A few weeks ago, WGN aired the pilot for its second original series, "Manhattan." The first episode of the series, nailed 1.8 million viewers in total, just shy of the pilot for its first original series, "Salem."
"Manhattan", a WGN and Skydance Television production, offers a rare look into what life was like in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bombs during World War II. Historically, Major General Leslie Groves led the Manhattan Project, with J. Robert Oppenheimer as its scientific director.
The fictional "Manhattan" takes its cue from what little we know of the project, which was kept top-secret at the time. It details the lives of the scientists who worked on the project, as well as shows us insight into what life was like in a top-secret facility.
If you're not currently watching the series, it is definitely recommended viewing if you're interested in history, science or are just curious about how people worked and lived in a place that for a time did not exist, at least on any map or in any records.
1. It's about history: some of it once was top-secret.
Although other series and movies have tackled the Manhattan Project itself, the "Manhattan" television series takes you past the project and into the lives of those who lived on the base during the creation of the atomic bomb. Although the scientists involved with the project know what they're working on, their families, who live on-base with them, are only given lies, half-truths and subterfuge. Even the military police, the soldiers who volunteered to fight in the war, are not allowed to know what they're protecting.
Wives of scientists are often left in the dark, and must cope with not knowing what their husbands do during the day. Not only that, but they live on a military base under strict military rule, where life is not what one would call the American dream. The series also highlights the roles of the Native Americans on the base.
Interestingly enough, there aren't a lot of books and movies about the non-scientists present at Los Alamos, but the series did its homework.
"There's this crazy society called The Los Alamos Historical Society and they've gone around collecting any testimony they can find of survivors, be they people who were Pueblo Native Americans who worked at the base, the wives." says Olivia Williams, who plays Liza Winter, one of the scientists wives. "So part of our research was weeding these collective letters and accounts, which was fascinating."
Only two characters from actual history make an appearance on the show: General Groves and Oppenheimer. However, writers of the series based the lives of the scientists on "Manhattan" on the lives of the real men and women who worked at Los Alamos.
2. It's a "true-life science fiction story."
Although the Manhattan Project was based on science, not many stories depict the life behind the science and struggles with the project they were working on. The writers refer to the series as a "true-life science fiction story" because it's about some of the world's greatest minds living in a secret town working on building a device that will either save the world or destroy it.
We see this struggle, particularly with the character of Charlie Isaacs. Once he learns that they're working on the atomic bomb, he fights an internal battle on if what they're doing is right.
3. There's a female scientist.
Female scientists rarely get seen in film or on TV, so anything that celebrates the female geniuses involved with such massive programs like the Manhattan Project, is a welcome addition to any TV set. Although the one female scientist, Helen, we see on the series is fictional, she represents one of two women who worked at Los Alamos. Her portrayal of the character is similar to an account given by scientist Lilli Hornig, who worked with plutonium on the base.
"There was one other woman in the division, she and I worked together and we had our little cubby hole and did our little procedures and put them under the Geiger counter, " Hornig says. "It wasn't terribly inspiring and nobody actually really spoke to us."
In "Manhattan, " Helen, too, feels out of place in a world full of men. Considering that there is still a lack of women in many scientific fields, seeing this should inspire us to change that.