The Man in the High Castle: The New World

You’ve got to hand it to Amazon. They definitely know which pilots to order to series. One of their most ‘out there’ ones is The Man in the High Castle, based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. Both the BBC and Syfy were circling the project, at that time as a 4-part mini-series, until Amazon swooped in and snatched the hot property. Because hot it is, if not only by using symbols from Nazi Germany; even though it’s completely fictionalized, you have to be extremely careful if you want to incorporate swastikas on every street corner.

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Divided
It makes it awfully hard to promote the show, too. After several complaints about the imagery on Man in the High Castle billboards, they were taken down. Too confrontational. So is this a show about the Second World War? Not quite. Like the year the novel was released, the story takes place in 1962, albeit in a different time line. ‘Our world as it might have been’, as the tagline on some of the book covers read. Germany and Japan won the war and both got a piece of the American pie. Japan got the West Coast, Germany the East, with a ‘Neutral Zone’ in between.

Status Quo
Although there’s peace, with the two countries having embassies in each other’s parts of America, another war seems to be imminent. While Hitler’s still in power, the status quo is upheld, but apparently he suffers from Parkinson’s. He’s got about 6 months to live, or so they say. His successor will probably, definitely, try to wage war against the Japanese. ‘They’ve dropped a bomb before’, as one character says.

The Man Behind the Curtain
Meanwhile, there’s the Resistance, delivering tapes with ‘the grasshopper lies heavy’ written on it. To who and why is still unclear. On these projection film tapes, there’s news footage of the war. But it’s tampered with; in this version, America won. The stars and stripes prevailed. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos, Mob City) receives one of these highly illegal copies, from her half-sister Trudy – who’s gunned down in the street by Japanese officers. It’s not the only thing Trudy left her. There’s also a bus ticket to the Neutral Zone, on which the name of a diner is written and the numbers ’12:5’. She decides to impersonate her sister and see where it takes her. Davalos has got a big role, but unfortunately her face doesn’t show much emotion. Or anything. Her expression never seems to change, which makes it too hard for the viewer to identify with her.

Destination Canon City
Travelling to the Neutral Zone from the other side (New York City), is Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank, No Ordinary Family, Bones, Person of Interest). He volunteers to assist the Resistance, even though he’s only 27 years old. He gets a truck and has to drive it to Canon City. He gets away just in time, because the place is suddenly swarming with Nazi officers, led by Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell, Dark City, A Knight’s Tale, The Pillars of the Earth).

Nightmarish
On their ways, Joe and Juliana meet each other. He wasn’t waiting on a girl called Trudy by any chance, was he? No, he wasn’t. He just wanted to talk. At the end of the pilot, Joe makes a call. To John Smith. It seems we’ve got ourselves a mole.
‘The New World’, which is the most watched pilot on Amazon ever, offers a state of the art alternate reality. It’s hard to tell where the set ends and the computer wizardry begins. You find yourself completely in awe of this nightmarish new world, so a lot of the story might be lost at first viewing. But there are many, many hints and clues dropped along the way. It’s definitely not a one dimensional historical fiction drama piece. The Man in the High Castle is as rich as it gets, in subject matter, design, story and scope. Compared to the enormity of the concept, perhaps it’s no surprise the acting feels a bit bleak.

Public Morals: A Fine Line

There’s a lot on the line for Edward Burns, with his new TNT show Public Morals. Indeed, his show, because he created, wrote and directed it. Assembled a bunch of terrific actors to go back to the 1960s with him, found a network to back it up, and even got Steven Spielberg involved (as executive producer, which, we all know, means he’s not very involved at all, but still: Steven Spielberg).

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The Business of Comfort
It’s fair to say TNT has lost the game against USA. It’s hard to say exactly why, but TNT does seem to have an affection for easygoing, middle of the road product. People should be able to watch their series and stay comfortable in their seats, while USA isn’t afraid to put you right on the edge of it. Public Morals certainly falls in the former category, but that doesn’t disqualify it; staying comfortably in your seat can be a nice thing.

Breathe
The show’s got a resemblance to TNT’s short-lived, quickly-aired Mob City, but that’s just because of the time period, men in suits, hats, and Robert Knepper (Prison Break, Heroes), as well as Burns himself. All in all, it looks great. No funny business with sepia tones or abysmal lighting, like The Astronaut Wives Club and especially Aquarius. The series is perfectly lit, dressed and designed, with a director on board who knows what he’s doing and takes his time, which enables the show to breathe.

The Gap
Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan, 15 Minutes, Confidence) came up about the same time Ben Affleck went down. He counted as the perfect Affleck substitute, the pretty boy leading man everybody was looking for. But while Hollywood was way too occupied trying to fit Affleck the square into a round shape, Burns was never called back. He could’ve easily filled the gap left by the pumped up image of Affleck, but it just never happened.
He may not have wanted to, decided to sharpen his craft as writer and director. And now there’s Public Morals, the accumulation of all of his talents.

The Business of Management
The series deals with a New York police department, starring next to Burns and Knepper, Michael Rapaport, Wass Stevens and a young actor who’s going to go far, Patrick Murney. Why? Just a hunch. Prostitution, gambling and alcohol are prohibited. The cops aren’t cops, they’re managers. Donald Trump would be proud. They’re keeping the peace, turning blind eyes, until that peace is broken: a body washes up on the shore with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Tasty Dish
That body’s Timothy Hutton (Leverage, Kidnapped, American Crime). Burns has got ‘a few ideas’ who could be behind it. It seems this murder is what sets everything in motion. It’s at the very end of the episode, so what have we been watching for an hour? If the first interesting thing happens right before fading to black, everything that came before must’ve been pretty boring, right? Not right. Public Morals might not serve up an explosive dish, but it’s a tasty one.

Lyndon Smith
There are other storylines woven through Burns’ work and private life, too, but it’s way too soon to tell where they’re all headed. One thing that must be mentioned, though: Lyndon Smith (Parenthood, Extant, 90210) is playing a minor part, and you don’t want to miss her in anything she’s in. She’s the Girl with the Most Amazing Jaw Dropping Hypnotizing Eyes on Television.