This review contains mild spoilers about the basic premise of the series, but does not affect most of the important storylines in both the TV series and the original book. We've seen all six episodes of the limited TV series, the first of which debuts on HBO on March 16, but only mention the first two episodes.
With fantasy and science fiction as one of the most popular television genres, we see the rise of the sub-genres of this realm – especially the sub-group of alternative history, which was once put aside alongside stories of dragons and elves. The latest, The Plot Against America, is HBO's youngest crack in this category. But after what we've seen from season one in preview (premiere of the first episode on Monday, March 16), the series stumbles upon itself to make a point about today's political landscape, undermining it their message.
The late author Philip Roth was inspired for his novel on alternative history from 2004 by the real character of Charles Lindbergh, the aviator from the 1920s who became a superstar decades before his name. Lindbergh, who lived abroad in the 1930s, was an open supporter of non-interference and Nazi Germany, and his return to America in 1939 reported in the press that he might run for the presidency. His 1941 speech in Iowa, in which he blamed the "three main groups" of the "British, Jews and the Roosevelt government" for World War II, illustrated his anti-Semitic views. His influence at the time was so great that President Roosevelt considered it necessary to publicly blame him for it.
These historical footnotes form the starting point for Roth's story, in which Lindbergh ran in 1940 and won the presidency by riding a flood of racist fear.
Fig leaf cover
John Turturro as Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, who supported Lindbergh's presidential candidacy in this retelling of 1940s America.
The rabbi should probably rethink his actions.
The series is not afraid to imagine an America with an increase in open, fascist behavior.
Winona Ryder as Evelyn, the rabbi's wife.
Morgan Spector as Herman.
Zoe Kazan as Bess.
This should inspire television with its echoes of the current political landscape. The anger beneath the surface of Roth's novel contains a source of emotion. From the thinly fictionalized perspective of Roth as a child, the Levin family – parents Herman (Morgan Spector) and Bess (Zoe Kazan), as well as sons Sandy (Caleb Malis) and Philip (Azhy Robertson) – experience the nightmare of presidency empowerment of those who would openly discriminate.
Each family member reacts differently to Lindbergh's victory. Herman denies that the rise of Fascism can ever take place here and only realizes that this is possible every day. Bess chooses to flee the fight and asks to move to Canada. Sandy buys what Lindbergh sells and volunteers to be shipped to the farmland to see "real America". Cousin Alvin (Anthony Boyle) flees to Canada, not as a switch, but to wage the war that Lindbergh promises to avoid. Local conservative rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro) smells of opportunity and offers Lindbergh fig leaf by supporting him. Philipp's aunt Evelyn (Winona Ryder), who is always deceiving herself, marries Bengelsdorf and believes that wealth and power will protect her.
If the story works, it hits as Roth's novel meant. For example, the Levin family's attempt to move to a better neighborhood takes on the same horror overtones as Get Out's in 2018 when the family car turns the corner and finds a German-style beer garden that looks like Nazis . The encounter is more effective on the screen than on the page because it is not seen solely through the eyes of an innocent child, so every family member can respond right now.
There is also a new production of Lindbergh's real Iowa speech. Like the book, the series transposes the event about a year (before the Republican National Convention of 1940) and reinterprets it as the future candidate's coming-out speech. Seeing families gather on the radio in horror and react explosively to what they have just heard brings a frightened energy to these long-gone political moments.
The latter scene also embodies when the HBO series goes too far. When the men gather in front of their houses after the speech, Philip looks through the window. A voice can be heard from below: "If a man tells you he's a son of a bitch, believe him."
This anachronistic version of Maya Angelou's now-repeated quote, which made waves after Trump announced his presidential campaign, is staggering. I'm sorry, should this scene be the 1940s version of Twitter?
The answer seems to be a conscious "yes". And it's just the beginning of the series that takes scene by scene from the novel and rotates it 90 degrees off-axis to add exaggerated parallels between Roth's 1940 vision and the present. For example, episode 2 ends with the 1940 election: the Levins believe Roosevelt will take the night lightly, then they slowly wear off as the Lindbergh-favored returnees enter. The movie theater that plays Roosevelt's concession speech does not quite hold the shock of MSNBC and CNN on election night. But the show is working hard to draw the direct line so that the viewer makes the leap.
Which president are we hinting at again?
Trailer for The Plot Against America.
The Plot Against America is a surprising choice by authors David Simon and Ed Burns, best known for HBO's The Wire. Not that The Wire didn't draw any analogies – the third season's clues to the Iraq war weren't subtle. But Plot Against America pulls the viewer out of the story whenever possible, like a loud buzzer that sounds right behind the stage. Perhaps this is a deliberate decision to play out the relevance of this story of Nazis in America for fear of making the same mistake Amazon made with The Man in the High Castle. (Although this show was a good adaptation of the material, it sometimes seemed to assume that hitting Nazi logos on everything needed to make a dystopia interesting.) HBO's refusal to respect the audience's intelligence, To make the connections yourself, undermining the effects of the series could have been different.
One of the joys of alternative stories is that writers don't make parallels explicit so that they can connect wherever they want, an open subtext that can be applied wherever it fits. The novel "Conspiracy Against America" is a perfect example of the second Bush administration. It is thanks to him that it reads even more relevant today. The insistence that it can only be interpreted in this way feels like the work of those who cannot or do not want to imagine how it could be read in the future.
The Plot Against America is HBO's recent great hope on Monday night trying to colonize beyond Sunday nights, which have been dominated for the past two decades. So far, only Chernobyl has managed to land with viewers last year, another story in which the story was retold in the hope of making a point about today. But Chernobyl's authors understood that the power of his message was to make the story speak for itself. If only The Plot Against America had trusted Roth's voice to do the same.