re-telling of history it was eye-opening to me that multiple projects were taking place in the same area at the same time and not one big group of scientists banding together to help create one bomb. It’s interesting to know that there probably was some competition and even dislike among the group of scientists basically pitting their brains against each other, as the series shows us.
“Manhattan,” being a period piece (which don’t seem to interest many television viewers for some reason unbeknownst to me) and on a network that is just starting out with original dramatic fare might not be a series that is being seen by many, it’s premiere drew under a million viewers, but it’s honestly one of the more interesting dramatizations currently on television, especially basic cable.
If you’re not paying attention then you’re truly missing out. The series airs at 9 p.m. on Sundays and you can catch up on the show by viewing its first four episodes on Hulu.com.