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.
Created for television in hope of making WGN a "player" among the basic cable networks, 'Manhattan' never really caught on with audiences, making this second season the final one. So, while the series does conclude with a number of loose ends (the cancellation was not announced until after Season 2 had aired), the show does at least get to conclude with the event it has been driving toward all along: the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb.
Season 2 gets underway with a short preview of where the season will wind up – with our primary characters preparing for the atomic bomb's implosion. Then it's back to where the first season left off, as Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) has been placed in charge of the bomb's development at Los Alamos, while Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) has been detained and taken off for questioning, as the powers-that-be believe he may be a spy. Meanwhile, the real spy – Jim Meeks (Christopher Denham), who was recruited into the program by Winter – believes that only by giving top secret info about the bomb to the Russians can he assure a balance of power between nations that will mean that the weapon is never used.
Brand-new to Season 2 is the character of Col. Emmett Darrow ('CSI's William Petersen), who is the new ranking senior member of the military at Los Alamos. He's a deeply religious guy who believes that the development of the bomb by Americans is "God's will." Of course, being so devoutly Christian, he's established as an antagonist and hindrance to our main characters instead of an ally (something that sadly happens on all too many TV series that have religious characters – period pieces or not).
Of course, while it does feature a few "real' characters from history – such as Robert Oppenheimer (Daniel London) – the vast majority of the characters and stories presented in 'Manhattan' are fictional, meaning that although the series is a good starting point for those curious about America's atomic program, viewers need to be careful not to take too much of the series at face value. While it gets a lot of the technical aspects about how the bomb was designed (and, of course, the date it was tested) correct, almost all of the drama surrounding the development has been imagined for entertainment purposes.
It's not surprising that 'Manhattan' never latched onto a significant audience or one large enough to keep the series on the air (honestly, the fact that it got a second season at all was kind of a shock). It's not that the series isn't well made and acted, it's that everyone already knows what eventually will happen. That takes a lot of the drama out of the show and it may be why so many never really bothered with it in the first place. It's always seemed like a premise that might have worked better as either a mini-series or – as the trend seems to be today – a "limited run" series.
Because of the fact that the series got cancelled (not to mention the fact that Lionsgate has issued a bare-bones Season 2 set), the appeal of this release is probably only going to be for loyal viewers of the series. But those who do decide to pick it up can be assured they'll be getting 10 episodes of well-produced TV that maintains the quality standard that existed during the first season of the show. 'Manhattan's legacy will be just another one of those interesting ideas that never really caught on with TV viewers, but at the very least it's one of those short-lived series that never saw a dip in quality during its run, which is pretty rare in the world of television.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season 2 of 'Manhattan implodes onto Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB discs along with a pair of inserts: one containing a brief synopsis of the 10 episodes on this release, and the other containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the season. Unlike the Season 1 release, this title does not come with a slipcover. The first disc in the set is front-loaded with trailers for Mad Men: The Complete Collection, the final season of Nurse Jackie, Seasons 1 and 2 of Orange is the New Black, and an ad for television shows available from Lionsgate (including the three previous shows already advertised). The main menu is a montage of still images taken from the promotional photo of the actors for Season 2 (it's the same image as the box cover, just highlighting one or two actors as a time as they 'whoosh' on and off the screen). Menu selections are listed horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
'Manhattan' was shot digitally, primarily on the Arri Alexa, and is presented on Blu-ray in its original television aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Season 2's video quality is pretty much exactly on par with what we saw for Season 1. Once again, the series has a 'cool' and ever-so-slightly drained of color look to it, which provides for the period piece setting. As with most series shot on the Alexa, details here are strong, and facial features are well defined throughout. Black levels are also fairly strong, and excessive noise is never really much of a problem.
Things like banding, aliasing, haloing or other often-seen glitches are virtually non-existent in the presentation of these episodes. This is another fine-looking television release from the folks at Lionsgate.
The only available audio for each episode is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track that, while not always 'showy', can certainly pack a punch when this series calls for it (such a 'punch' arrives in the season finale, and should please LFE aficionados). Dialogue is crisp, clear, and front and center throughout, with the rears primarily used to enhance the soundtrack and for some frequent ambient noises. The track never really feels fully immersive, nor is there much in terms of directionality going on, which is a slight change from Season 1, as I recall much more immersive audio. But other than that, I've got no real complaints here – these are well-rendered and properly mixed tracks that are free of any glitches.
Subtitles are available in English SDH for each episode.
After providing viewers with a nice selection of featurettes and three audio commentaries on the Season 1 release, Lionsgate has just dumped this second (and final) season onto home video sans any extras.
The good news is that in terms of story quality, the second season of 'Manhattan' is more or less on par with the first season. The bad news is that Lionsgate has dumped this final season onto Blu-ray with no extras to speak of, meaning that only the most loyal viewers are likely to pick up this release unless if finds its way to the bargain bin. The result is a title that, sadly, is going to appeal to fans only.