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    Monday, 28 July 2014 10:36


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    I'm a geek, admittedly, who enjoys historical, science-based fiction (like "Halt and Catch Fire") so I'm predisposed to like dramas like this. If it's well-done, I should add.

    "Manhattan" doesn't disappoint.

    WGN produces the show. I watched "Manhattan" on the WGN channel and Wikipedia lists WGN as:

     " American basic cable and satellite television channel, that operates in principle as a superstation feed of Chicago, Illinois television station WGN-TV (channel 9). Owned by Tribune Broadcasting, the channel is one of several flagship properties owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, which also owns the Chicago Tribune, regional cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV) and radio station WGN (720 AM)."

    The executive producer is Tommy Schlamme, who worked on "The West Wing."

    "I'm a history buff, and I did not know the story," Schlamme said. "I knew the story of Oppenheimer and Groves … but I had no idea about the story of the wives. I knew it was a secret city, but I didn't quite know how it stayed a secret city."

    There's a ton of production and acting credits but basically the 13 episode series was created by Sam Shaw ("Masters of Sex") and stars John Benjamin Hickey as scientist Frank Winter who is running a rag-tag band of physicists developing the alternative, "second bomb" called Fat Man. Thin Man is the main project that is overseen by J. Robert Oppenheimer and his hand-picked star scientist. As might be expected, the underdog v anointed has some compelling aspects and as the story opens we're approx 2.5 yrs before Hiroshima so the competition to be chosen as the Army's go-to team is fierce.

    The show takes place in the New Mexico desert. The site was the famous (infamous) Los Alamos and although there were dozens of other sites, this is the one most associated with the Manhattan Project which is what the series is based on.

    I'm not going to parse the scientific or historical accuracy of the show. Purposeless. As a clue, no scientists named Frank Winter (or most of the other scientists) exists that I could find but Oppenheimer (actor Daniel Ondon) was real so it's obvious the producers are cherry-picking what they want and fictionalizing/compositing (based on fact) the rest.

    In the opening of the pilot, the Frank Winter character (looking quite crazed and a bit Speilbergish in that he's is hitting golf balls into the desert, at night, with gale winds blowing sand and howling around him. He has an AHA! moment and drives hell bent for leather back to the lab where he overruns his mentor, actor Daniel Stern, to show him what the golf ball taught him.  

    Then, a new scientist Charlie (Ashley Zuckerman) arrives with his young family to long line of soldiers tearing cars apart and people everywhere is controlled chaos. This particular narrative device has a similar feel to "The Unit" pilot where there's a definite fish-out-of-water/intrusive-in-our-lives feel when the "new guy" arrives with his family. The wives of the already installed scientists visit (intrude,) Charlie's wife objects to all the intrusions and restrictions in their lives and wants to move back to NYC, etc. and Charlie can't tell her why this work is so important. The base (like in "The Unit") is a city in and of itself with stores, and laundries and schools...and lice. Well, that's different. Yes, the kids contract lice as soon as the show opens and all look like "little convicts" with their shaved heads. And, then the new scientist's wife spots a woman brazenly washing herself (nude) in an open window which portends some interesting conflicts ahead.

    Crazy scientists, golf balls in the desert, lice outbreaks, and naked women in windows - yeah, I'm in. Again, some of it rings like the pilot of "The Unit" but there's enough differences to make it fun and interesting.

    Especially good were the setups to the conflicts that we can anticipate. As mentioned, the naked woman in the window - what's happening there? A bordello perhaps? Charlie, the young scientist who is some sort of genius that has everyone else in awe. Charlie's team - because the team he was chosen for is the A-team but he has history with the Frank Winter character and you just know that's coming to a head at some point. In fact, to my mind, this was one of the more compelling anticipated conflicts.  

    manhattan cast

    Winter had refused to pass Charlie's peer-reviewed paper when he was in school because he said "it wasn't new."  You can tell this bothers Charlie and will lead to many more encounters.  I'm hoping that what this means is that Charlie jumps teams and somehow goes to work for Winter.  There's that underdog vs anointed thing.

    Frank Winter's team, despite having superior science, is broken up in the opening ep despite that he and his physicists come up with a way to bring the bomb (they call it 'the gadget') "to market" months before the other project   This is important because every day American soldiers are dying and Winter believes this bomb can end the war - in fact, they all seem to feel that this bomb is the absolute way to end the war. 

    Winter pitches Oppenheimer on his "golf ball" idea just as he is heading to Washington but Oppenheimer has already made up his mind and is disinclined to change. The Oppenheimer character comes off as a bit disconnected in general and I'm not sure what that implies but where this all goes, based on historical evidence is pretty cool; we'll see what the producers do with the storyline beyond this 1st season. 

    One very interesting side-story that I'm sure will dovetail into the main plot involves Winter's wife, Liza, (actress Olivia Williams) who is a biologist.  She's just being the dutiful wife while hubby designs to blow up the world. She wants to grow her own corn but is told she can't "because the soil is no good."   Then she finds a purple variation of a white flower growing on the base and she can't place it in her Big Book 'O Plants which puzzles here even more.  Obviously, some mutation is afoot and this is heading to some interesting moments as the season progresses.  

    SIDEBAR: Those of you who saw the 1986 movie "The Manhattan Project" (fiction) might recognize this particular story beat.  

    Jenny: A five-leaf clover. Where did you find it?
    Paul: Growing outside that lab. You know the odds of that kind of mutation happening naturally, without chemicals or radiation or something?
    Jenny: What?
    Paul: There are none. I looked it up, it's like a billion to one. It never happens.
    Jenny: Maybe you're just very lucky.
    [Paul hands Jenny a mass of five-leaf clovers]
    Jenny: Oh my God.


    There's a real sense of urgency and angst pervading the entire show as these scientists fear for the their jobs, worry about the hundreds of American soldiers who die each day the war drags on, and for their immortal souls as they create what they know will be a world-changing weapon of mass destruction. And, they are all cognizant that Hitler has a similar project to develop an atomic bomb so there's a real ticking clock here because if the Axis Powers beat them to the finish line, all hell is literaraly going to break out.

    Add in a paranoid Colonel of security who questions anyone anytime and is always convinced that there's a spy in their ranks and you have a good roil to a boiling pot that will undoubtedly create some interesting moments in future eps.

    I quite enjoyed "Manhattan" and will watch it all season. If you don't like historical fiction then you still might like the excellent drama set in the 40's where "computers" were actual women who did complex math calculations and apparently could be bribed by black-market nylons...

    Try that with your PC or Mac and see how far you get!

    "Manhattan" is on Sundays on both WGN and KCAL 9 (re-broadcast with the bad language and naked butts cut out.)

    Set your DVRs and enjoy! 


    Read 4406 times Last modified on Friday, 21 August 2015 11:09


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