Manhattan: The Uncertainty Principle

Manhattan (Photo: WGN America)
Manhattan (Photo: WGN America)

WGN America’s Manhattan continues to deliver an interesting take on the Manhattan Project, but it’s now in the early series uncertain/meandering phase.

With any new show, the pilot is not only the exposition for a story but the main marketing piece. It’s not only supposed to sell the show to the network, but also to the audience who should be watching the show. If you don’t get full buy-in at the pilot, it takes about three episodes for someone who is lukewarm or on the fence to make their decision. It’s not until about six episodes in that a viewer decides whether or not s/he is in for the long haul.

Manhattan, which aired its third episode this past Sunday, is in a somewhat unstable state, which I didn’t realize until I spoke with Mooch about the show over the weekend. Originally he was going to cover the show because I thought this would be right up his alley: historical drama, military intrigue, science…stuff. He thought it would be better to wait until six episodes in before he wrote anything, particularly since I raved about the show early on. Following this conversation, I can sort of understand why the second and third episode may have been a bit of a misfire.

As stated in the original review,the pilot for Manhattan has elements of mid-40’s period drama (social, political, and gender politics), military intrigue, historical fiction, and a women’s prison story. Now the show is trying to figure out which threads to pull from and which might be neglected or cast away. The military intrigue angle is getting the most attention at the moment, which is unfortunate because I think that’s the least interesting of all the potential dynamics. Granted, the show does take place on a military base researching one of the most top secret projects ever, but this is the story thread that encounters the most cliche cowpies. A trigger happy soldier who wants to see the battlefield? Check. The lead researcher seeing the ghost of his former colleague killed by the trigger happy soldier? Check. The ironic statement of goals?1 Check.

The last cowpie does play into the other threads that make Manhattan interesting. The tension in the show comes from the notion that Germany is working just as hard as the US in making the bomb. However, in the search for the weapon that may ultimately restore freedom (in the mind of the government), gestapo-like tactics must be used in the military base. Censored mail, eavesdropping on conversations, a constant military police presence: life is not fun for anyone in Los Alamos. All I can think of at this point is the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I still recommend Manhattan, but my enthusiasm has waned slightly.

  1. “This could end all war.”  

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About Mike McComb 931 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: