David Harbour, known for Stranger Things, can be seen in Manhattan, streaming free now on Tubi, and is a great companion to Oppenheimer. A production of Lionsgate Television, Skydance Television, and Tribune Studios, the series ran for 23 episodes across two seasons from 2014 to 2016 on WGN. The story concerns the titular Manhattan Project—the race to beat the Nazis to develop a nuclear weapon.
David Harbour was part of the ensemble cast of Manhattan, a WGN series that ran for two seasons about the Manhattan Project.
Taking place from 1943 to 1945, Manhattan doesn’t just focus on Oppenheimer, but tells a broader story, encompassing many of the main players in the development of the first atomic bomb. However, the series is fictional, with historical figures appearing in the series but not as its primary focus. Instead, original, fictional characters are at the fore, telling a story that is not intended to replicate the historical events that provide its premise and drive its narrative.
As such, Manhattan only features J. Robert Oppenheimer in eight of its 23 episodes. It was the first drama series produced for WGN America and, though critics appreciated it, it failed to capture the ratings the network had hoped for. After a renewal for a ten-episode second season, the series was ultimately axed in 2016, making it also the first WGN America series to be canceled.
Still, with all the buzz around Oppenheimer at present, it might well be worth giving Manhattan a look for an examination of the Manhattan Project, even if its effects on the lives of people at the time are only represented fictitiously. Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a town hidden from the public, the stories follow Project Y scientists, who must keep their families in the dark while the federal government only provides them with select information about their own work. The secrecy and the historical events depicted are true to life, even if much of the series is fictional.
While it covers the same period and place in history as Oppenheimer, Manhattan provided a different, smaller-scale perspective that might be helpful for those interested in learning more, or at least getting a broader idea of the feeling of the times and events surrounding the development of nuclear weapons. The series was created by writer Sam Shaw, who is known for Castle Rock and Masters of Sex. Shaw said at the time that, although the series seemed focused on World War II, it was really about two eras.
Still, with all the buzz around Oppenheimer at present, it might well be worth giving Manhattan a look for an examination of the Manhattan Project, even if its effects on the lives of people at the time is only represented fictitiously.
The first era, like Opopenheimer, is the Manhattan Project itself, while the second is the time following the dropping of the bomb in Japan. Shaw had hoped to carry a third season into the period following World War II, which he called “the most complicated and morally fascinating and dramatic aspects of the history.” He expressed a desire to carry the story forward as the once-secret city of Los Alamos soon became world famous and the world learned of events that, at the end of Season 2, only three of the show’s characters knew about.
The character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who appears only in Manhattan‘s first season, is played by Daniel London, also known for his work on the Minority Report series, which aired on Fox in 2015. Apart from Harbour, few of the actors in the series are very well known, with the first famous name appearing fairly far down the list. Daniel Stern played the character of Gen Babbit for 15 episodes of the series run, five episodes more than Harbour’s Reed Akley.
Like most of the historical figures in the series, Oppenheimer plays only a relatively small role in Manhattan, which is an interesting shift in focus compared with the Christopher Nolan film. Other key historical players, such as Nobel Laureates Emilio G. Segrè and Enrico Fermi, do not appear at all. Still, the series has a historical and scientific grounding, with UCLA physicist David Saltzberg, serving as a scientific consultant, while Stevens Institute of Technology historian of science Alex Wellerstein was a historical consultant for Season 2, providing expertise in the areas of secrecy and weapons development.
Like most of the historical figures in the series, Oppenheimer plays only a relatively small role in Manhattan, which is an interesting shift in focus compared with the Christopher Nolan film.
So, if you’ve seen Oppenheimer or plan to, or if you’re just generally interested in historical dramas and the Manhattan Project in general, this somewhat forgotten series might be a lovely streaming find for you. If you haven’t seen Nolan’s film yet, it might be interesting to see it as a prelude, describing how other writers and producers imagined these events. Manhattan is free to stream now on Tubi.