August 2, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Manhunt: Unabomber”


MANHUNT: UNABOMBER:  Tuesday 10PM on Discovery – In the Queue

Discovery’s 8-hour docudrama miniseries MANHUNT: UNABOMBER features its Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany) only in the final sequence of its opening 2 hours, a decision that gets the show off to an unfortunately pedestrian start.  As the title indicates, the focus isn’t on the charismatic Kaczynski, but on the FBI profiler who tracked him down, Jim Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington), and that story, at least as told here, is a familiar procedural.

Although Fitzgerald is a real person, his story in Manhunt seems to borrow quite a bit from the Will Graham character in the various incarnations of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.  Fitzgerald, too, is a brilliantly obsessive investigator, whose knack of getting into the heads of murderous madmen disrupts his family life and stretches the limits of his own sanity.  He’s also a rogue agent who refuses to follow the infuriatingly limited orders of his Bureau superiors, heedless of the damage it may do to his career.  And as with Will and Hannibal Lecter, he has an intense and perhaps unhealthily symbiotic relationship with the killer he’s captured.  That character isn’t necessarily exhausted–William L. Petersen, Edward Norton and Hugh Dancy have all played Will Graham in profitably different ways–but one needs to find a new spin on the role, and Manhunt creator Andrew Sodroski (who wrote the opening two hours, the second from a story by Jim Clemente & Tony Gittelson) doesn’t appear to have one.

Worthington plays Fitzgerald with commitment, but there’s a reason why Worthington was never able to ride the massive success of Avatar to true stardom.  He’s not the kind of actor who reveals depths of intelligence and feeling in a seemingly stolid close-up, and not particularly convincing as an agent who can run rings around the authorities around him.  Sodroski has drawn those senior FBI agents (who include Chris Noth and Brian F. O’Byrne) as slightly smarter versions of the Bureau dummies in Die Hard, utterly incapable of recognizing the truth when they’re hit in the head with it.  So far, the female characters, including Keisha Castle-Hughes as Fitzgerald’s partner, Elizabeth Reaser as his wife, and Lynn Collins as an academic who works with him, have next to nothing to do.

The basic story of the hunt for Kaczynski is interesting enough to keep the drama somewhat compelling, and although director Greg Yaitanes doesn’t get the chance for the kind of knockout work he did on Banshee and Quarry, he keeps the pace brisk and the physical surroundings convincing.  But the structure of Sodroski’s piece, alternating between 1995 scenes of Fitzgerald repeatedly telling his superiors that they have Kaczynski all wrong (to their patronizing disbelief), and 1997 sequences of Fitzgerald reluctantly returning to duty, has little spark.

Discovery doesn’t often delve into scripted content, and one would have liked to see the network take a riskier approach than this proficient but bloodless procedural.  Perhaps future hours will have more excitement now that Fitzgerald has visited Kaczynski in 1997 prison, and their relationship is underway.  There’s little firepower, however, in the opening episodes.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."