×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Manhunt: Unabomber’ on Discovery

With:
Sam Worthington, Paul Bettany, Chris Noth, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jane Lynch, Mark Duplass, Brian d'Arcy James, Elizabeth Reaser, Jeremy Bobb, Brian F. O’Byrne.

Ted Kaczynski’s actions weren’t exactly subtle. For decades, Kaczynski — a.k.a. the Unabomber — kept law enforcement and the public on edge by sending explosives through the mail, contraptions that maimed and killed many before he was caught in 1996. His meticulously made packages may not have promulgated the finer points of his anti-technology philosophy, but they certainly worked, as blunt-force instruments, to get him the attention he craved.

A lack of subtlety, however, trips up “Manhunt: Unabomber,” which is frequently flat. Events that viewers are generally aware of can be made suspenseful if the atmosphere and characters contain depth and nuance. Witness the ways in which “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” empathically explored players and controversies we thought we knew but in many ways, did not truly understand.

Unfortunately, the plodding “Manhunt: Unabomber” miniseries often fails to bring its principals to any kind of recognizable or specific life. Early installments cut back and forth between the hunt for Kaczynski, who is played by Paul Bettany, as it heated up in the mid- ’90s, and a series of confrontations the imprisoned Unabomber has before his planned trial. Sam Worthington plays Jim Fitzgerald, a rogue profiler whose unconventional ideas about linguistics analysis helped the FBI find the bomb maker.

“Fitz” and his quarry have much in common — and “Manhunt” never fails to highlight those similarities as emphatically as possible — which is part of the reason the FBI agent was able to think like his prey. But whatever spotty momentum the miniseries is able to build up is undercut by the fact that not only do we know Kaczynski was caught, we see him in jail. There’s no tension derived from the cat-and-mouse chase when the Unabomber sits in a prison cell or an interrogation room for much of the proceedings, quietly heaping scorn on the agents who caught him.

Bettany makes the quiet rage behind Kaczynski’s controlled facade interesting, and there’s no doubt the bomber’s past offers fascinating clues about what led him down such a destructive path. One episode is largely devoted to flashbacks of his time at Harvard University, where questionable psychological research led by an erstwhile mentor left Kaczynski feeling betrayed. But there and elsewhere, “Manhunt” often depicts the bomber’s life crises in predictable ways, without plunging all that far beneath the surface of the character’s psychology.

Far less successful than Bettany’s portrayal is Worthington’s performance as the introverted yet stubborn Fitz. The formulaic dialogue does the scrappy character no favors, and one has to wonder if the attempt to imitate a Philadelphia working-class accent further dulled Worthington’s depiction. But whatever the cause, Fitz, his family and his concerns are generally bland and lack the depth to carry this overlong enterprise. In a cast largely dominated by men, Elizabeth Reaser and Keisha Castle-Hughes are stranded in underwritten roles as Fitz’s wife and partner, respectively.

That said, “Manhunt’s” most persistent flaw might be the way in which the FBI brass, notably via a character played by Jeremy Bobb, is portrayed as clownishly resistant to Fitz’s methods. Task force managers may well have been that unwilling to listen to new ideas. But the way the internal FBI battle is rendered — Fitz’s hunch is right, his bosses won’t listen but he’s proven correct — becomes dramatically inert through repetition.

TV Review: 'Manhunt: Unabomber' on Discovery

Miniseries; 8 episodes (4 reviewed); Discovery, Tues. Aug. 1, 9 p.m. 60 min (2-hour premiere).

Crew: Executive producers, Greg Yaitanes, Troy Searer, Ross Jacobson, Dana Brunetti, Kevin Spacey, John Goldwyn, Andrew Sodroski.

Cast: Sam Worthington, Paul Bettany, Chris Noth, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jane Lynch, Mark Duplass, Brian d'Arcy James, Elizabeth Reaser, Jeremy Bobb, Brian F. O’Byrne.

More TV

  • TV Roundup: Netflix Sets 'Tidying Up

    TV News Roundup: Steven Yeun Joins 'Twilight Zone' at CBS All Access

    In Wednesday’s roundup, Netflix reveals the premiere date for “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” and Steven Yeun joins Jordan Peele’s “Twilight Zone” reboot. FIRST LOOKS  Variety has an exclusive behind-the-scenes first look at Season 2 of Showtime’s “SMILF,” featuring creator and star, Frankie Shaw. The new season, which premieres Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, finds Bridgette trying to move [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    CBS News Settles Suit Alleging Harassment by Charlie Rose

    CBS News settled a lawsuit filed by three women who alleged they were harassed by former “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose, and claimed CBS did not act despite being aware of the situation. The amount awarded to the women was not disclosed at their request, according to a CBS News spokesperson. “The matter has [...]

  • 'Liga' Kicks Off At Ventana Sur's

    Ventana Sur: 'La Liga' Kicks Off at Buenos Aires' Animation!

    Spain’s Quirino Awards, Argentina’s Animation! and Mexico’s Pixelatl Festival, three key events in Ibero-American animation, will join forces to create La Liga (The League), as announced Wednesday at an Animation! round table hosted by the Quirino Awards, titled “Iberoamerican Alliance Models.” Speakers included Quirino Awards promoter José Luis Farias, Mexico’s Pixelatl director José Iñesta, Gonzalo [...]

  • Netflix - Marvel's The Defenders

    Don't Expect 'The Defenders' on Disney Streaming Service Any Time Soon (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fans of the Marvel Television series recently canceled by Netflix who hope to see the shows revived on Disney+ may be out of luck. Sources tell Variety that the deal for the original four Marvel shows includes a clause that prevents the characters from appearing in any non-Netflix series or film for at least two years after [...]

  • One Dollar CBS All Access

    'One Dollar' Canceled by CBS All Access After One Season

    “One Dollar” has the ignominious distinction of being the first CBS All Access original series to be canceled. Variety has confirmed that the streaming service will not be bringing the drama series back for a second season. The series was set in a small rust belt town in post-recession America, where a one-dollar bill changing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content