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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Manhattan is a tense fictionalized retelling of the creation of the atomic bomb during WWII, and it raises some weighty (and still relevant) questions about the high stakes of war with such devastating weapons. Characterizations of gender and race relations are indicative of the story's setting in the 1940s, so expect to hear slurs such as "Jap" and "chink." One exception exists in Liza, a college-educated scientist who's a pariah among the rest of the women because of it. Violence is more a matter of discussion than it is seen, and dialogue often refers to the war and death tolls. Strong language is common ("s--t," "son of a bitch," "goddamn"), and there's some occasional nudity (a woman's bare backside is visible) and allusions to sex. This show is an intriguing pick for teens and adults who can appreciate the story's place in history.
Great Drama, but too much sex and inappropriate for teens
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What's the Story?
Tucked away in the New Mexican desert in 1943 is a secret lab staffed with brilliant scientists tasked with creating the world's first atomic bomb in the hopes of ending WWII. Their very existence in Los Alamos is unknown beyond the confines of the commune, and even their immediate families know nothing of the nature of their highly classified work. Central to the story is Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), a patriot and veteran willing to sacrifice everything to end the war before it claims millions more lives. Unfortunately the long hours and pressing secrecy is taking a toll on his marriage to Liza (Olivia Williams), a college-educated botanist who put her career on hold to follow him to New Mexico. Newcomer Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) has his qualms about the implications of their work, and his wife, Abby (Rachel Brosnahan), struggles under the scrutiny within the rigid community. MANHATTAN explores not only the creative process behind this most destructive weapon but also the players' personal responses to the events of the time.
Is It Any Good?
Though a fully fictionalized rendering, Manhattan is a well-conceived period drama that does a good job conveying the atmosphere of tension and secrecy that surrounded the Manhattan Project during the later years of WWII. The show's version of Los Alamos is an eerie place where national security takes precedence over every shred of personal privacy, making the scientists and their families little better than prison inmates in some regard. What with the constant threat of being branded a spy and the piercing pressure of knowing that failure will translate to possible millions more deaths in the war, the tension of the characters' lives makes for an anxious viewing atmosphere.
In so doing, though, the show illustrates some fascinating questions of morality related to the justifications of war. Many of the characters wrestle with their roles in creating a weapon that can wipe out hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in one plume, and you can't watch without considering your own position on the matter and others like it. Is such a loss of life justified to prevent even greater numbers of deaths? Could you sacrifice your personal freedom for a cause you believed in? What if your own loyalties shifted during the process? These kinds of questions continue to have implications decades after Manhattan's WWII setting, and they can start some great discussions with your teens if they tune in.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the use of the atomic bomb. What factors persuaded the United States to resort to that? Is the argument that it ultimately saved lives a plausible one to you? Is the world made more or less safe by other countries having access to similarly destructive weapons?
How are race relations complicated during times of war? Do you see evidence of that in this show? Which ethnic groups suffered prejudice in the United States during WWII? To what degree are race relations better in this country today?
How do movies and shows like this one keep history alive for new generations? Why is it important to understand events of the past? Do we take our freedoms for granted?
- Premiere date: July 27, 2014
- Cast: Olivia Williams, John Benjamin Hickey, Ashley Zukerman
- Network: WGN
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Science and Nature
- TV rating: TV-14
- Last updated: February 4, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Saving Private Ryan
Bloody, tragic war epic doesn't hold back.
Violent war story mixed with soapy love triangle.
Band of Brothers
Equal parts heroism and horror in WWII miniseries.
For kids who love history
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