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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Manhunt: Unabomber is a scripted drama about a famous criminal case from the 1990s. The series is from the point of view of law enforcement, so there's not as much graphic content as if we were watching from the point of view of the serial killer, but there are still several shots of terribly mangled bombing victims: a close-up of a hand so mangled it looks like a pile of meat, another man writhing in agony on a floor, burnt black and impaled with sharp pieces of metal. We also see reenactments of bombings, with fireballs and flying debris (but no blood or bodies). A dead rabbit is toted by a hunter in an early scene. There are a couple of references to sex: jokes about erectile dysfunction that involve the word "dongs," a joke about "getting laid." Cursing and language is mild and infrequent: "damn," "BS," "sucks," "fart," "dong."
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What's the story?
In 1995, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, was arrested for killing 3 people and inuring 23 others in a nationwide mail-bombing campaign. MANHUNT: UNABOMBER is the story of how he was found. James Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington) is the FBI profiler whose unconventional ideas blow apart the case painstakingly built by Don Ackerman (Chris Noth) and Stan Cole (Jeremy Bobb). Slowly, the FBI is closing in on Kaczynski (Paul Bettany). But as Fitzgerald dives deeper into the case, is he slowly, implacably losing his grip on his own life? Is the predator relating too much to his prey?
Is it any good?
Moving back in forth in time and bringing a complicated investigation to life, this eight-part drama paints a gripping picture of men obsessed. Kaczynski’s obsessions, of course, were detailed in long media accounts of the criminal and his crimes, as well as his letters and manifesto. Fitzgerald soon emerges as a complicated and tortured man. The same insight and leaps of reasoning that allow him to understand the Unabomber are what connects him too closely to the case. We see at the beginning of the series that he has become a Unabomber-like figure himself: a recluse in the woods. What changed the loving family man and cop (who we soon meet in one of the drama's time jumps) into this grizzled mountain man?
The answers are teased out intriguingly slowly, as we meet the cops on Kacynski's case and see how the FBI closed in on him. One thing this long-form treatment offers that a one-hour procedural can't: We see the grinding effort that building a case requires -- mountains of evidence, dozens of people picking through it, thousands of leads investigated and discarded. And then, ironically, the case's biggest break turns out to be Kacynski's brother, David (Mark Duplass), turning him in (in a roundabout fashion). The strength of Manhunt: Unabomber is that you don't just see the effort and the irony -- you feel it. This is one crime yarn that deserves its running time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why criminal cases are so commonly dissected on TV. What dramatic possibilities do they offer? Why do people like to watch them? What other shows besides Manhunt: Unabomber about criminal cases can you name?
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