ByKen Anderson, writer at
Ken Anderson

Versatile actress and personal fave Olivia Williams (Maps to the Stars) co-stars with John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C) in Manhattan, WGN America’s ambitious new TV drama.

Created and written by Sam Shaw (Masters of Sex) and directed by Emmy Award-winning director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing), Manhattan is set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943 and explores the emotional and domestic toll taken on the individuals and families involved in the top-secret military research and development effort known as The Manhattan Project, whose objective was to create the very first atomic bomb.

Manhattan utilizes the atmosphere of widespread secrecy surrounding the project to shed dramatic light on what it might have been like to live in a classified, close-knit military town populated by scientists and their families, forced by circumstance to conceal and keep secrets. Personal tensions clash with professional pressures and moral uncertainties as these “nuclear” families struggle to forge a normal existence in the midst of an artificial society.

In this 13-episode series, John Benjamin Hickey plays Frank Winter, the head of a science team recruited to work on the undisclosed military project, resulting in the abrupt uprooting of his wife Liza (Williams), a botanist forced to abandon her research, and their 16-year-old daughter (Alexia Fast). As the residents of “The Hill” (the name given to the military instituted town in the New Mexico desert) come to learn about the purpose of their existence there, problems arise out of what is allowed to be disclosed and what must be kept secret…regardless of the collateral emotional damage to the families involved.

Cast of Manhattan
Cast of Manhattan

The series, set in a World War II environment different from any other, utilizes fictional characters to dramatize a real life historical event in a personal, domestic vein not dissimilar to that employed by the popular series, Mad Men.

For discussion in a later post: what's up with the trend in all these period TV shows allowing for predominately all-white casts and marginalization of people of color? A similar phenomenon occurred in the early 70s when a surge in black films and the women’s liberation movement is thought to have been instrumental in inspiring the nostalgia craze that resulted in a slew of movies which staunchly romanticized the status quo (The Last Picture Show, The Summer of 42).

Manhattan premieres July 27th 9pm Pacific / 8c on WGN America


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