Sunday, August 17, 2014

Manhattan Brings It's "A" Game

With Daniel Stern, John Benjamin Hickey
Ashley Zukerman, Olivia Williams
Created by Sam Shaw
Sunday Nights 9 PM
Five Scoops of Bosco

Reviewed by Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

I speak from experience when I tell you that it is very difficult to create a period piece television series based on an actual event in history.

That's because we already know what the ending is and then you have the challenge or decision to make it relevant for the now.

Manhattan, the new television series about the lives of the folks that worked on the "Manhattan Project"   (the creation of the first Atomic Bomb in the early 1940's) seems to have met the challenge on all fronts.

The reason why the show is so compelling is that while we know that they obviously succeeded in creating an A Bomb, what we really don't know is the backstory of the turmoil, competition and personal conflict of conscience that was created in that top secret mission in the New Mexico desert.

Mission members were supposed to keep their assignment to themselves and couldn't even vent to closest family members.

The outcome was the equivalent to being in a pressure cooker.  An explosion of some type is just a word or wrong look away which makes for great drama.

Regarding relevance to the modern era?  Not since the movie/television show MASH which took place during the Korean War but was really a commentary on what was happening in the Vietnam War era has there been a show that succeeds on two levels.  Manhattan does that by reminding us that the Atomic Bomb and the horrible destruction and loss of human life that it caused can never be allowed or even be threatened to be used again.

The show benefits from a great cast of actors.  Starting with veteran actor Daniel Stern (Diner, The Wonder Years) who plays Glen Babbit, an aging scientist who acts as a mentor to the other scientists.

John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C, It's All Relative) brings a quiet and brooding demeanor to his portrayal of the lead scientist, Frank Winter, whose character is loosely based on Seth Neddermeyer, the actual lead scientist on the Manhattan Project.

Also excellent are Mark Moses (Mad Men) as Colonel Alden Cox, Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, Rushmore) as Frank Winter's wife Liza and Ashley Zukerman (Rush) as Charlie Isaacs.

Good and compelling writing by the show's creator Sam Shaw (Masters of Sex, Harpers) and Direction from the likes of Christopher Misiano (ER, The West Wing) keep you coming back each week.

Great set and costume design along with a great music backdrop from the big band era make Manhattan a treat to watch and listen from that aspect alone.  Like a time machine it whisks you away and immerses you in another era every week.

Manhattan is WGNAmerica's second original program on the heals of Salem which started earlier in the year.

For a network that I will always identify as the "Chicago Superstation" and a place to watch Cubs and White Sox games and keep up with the news from Chicago for the last 30 years, the slow transition to original programming has been a success so far.

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