The Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: Unabomber shouldn’t be in my top five shows of the year. If you need a clue as to why, well the clue is in the words “The Discovery Channel” and yet, the show was utterly gripping, bingeworthy stuff.
Truth be told, as a Brit, I didn’t know too much about the Unabomber – I’d kinda confused him with Timothy McVeigh, but blimey – what a story!
The eight-part miniseries tells the story of the FBI’s hunt for The Unabomber – so named because he mailed nail bombs to Universities and airlines for a seventeen year period from the 1970s to the 1990’s.
Enter Agent Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerld (Sam Worthington) a fresh-faced criminal profiler who tries to pioneer the use of forensic linguistics to catch the killer but of course, the old-fashioned, no-nonsense, male ego UTF; Unabomber Task Force is having none of Fitz’s maverick, new-age techniques.
And in this, the true story of how the Unabomber was caught is perfect fodder for televsion storytelling: While the true antagonist causes havoc, his colleagues at the FBI do everything within their limited worldview to stop our protagonist’s new ways.
Film, you see is about the battle between antagonist and protagonist.
Whereas Television is about conflict; the unity of opposites you create must hamper your protagonist as much as the antagonist.
What also makes Manhunt: Unabomber perfect TV – your antagonist and protagonist must want the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin. In this instance, Fitz and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski both want to be heard and to be taken seriously.
The show takes a little while to get into due, in part, to Sam Worthington’s portrayal of Fitz but once you realise Fitz is the way he is because he’s on the spectrum, it all starts to make sense.
I’ve never really enjoyed Paul Bettanys stoic English butler before (perhaps on account of ya know, him marrying my childhood sweetheart) but here he delivers a mesmerising, heartfelt performance.
It helps that, despite being an insane terrorist, Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future makes some sense and his backstory – so beautifully written by Steven Katz and directed by Greg Yitaines in one of my favourite episodes of any 2017 show makes you understand and empathise 100% with Kaczynski’s awful pain.
If you want to learn how to write television – Manhunt: Unabomber is how.