by Julian Spivey
WGN America is new to the original programming game, but its second original series “Manhattan” (which premiered in late July) is the best new drama on television this summer.
“Manhattan” is a period piece set in the 1940s during World War II in the New Mexico desert where the Manhattan Project is taking place with dueling groups of scientists tasked with trying to build a bomb to end all wars.
There is the main group of scientists led by Reed Akley (David Harbour) and the new hot shot scientist Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) that have the in with and full backing of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man in charge of the project, and the rogue group of scientists led by Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), who are the black sheep of the operation.
Winter is the prime focus of the series and is an extremely serious and determined man with no time for joviality in his life or from his team. Every week he tracks the number of American men lost to the perils of the war and knows that if he doesn’t figure out the key to “the bomb” first somebody with the enemy overseas will.
Hickey’s performance of this incredibly determined scientist has been the highlight of the show’s first four episodes and really is one of the best portrayals of madness driven greatness on television.
The supporting cast of the show has been terrific early on, as well, particularly Olivia Williams’ performance as Frank’s wife, Liza, a botanist who gave up everything to move across country with her husband for his work, and the younger Abby Issacs (Charlie’s wife), played by Rachel Brosnahan, who did the same thing. The way the women have to acclimate to life in the Los Alamos desert in the worst of conditions and under equally worse circumstances is one of the most interesting aspects of the series.
The drive between the dueling groups of scientists to build “the bomb” is an interesting storyline and one that I hadn’t thought much of in the past. While “Manhattan” is not a 100 percent accurate re-telling of history it was eye-opening to me that multiple projects were taking place in the same area at the same time and not one big group of scientists banding together to help create one bomb. It’s interesting to know that there probably was some competition and even dislike among the group of scientists basically pitting their brains against each other, as the series shows us.
“Manhattan,” being a period piece (which don’t seem to interest many television viewers for some reason unbeknownst to me) and on a network that is just starting out with original dramatic fare might not be a series that is being seen by many, it’s premiere drew under a million viewers, but it’s honestly one of the more interesting dramatizations currently on television, especially basic cable.
If you’re not paying attention then you’re truly missing out. The series airs at 9 p.m. on Sundays and you can catch up on the show by viewing its first four episodes on Hulu.com.
by Julian Spivey
FX recently debuted a new Thursday night comedy block featuring new comedies “Married” and “You’re the Worst,” which both deal with relationships in different stages, and are both worth developing a relationship with.
“Married” started off a little slow for my taste in its first two episodes, but really came to life in its most recent episode “The Getaway,” with its dual storylines featuring the show’s leads and supporting cast both keeping my interest. The cast is led by the perfect duo of Nat Faxon and Judy Greer as married coupled Russ and Lina Bowman whose marriage has grown stale after having children. The relationship is at its worst when it comes to the married couple’s sex life, which the show seems to at times focus solely on to its detriment.
It’s a believable relationship for the most part, except when Lina pretty much gives Russ a “hall pass” to sleep around behind her back in the pilot, which is one of those Hollywood fantasies that simply doesn’t happen or come off as believable in the real world. Despite the show’s over-interest in Russ and Lina’s sex life or lack of the couple have a nice, funny chemistry thanks to the comedic talents of Faxon and Greer.
The supporting cast of “Married” is fairly strong as well featuring Brett Gelman and Jenny Slate as Russ’ close friends A.J. and Jess, who somehow seem more screwed up than Russ. Slate has gotten more screen time than Gelman early on, and walks the line between annoying and funny, but it just might take some time to get acquainted with her, as she starts to grow on me in the third episode. This is likely due to her chemistry with her much older husband, played by veteran funny man Paul Reiser (a personal favorite of mine), who hopefully has a recurring role.
The show’s basis in realistic relationships, save for the previously mentioned “hall pass” of episode one, it what makes it interesting even when there doesn’t seem to be enough laughs per episode.
“Married” airs on FX on Thursdays at 9 p.m.
Airing directly after “Married” at 9:30 p.m. is “You’re the Worst,” which I think has been the stronger of the two new comedies throughout both series’ first three episodes in both storyline and amount of laughs.
If you actually like the lead characters of “You’re the Worst” or identify with them in any way you might actually be the worst, but the characters of Jimmy, a selfishly insensitive British writer, and Gretchen, a cynical and poor decision making public relations worker, who hook up one night for casual sex and then kind of fall into this oddly beautiful relationship are extremely interesting and at times laugh out loud hilarious in their hideousness.
Chris Geere and Aya Cash are brilliant in their respective roles as Jimmy and Gretchen bringing out the wretchedness of both characters while also finding ways to make their characters endearing to not only each other, but the viewer.
It’s an incredibly messed up relationship the two have, but one that seems to be particularly believable in today’s world, even though that might be a negative sign for the real world.
“You’re the Worst” is focused almost solely on Jimmy and Gretchen, whereas “Married” has more of a supporting cast focus, but Desmin Borges’ performance as Jimmy’s PTSD suffering war vet roommate Edgar is good for laughs every time he’s on the screen. Meanwhile, Gretchen’s best friend, Lindsay, as played by Kether Donohue is instantly annoying every time she’s seen.
FX is on to something good with this duo of comedies featuring the highs and lows of relationships.