‘Manhattan’ is Mad Men, but with less kinda-exciting advertising pitches and more undeniably-exciting apocalyptic bombs.
By
Jeremy Cassar

17 Oct 2016 - 12:37 PM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2016 - 4:19 PM

Manhattan is is a meticulously detailed drama about the men and women who worked on the real-life Manhattan Project - The US military team tasked with developing nuclear weapons in WWII. But unlike the litany of lavish period pieces dominating our viewing, Manhattan is a drama with a great deal at stake. With human drama and tension that mounts by the episode, the series tells a grounded and altogether human story which also has global historical implications.

If that isn’t reason enough to split your atoms, here are some more reasons why you should get started on watching Manhattan:

It Actually Happened

The inter-personal drama in the show is all fictional, but the project they are working on was absolutely based on real life. While you might not be able to check every second off a four-volume historical text, the fact that this project existed —a project solely focused on creating a delivery device for the end-of-days kinda doom of which humans previously couldn’t have dreamed—still conjures up disbelief. 

The Sherriff from Stranger Things!

I told you! It’s the same dude.

Really, I should have just written this entry first and called it 'game, set, match'. Manhattan features Stranger Things' rogue-ish sherrif David Harbour and he pours as much commitment into the role of lead scientist for the Thin Man bomb Dr. Reed Ackley as he does into the disheveled Sherriff.

 

Look,  it’s Toby from The West Wing!

Richard Schiff, or as many of us know him: eternally serious Communications Director Toby Ziegler from The West Wing, was perhaps the most memorable character in a cast chock-full of memorable characters.

As Manhattan’s Occam The Interrogator, Schiff gets to flex new and menacing muscles - something he’d been wanting to do since Ziegler left the White House (remember when he popped up in Entourage and pleaded to Ari Gold that he be cast in something that lets him say c***s***** ?).

The period detail

Too often these days period detail trumps all else. Terence Winter’s Vinyl and Baz’s The Get Down have both been criticised for placing production design over story, which basically means that once the sheen wears off there’s not much else to keep baiting viewers.

Manhattan suffers no such issue. As with Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, Manhattan showrunner Sam Shaw has seen authentic production design as a necessary means to sell the world of the show, rather than sell just the show. Story takes precedence, and it’s a story that requires immaculate period detail. 

The Emmy-winning title sequence

Since Six Feet Under dug the concept of opening titles from its grave and gave it new life, TV shows have been one-upping each other with clever or beautiful or just plain cool sequences.

From Dexter’s visceral morning routine montage all the way through to Orange is the New Black’s series of devastating extreme close ups, showrunners have found ways to truncate the conceit of their shows to the point where we no longer feel the need to fast forward through them.

Focusing on animated documents pertaining to the project, Manhattan’s opening title sequence won the prime time Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design. 

* * * *

Both seasons of this immersive delight are currently on SBS OnDemand: 

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