Photo: WGN America

Should You Sign Up For Manhattan?

We've run the numbers, and you should check out the explosive results!

What Is This Thing?

As World War II rages overseas, teams of elite scientists at various secret sites in the U.S. work on developing the weapon the Army believes will definitively end the war: the atomic bomb. But just like every workplace, the effort is complicated by politics and backbiting. Plus, even though the (almost all male) physicists have brought their families to live with them on site, they can't tell their spouses what they're even doing.

When Is It On?

Sundays at 10 PM on WGN America.

Why Was It Made Now?

Evidently, WGN America has decided to follow the TBS model in its evolution from superstation to national cable network and gotten into the original programming business this year -- first with Salem, and now this.

What's Its Pedigree?

Series creator Sam Shaw has a slim CV -- he wrote a few episodes in the first season of Masters Of Sex -- but he's surrounded himself with impressive talent. The pilot is directed by Thomas Schlamme (of...every show on TV), while future episodes are helmed by other names you've definitely seen in TV credits before: Paris Barclay, Daniel Attias, Bill D'Elia, Christopher Misiano, and even Daniel Stern (who also has a supporting role in the pilot). The cast also includes Tony winner John Benjamin Hickey, and supporting actors several Best Picture Oscar nominees -- Michael Chernus (Captain Phillips), Christopher Denham (Argo), and Olivia Williams (An Education).

...And?

Watching the pilot, you would never suspect that it's only the second original series from an upstart cable outfit: it looks handsome enough to stand alongside the fancy period dramas of AMC. And while the milieu is interesting enough all on its own -- secrecy! national security! threats of Axis powers! -- the pilot also sets up an intriguing opposition between Hickey's Frank Winter, the head of a scrappy team of weirdos (including...a woman?!), and newly arrived Charlie Isaacs (B.J. Novak lookalike Ashley Zukerman), an award-winning physicist Frank has already negged once by failing to publish one of his papers, who is distressed by the implications for future generations if the project actually succeeds.

The show also promises to deviate from other premium-cable shows by featuring a wife for the protagonist -- Liza Winter (Williams) -- who potentially could do more than whine at her husband to talk to her, dammit!!! ...Okay, she also does that a little. But for once the husband actually seems to want to tell her what he's privately dealing with, but he literally can't, or he'll go to prison just for talking about it. Plus, he may not have to: Liza has a PhD in botany, and she's starting to wonder why she's not allowed to grow corn in what should be potassium-rich soil, and why her white chrysanthemums are suddenly sprouting stained purple blooms....

...But?

Charlie's wife Abby (Rachel Brosnahan, of House Of Cards) is the regular boring kind of cable-show wife so far -- although Charlie did break the law by telling her about the bomb project because he couldn't handle keeping it to himself anymore and to stop her panicked efforts to leave. Her knowing more than the other wives could lead to some interesting story possibilities for her. Or she might just fuck up again with a verbal slip in mixed company, like she already did in the pilot. Also, the oblique philosophy of Robert Oppenheimer (Daniel London) and the obvious dream sequence Frank has lay on the ponderousness kind of thick. We get it: shit's tense.

...So?

It's hard for me to resist any show set in a world I haven't seen before, and the '40s ladies fashions would probably get me on board even if the rest of it was crap. Fortunately, it isn't! In addition to all the built-in drama of trying to end the war at a time when Americans are being killed at a rate of four an hour, the pilot also raises compelling issues surrounding class and culture (both with the Mexican Indians who work as domestics for the scientists' wives, and a middle manager's brag to Charlie about how many Jews are toiling on the project), all of it set under an invisible umbrella of intense secrecy. There's lots to explore, and I'm excited to see where it goes.

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