Manhunt expands one of America’s most significant moments in history and turns the chase for a killer into a dry Wikipedia page of facts.

Tobias Menzies (The Crown, Outlander) plays Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war and confidant. After Lincoln is shot dead by John Wilkes Booth (Masters of the Air’s Anthony Boyle), Stanton leads the 12-day search for the actor despite his own ill health.

Based on James L. Swanson’s book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, Apple TV’s Manhunt follows both Edwin Stanton and John Wilkes Booth after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. While most stories follow Lincoln’s life and end with his death, Manhunt starts with his death and follows the hunt for his killer.

The opening episode shows the last days of Abraham Lincoln (Midnight Mass’s Hamish Linklater) and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Lili Taylor). Linklater’s unfortunate prosthetics and hammy accent distract from fantastic dialogue that does a decent job of humanizing the late politician.

Directed by Carl Franklin, the first episode is tense and intriguing, despite everyone knowing how Lincoln’s trip to the theatre ends. The foreboding dread dips once Booth kills the president. The following six episodes are a languid exploration of a paranoid country and one man’s dogged pursuit of the assassin who killed his friend. If audiences are expecting an exciting chase between Booth and the authorities (like the trailer suggested), think again.

Although episode one shows Lincoln’s death, Manhunt confusingly jumps between different timelines, showing the scenes leading up to the assassination. While these scenes lay the foundations of Lincoln’s death, they feel like a narrative afterthought. The jump between timelines feels like an unnecessary way to make a plot audience know the ending feel more interesting.  

The parallels between 1865 America and the modern-day USA are presented with a heavy hand. Both are at a political tipping point, driven by racism and filled with politicians who couldn’t wait to exploit the paranoia of the working-class voter. There is also Booth’s longing to be famous and how that parallels the current thirst for infamy and TV time, no matter the purpose of getting there.

John Wilkes Booth is a difficult character to watch; he is egotistical, racist, and has delusions of grandeur. He lives in the shadows of his thespian father and brother and is driven more by the spotlight than any of his own political beliefs. The killer has no redeeming features nor any subtleties, which may lend itself to realism but doesn’t make for an engaging antagonist. There is some irony in dismissing a man for seeking fame when portraying him in a television show over 150 years after his crime took place.

The heavy amount of racial discrimination and violence is hard to watch. While these stories are integral to the fabric of America, Manhunt will likely leave audiences wondering if the USA is stuck in a loop of repeating its own monstrosities.

A side plot that deserved more time, or perhaps its own show, is Mary Simms (Lovie Simone). After Lincoln’s assassination helps the Confederate cause, Mary is trying to gain freedom. Lovie Simone delivers a passionate performance that feels wasteful in a show that has sidelined her plight in favor of watching a dull cat-and-mouse chase between the killer and the authorities.

Manhunt takes itself too seriously. Although the topic is serious and a hugely important moment in American history, Manhunt often feels more like a history lesson and less like a slice of entertainment. While there is no doubting the craftmanship behind this lavish show, it can, at times, feel like a chore to watch.

Adapted by Monica Beletsky (Fargo), Manhunt illuminates important Civil War stories and the lesser-known aftermath of one of America’s most important chapters in the dryest way possible. Although well produced, well written, and worthy, any messages that 21st-century America could absorb get lost in its clinical need to stick to the historical facts.

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