Manhattan

 
Tense rendering of nuclear project is OK for brave teens.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show reflects the time in which its story was set, and there are racial and cultural hostilities related to the war. You'll hear Americans refer to "the Japs," and one Asian-American is called a "chink," among other slurs. Gender relations are similarly old-fashioned, with men off to work while wives (even one college-educated one) tend to the homes. The story deals thoughtfully with the moral dilemma surrounding the creation and use of the atomic bomb in WWII.

Positive role models

Some men are devoted to the cause of the Manhattan Project out of a sense of national duty; others hope the massive loss of life from a nuclear bomb will prevent even greater numbers of deaths. Most (but not all) wrestle with the implications of the project and with the challenges of lying to their spouses. Government officials threaten and coerce the scientists' participation in some cases. 

Violence

Physical violence is rare, but issues of war are a constant factor in dialogue. People discuss the death tolls and how many lives may be lost to the nuclear bomb they're creating. There's also a sense of danger surrounding secrets and the government's ultimate power to punish those whose loyalties they question. In one case, a suspected spy is blindfolded and abducted.

Sex

Couples kiss and make comments that insinuate bedroom play to come. Occasionally there's partial nudity, as when a woman dries off after a shower and her bare back and butt are visible. Some scenes hint at extramarital affairs. 

Language

"Ass," "hell," "s--t," "son of a bitch," "damn," and "goddamn" are heard regularly. 

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Smoking and drinking is indicative of the era. People drink at social gatherings and to relax, sometimes at work. Sometimes they drink to the point of being intoxicated. Smoking is generally accepted, and many adults do so. 

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. 

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

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?

QUALITY
 

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. 

Families can talk 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?

TV details

This review of Manhattan was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byWeedPuller September 11, 2014
age 17+
 

Complex, beautiful, but be careful!

My husband and I really enjoy watching this show. It dramatizes racial differences (Native Americans who work at Los Alamos, a Chinese American scientist), workplace tensions, gender roles and family dynamics along with the compelling history-inspired story. My favorite episode so far depicts Niels Bohr's visit. He declines to assist with the development of weapon that can do so much harm without being powerful enough to prevent its ever being used, and incidentally but beautifully encourages frustrated, lonely Dr. Liza Winter to continue her botany research. However, I had to write this review because Common Sense Media's description is inadequate. Perhaps the reviewer had only seen the pilot episode? Beyond the concerns CSM detailed, you've got hallucinogenic mushrooms, multiple instances of fairly graphic sex (not just "implied" as CSM's review says), marital infidelity, grave deception for both personal and official reasons, racial discrimination, governmental ineptitude, torture, homosexual acts, extortion, PTSD flashbacks, plagiarism, date rape, prostitution. Some of this is integral to the nature of the show: you can't have a show about a wartime weapons project without some spycraft. Most of it is just for thrills and advertising. Lots of fodder for conversation here, but I would not want any teen I'm responsible for to watch this unless right next to me and debriefing afterwards.. but these are some seriously uncomfortable scenes to watch together!
What other families should know
Too much sex

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass