From WGN comes the show that critics are calling "Complicating and Captivating." Manhattan follows the brilliant but flawed scientists tasked with the mission to build the world's first atomic bomb. Set against the backdrop of the greatest race against time in the history of science - the mission to build the world's first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico - MANHATTAN follows the project's brilliant but flawed scientists and their families as they attempt to co-exist in a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every aspect of their lives.
Making a TV show about the development of the first atomic weapon during World War II sounds like something that might be a better idea for a TV movie or mini-series, but the minds behind the WGN series 'Manhattan' have taken the bomb and run with it, and the result is a pretty watchable drama. Even though we all know how this eventually turns out, the creators and writers have given the show enough drama among its cast of characters to keep the series intriguing.
One of the big reasons 'Manhattan' is able to work is due to the fact that aside from some primary historical figures that appear in the series (like J. Robert Oppenheimer), the majority of the cast is made up of fictional characters – allowing the showrunners a ton of latitude to create drama and conflict that a strict following of the actual events/people would not have allowed them to do. So while 'Manhattan' does play somewhat fast and loose with historical accuracy, the 'big picture' is still relatively accurate although most of the characters on the show are completely made-up.
'Manhattan' primarily focuses on two pairs of families that have been brought to Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first is young scientist Dr. Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) and his wife, Abby (Rachel Brosnahan), who at first have no idea why they've been asked to be part of the desert community. The second main family the series showcases is headed up by Dr. Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), his wife Dr. Liza Winter (Olivia Williams), and their daughter Callie (Alexia Fast). Frank heads up one of two competing teams at the facility, and the one that is receiving the least support. Frank comes up with the theory that imploding the potential nuclear device will require much less plutonium than exploding one (as well as allow them to complete the project faster), and becomes obsessed with proving his idea with his military bosses.
What I liked most about 'Manhattan' is the level of mistrust and paranoia that exists among the characters on the show. Here are men tasked with keeping the biggest secret in the entire world, and added to that is the fact that there are groups competing against each other to be the first to make it happen. Frank's own obsession with creating a working bomb is showcased in the first few episodes of the series, as he allows (and, in fact, actually makes sure it happens) one of his colleagues to be suspected of treason, just so his own research team isn't shut down. It's the first of a number of moral dilemmas that Frank and other characters in 'Manhattan' will face as the series progresses.
Another area in which 'Manhattan' proves to be an interesting watch is the way it shows how women were treated during this decade of American life. Most of the females in this series (even Frank's wife, who also has her PhD) exist only to play housewife to their scientist husbands, with few of them (at least as the show gets underway) knowing what their men are really developing behind closed doors in the makeshift town. Of course, 'Manhattan' isn't the first TV series to deal with the treatment of women in American history (Mad Men has been doing it for years covering the post-World War II period), but that doesn't make the topic any less intriguing for this series.
The biggest conundrum most will have when it comes to this first season release of 'Manhattan' is whether the set is worth owning or whether it's more rental territory. While I liked most of the episodes, they were also of the sort where I'm not sure they provide a whole lot of replay value. But that can be said about any number of series on television, many much more popular than this one. With that in mind, I think there's enough in terms of bonus features here to make this release a worthwhile purchase, especially if you're interested (or think you might be) in the subject matter and can find this release at a reasonable price.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Manhattan' drops onto home video with a standard Elite keepcase that houses the three discs in the set, with the second of the two contained on a plastic hub in the middle. The case also includes an insert with a digital code for an UltraViolet copy of Season 1, and also includes an insert advertising Season 2, as well as a third insert that provides a list of Season 1 episodes and a short synopsis of each. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop the case.
Disc 1 in this front-loaded with trailers for Season 2 of 'Manhattan' (although it only contains footage from Season 1), the final season of Mad Men, Sons of Liberty, a promo ad for various TV series produced by Lionsgate, the complete series of Weeds, and a promo ad for the EPIX pay cable station. The main menu consist of a moving montage of production photos of the main characters on the series, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this set are Region A locked.
'Manhattan' doesn't offer up the most glamorous locales you'll find on a television series, but there's no denying what we do see looks pretty sharp on the Blu-ray format. Each episode was shot using digital cameras, and reflects the kind of detail one would expect from a series shot on that format. Black levels are pretty well rendered, and while the series' look is one that primarily stays in 'earthy' and drab colors (lots of greys and browns), there's still a lot of 'pop' to the picture.
As far as any issues with banding, aliasing, or other problems with the presentation, I was hard pressed to find any notable or serious issues. In short, this is a great-looking release that fans of the show should be quite happy with.
Each episode comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that really shows off one's home theater set-up. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and properly mixed with the musical score as well as all the ambient sounds. Speaking of those ambient noises, each episode has a fun time with both distinction and directionality when it comes to background noises. You'll hear a car move from one side of the room to the other, or feel immersed in the swirling dust of the Los Alamos setting.
I also did not notice any obvious glitches with the episode tracks, so things like hissing, popping, dropouts, or other glitches are not an issue.
While there are no other audio options for each episode (other than the trio of commentary tracks on this set), subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
A series based on the development of the first atomic bomb may sound a little uninteresting at first, but the creators and actors of 'Manhattan' fill the series with enough drama, intrigue, and an oversall sense of paranoia/mistrust, that the show actually works a whole lot better than I would have expected. While I'm not sure how long the series can go before it starts treading over the same ground, this first season is certainly worth your time. Recommended.