Thursday, February 5, 2015

Manhattan: Must See TV

Just a month after its launch and CraveTV --the new premium subscription service --presents a mini-series that is virtually a must see.
Manhattan directed by brilliant nine-times Emmy Award winner director Thomas Schlamme is a meticulous recreation of the top secret Los Alamos project that gave the United States and the world the first Atomic bomb.
The story begins as the tease tells us "766 days before Hiroshima:" as a young married couple with a fidgety child drive at break neck speed through the parched and dusty Utah desert,
The husband is one of the young scientists enlisted by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer but everything he does is so top secret even his wife must be kept in complete ignorance.
Early shots of the vastness of the desert give way to a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere as cars and trucks are lined up at a military checkpoint --nobody gets in or out without major scrutiny.
The latest recruit Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zuckerman) does not know at the beginning what he is expected to produce --he must even lie to his impressionable young wife (Rachel Brosnahan).
Charlie's superior is lead scientist Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) who never gives up hope that a break though can substantially alter the appalling daily casualties inflicted on American soldiers in combat.
But he lacks all social graces --when his lonely wife Olivia Williams) invites new neighbors Charlie and his wife for supper Frank storms around and then departs in a huff.
Although Oppenheimer is around he is only occasionally glimpsed --the scientists spend most of their time figuring out how to impress him.
There's a lot of secrecy in this desert site and more PhDs than at any big U.S. university town.
I've previewed the first two hours and one topic seems to be how marriages survive in such an environment.
The young wives with their children live in prefabricated bungalows and cope with the bare necessities.
They gossip among themselves about what their husbands are doing and most make do. Frank's wife Liza happens to be a first rate botanist and she's slowly going crazy from boredom.
Frank has his own set of parameters --he can only spill everything about what he's doing to the native American house keeper because she doesn't understand a single word of English.
One TV critic summed it up best: "Manhattan has to be all about the journey" because we all know the bomb did get invented --and used.
The set up of the first episode is tricky because a dozen different characters have to be introduced. So much gets crammed in that it's difficult following some of the characters.
But Manhattan springs to life in the second hour as the military harass the civilians, the wives begin to get antsy cooped up out in the desert, and everybody is keeping secrets from everybody else.
As characters acquire shading they become more interesting. The big picture isn't really the creation of "the Gadget" (as the A-bomb is called here).
Instead it's the complicated structure of secrets, lies and relationships all accomplished by bright people keenly aware they were making history.
MY RATING: ***1/3.

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