Kate Frydman ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Copy Edited By: Lindsey Buttel ‘18
For those readers who have yet to pursue the series, there’s an important disclaimer to be made about WGN’s year-old show, Manhattan: this show does not cover the nightlife, day life or rambunction that New York City has to offer. It will not fill viewers’ heads with aspirations of roof-top brunches, and it does not explore the seedy underbelly of a city previously thought to be where dreamers dream up dreams for audiences to dream. In fact, unlike New York City and its inhabitants, the subject matter of Manhattan remains relatively untouched in entertainment media, yet the drama that the subject maintains proves to be practically explosive.
Manhattan takes a long, hard look into the scientific battlefield that leads to the construction and execution of the atom bomb, famously code-named The Manhattan Project. The first season opens on an unmarked army site in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943. Los Alamos, located in the middle of the desert, exists completely out of touch with the rest of society. One of the news scientists is told before arriving that it is “Like Cambridge with sand.” Of course, he was only informed correctly about the sand. The scientists, almost all men, have been asked to work in less than ideal conditions on a top secret project that allows for absolutely no disclosure of information to wives or families. The men are stuck between a world of being, perhaps, too informed and a world of absolute secrecy. The wives know that their husbands are working on something to do with the war, and they believe it’s going to save a lot of lives. Beyond that, the women are left in the large group of the uninformed and have to battle the conditions of their new “home” while trying to comfort their inconsolable husbands.
Season one delves into the psychological torture that is attached to The Manhattan Project. In addition to the absolute secrecy — the betrayal of which the men can be arrested for — there is an ongoing, heated competition between two groups of scientists on the camp to put forward the most effective bomb possible. The drive to be the most effective is of course attached to the sport of winning, but there is also a more emotional tug as the number of American soldiers’ lives are steadily erased and increased on a communal blackboard each morning. The viewer watches as the fear of failure combats the fear of success in the internal battle all the scientists face, and it is impossible to say which is more stress-inducing.
Perhaps most impressively, Manhattan combats a glaring limitation of the show: the audience already knows what happens. But factor in the distressed wives, the outside- of-the-law practices of the U.S army and its government, and the inevitable breakdown of the men behind the explosion, the show is jam-packed with provoking material and is ripe with story for its second season. Furthermore, what no one knows is whether or not the introduction of this bomb was a good idea. Manhattan doesn’t claim to know the answer to this question, but it is willing to have a discussion about it.
On October 19th, The NYTVF will kick off their eleventh annual New York Television Festival with a celebratory screening from Manhattan’s second season. The season officially premiered on October 13th. With most of the series’ stars in attendance: John Benjamin Hickey, Rachel Brosnahan, Ashley Zukerman, Michael Chernus, Katja Herbers, and Mamie Gummer, the panel of celebrities are sure to lead an exciting event. With an Emmy under its belt, Manhattan has a tangible amount of buzz hovering around the next season. This sort of anticipation is a familiar one that comes with any affecting drama series. What the hell happens next?