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This TV Show Is The Period Drama You Should Be Watching

If the hole in your heart from the end of Mad Men needs healing, take a trip back in time with WGN America's Manhattan.

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WGN America

The Second World War may be thousands of miles away, but for the characters of the criminally underwatched Manhattan, there is no respite from constant fear-mongering about spies, wiretaps, and weapons. After all, they are building an atomic bomb.

Set in the insular community of Los Alamos, New Mexico, Manhattan is a '40s-era exploration of the bonds between family and country in the face of international catastrophe. The strictly guarded outer limits of the town of Los Alamos provide a sanctuary — and a prison — for the best scientific minds of their generation to come together in the pursuit of a weapon that will bring the Axis powers to their knees. Of course, knowing the historical resolution of the war as we do, the stakes of this proposition are atomic, quite literally.

And if you're not watching, here are a few reasons why you really should be.

Watching the creation of the bomb itself is fascinating.

WGN America

Largely because of the fact that the audience knows the bomb will, ultimately, be successful, the series is able to draw a lot of dramatic tension from what might otherwise seem like a bunch of dull scientific discussions. It's not the exact equations or problems of physics that take center stage, but rather the interpersonal conflicts between characters who have different views of how the bomb should be created and used. It's not about one design model vs. another so much as one scientist vs. another.

Plus, if the character drama isn't doing it for you, there's a really cool explosion.

The series is full of badass feminists.

WGN America

And not only that, many of them are celebrated for their talents as scientists. Helen Prins (Katja Herbers) is the sole female member of one of the design groups but isn't afraid to assert her supremacy over the other boys. Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) is a renowned botanist and strives for leadership in Los Alamos. And since women are severely underrepresented in science and tech even today — both in real life and in the media — it's refreshing to watch these women take charge.

And speaking of feminism, Manhattan presents an array of sexualities and treats them with respect.

With her husband Charlie (Ashley Zukerman) constantly working, Abby Isaacs (Rachel Brosnahan) begins an affair with her neighbor and coworker, Elodie (Carole Weyers). It's not simply that the series is making Abby's character bisexual for simple titillation, but rather that her sexual exploration adds a depth to to her personal insecurities about establishing a new life in Los Alamos. As she seeks connection in a highly regimented and segmented society, Abby's tryst with Elodie isn't a repudiation of her (heterosexual) marriage, but instead a form of liberation that is nearly impossible to find in the confines of the town.

Domestic life is treated with as much urgency and importance as the actual machinations of war.

While it's a war for country that provides the entry point for the series, it's the war for the restoration of a cultural ideal of prewar domestic peace that drives much of the series. Of course, Manhattan realizes that ideal domestic life was never quite ideal, and that a return to this imagined sociocultural way of living is ultimately impossible. But damned if Los Alamos doesn't do its best to provide a simulacra of the suburban idyll. There's a town council to make decisions about daily life, a market for shopping and gossip, a bar for light-hearted debauchery. There is also a strict monitoring of both internal and external communication; as much as the citizens are free to conduct themselves as typical suburbanites, they are simultaneously trapped within the army's purview. Domesticity is no longer their own, and the intimacy of family and friendship is not so private as it might seem.

It can be pretty damn funny when it wants to be.

WGN America

If you're worried that the creation of the atomic bomb might be a little too much doom and gloom, don't fear: Manhattan is secretly hilarious. Michael Chernus's character Fritz serves as a respite from the heaviness of discussions about war, death, and domestic collapse. And he's not simply a comedic prop; especially as Fritz searches for a romantic connection with Women's Army Corps member Jeannie (Lauren Myers), we see a deeply human side to his bumbling and bubbly personality. The comedy and the drama in his character flow seamlessly.

Catch up with Season 1 on Hulu now, then catch Season 2 of Manhattan airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on WGN America.

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