Let’s get this out of the way now: the short-lived WGN America drama Manhattan is the best show or movie about the making of the atomic bomb. Created by the incomparable Sam Shaw, the series takes place in Los Alamos, the makeshift town built by the U.S. government to house the scientists working on the atomic bomb and their families. Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) is the perpetually ornery (and habitually unshaven) leader of the team helping to design the implosion model of the bomb; he gives a scintillating performance that turns out to be one of many. You have pre-Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Rachel Brosnahan, pre-Evil Katja Hebers, pre-The Crown Olivia Williams, and pre-Succession Ashley Zuckerman, who at one point gives a terrifyingly arresting monologue justifying the bomb. Manhattan is the show that developed your favorite actors into your favorite actors.
The show was so good that Nolan brought one of its actors, Christopher Denham, to Oppenheimer to play a character with a different name (Klaus Fuchs), but the same role.
Oppenheimer may not be the central focus, but we get glimpses into who the man is in ways Oppenheimer never could. One example? Getting patched through by eavesdropping switchboard operators to Jean Tatlock for some mid-day BDSM phone sex. It leaves him with the freakiest bowtie request you may ever see in a show about scientists.
The show only ran for two seasons, but for 23 (mostly immaculate) episodes, you get to see the betrayal and mind games that went into building the atomic bomb and hear one of the most accurate lines ever uttered from a fictional Manhattan Project: “In war, scientists are soldiers.”
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