Alternate history stories about World War II are commonplace. With the possible exception of the American Civil War, they may be the most abundant. Based on the 2004 novel by Philip Roth, The Plot Against America is another such story. With so many options, why should viewers pay attention to this particular version of American history?
The Plot Against America is another collaboration between David Simon and HBO. The pairing have seen critical hits like The Wire and The Deuce. Impressive pedigree aside, this adaptation is not your run of the mill alternate history story. Choosing to focus more on how people are dealing with events instead of how things are different, the show is another powerful entry into Simon’s library.
The show centers around the Levin family. They are a working class Jewish family who are trying to make sense of this new version of the American dream. In The Plot Against America’s version of history, Charles Lindbergh is still a national hero. But in this timeline, he also strives to become President of the United States on a platform that encourages isolationism.
As is par for the course with a Simon show, there are a lot of characters to keep track of. The writers make this as easy as possible, filling the show with interesting characters. What makes this work so well, is that each person is different and independent. There will be some obvious cross pollination, such as the interactions between Evelyn (Winona Ryder) and her sister Bess (Zoe Kazan). Meanwhile, Phillip (Azhy Robertson) is trying to navigate the world on his own. Simon has always been great at injecting realism into his works.
The acting in the episode is tremendous. Anthony Boyle is great in the role of the emotionally charged Alvin. He and his uncle Herman (Morgan Spector) have a contentious relationship that also shows off the depth of the characters. The two may find little to agree on – and Alvin certainly pushes Herman’s buttons – but the series premiere shows how deep their love runs. This is a recurring theme in the first episode of The Plot Against America. The Levin family is making through the day based on the love they have for each other. The idea of love’s bounds being tested is a common theme in fiction. Simon slightly tweaks the formula by adding political intrigue and the changing world.
The plot does not take a backseat to the show’s themes, however. The two work hand in hand in concert to deliver a powerful story. It is hard not to see the similarities to today’s world. A not so subtle undercurrent of white nationalism and xenophobia tinge each episode. The rise of Charles Lindbergh mirrors that of the current President. The show is as intriguing as it is depressing.
The Plot Against America is another excellent addition to David Simon’s resume. Part political thriller, part family drama, the show also points a stained mirror at today’s society. The great performances will immediately involve viewers while the all to familiar story is very engaging. The HBO drama is also a case where it is hard to separate truth from fiction.