Based on Philip Roth's acclaimed 2004 novel of the same name and developed for HBO by collaborators Ed Burns and David Simon (The Wire, Generation Kill), The Plot Against America imagines an alternate reality in which famed aviator and xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh wins the presidency over FDR in 1940 based on Lindbergh's isolationist anti-war views. The story is told from the point of view of a working-class Jewish family who witnesses fascism springing up around them. (six 60-min. episodes)
Glen The premise of this miniseries feels very timely since the White House is currently occupied by a xenophobic populist. The themes it touches on—for instance, the insidious way fascism insinuates itself into a culture or the way demagogues scapegoat the "other" as the source of "real" Americans' problems—feels frighteningly relevant. The Levins are the family in question: hardworking patriarch Herman (Morgan Spector), devoted mother and wife Elizabeth (Zoe Kazan), and their two sons—the oldest artistically inclined son, Sandy (Caleb Malis); and the youngest, Philip (Azhy Robertson). Philip seems to be a stand-in for author Roth as a child, who based some details of the story on his own family. Philip's cousin, Alvin (Anthony Boyle), also lives with the family and wants to fight Nazis. Philip's aunt, Evelyn Finkel (Wynonna Ryder), also plays a prominent role as she starts a relationship with Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro). The rabbi becomes an ally to Lindbergh and something of a traitor to his fellow Jews, who believe America should intervene in World War II to save the European Jews from Hitler. So far, we're three episodes into the six-episode drama and I'm hooked! I can't wait for the next installment.
Anna The family dynamic is a really interesting part of this series, and once Evelyn starts dating Lindbergh-supporting Rabbi Bengelsdorf, the tension comes to a head, especially between her and Herman. She's the spinster older sister who has a shot at love, and if that means adjusting her views to line up with her new beau, she has no problem doing that. Herman also has a hot-and-cold relationship with Alvin, who just can't keep himself out of trouble. Watching this world through the eyes of the children, Philip is a great lens. The nostalgia of yesteryear is palpable, as is the fear of what can happen when the wrong people are in power. Blame and hate get tossed like grenades, even in the small world of a family—at the end of the day, they all have to sit at the same dinner table. I'm glad we weren't able to binge this all in one sitting; having it doled out week by week means I really sop up all the detail of the storyline.
Glen Everything from the sets to the cars to the costuming feels spot on, and the acting is first rate. It's something of a slow burn, which for the material feels like the right choice. Sure, they could have further condensed Roth's story, but instead, the miniseries takes its time to fully develop its complicated ideas about a complicated country. What strikes me the most is the feeling of having no control over events. The Levins see their country heading in the wrong direction; they see their fellow Americans drawn into these terrible ideological stances. It's like watching an accident in slow motion and wanting to stop it, but instead you can only watch in disbelief as it unfolds.
Anna It's really well crafted, and the performances are out of the park. I haven't read Roth's novel, but after starting this series I definitely plan to. It feels alarmingly real, especially in a time of upheaval and uncertainty. Watching an alternate reality from one change in history brings into sharp focus the power of those we vote into office. I'm a big fan of the structure of a miniseries—it allows a lot more time and storyline than a movie but doesn't devolve into repetition or a convoluted storyline that sometimes happens with a full-on series. Though I haven't seen the upcoming episodes, I have no doubt it will bookend nicely with episode 6. If you have access to HBO, be sure to check this one out. It's visually beautiful and doesn't fall short on story. Δ
Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.