The Spool / Reviews
Manhunt well worth the search on AppleTV+
The dramatic look at the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth is compelling, but truly succeeds by focusing on much more than just the assassination.
NetworkApple TV+
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Studio3 Arts Entertainment, Apple Studios,
9.0
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Making Abraham Lincoln or Hamish Linklater the least interesting thing about your television series is no easy feat. That’s especially the case when it features Linklater playing the 16th President of the United States. Yet, somehow, the Monica Beletsky-created MANHUNT, adapted from the James L. Swanson tome of the same name, manages to do just that. And that is 100 percent a compliment.

Often forgotten is that Lincoln was not John Wilkes Booth (Anthony Boyle) and his co-conspirators’ only target. The schemers also marked Vice President Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower, an acting veteran turning in his best work.) and Secretary of State William Seward (Larry Pine) as targets. (The series additionally implies that the show’s lead, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies), may have been on that list, but that doesn’t appear in historical texts.) By opening on the far larger plot that almost immediately unraveled due to bungling and cold feet, MANHUNT quickly asserts its intentions. While catching Booth is the series’ splashiest element, it is certainly not all it has on its mind.

Manhunt (AppleTV+)
Tobias Menzies has hat, will travel. (AppleTV+)

If anything, the eponymous search provides the show a means of taking stock of America immediately after the Civil War. Ping-ponging around in time, Manhunt provides a glimpse of how a collection of Americans experienced life after General Lee’s surrender. The derailing of a far more extensive restructuring of America feels every bit as mourned here as the fallen President.

However, Manhunt isn’t some history lesson with recognizable faces. As animated by Boyle and Menzies, the series crackles. Boyle gives the assassin unfocused resentment that stems from both distaste for Lincoln and a hunger for more fame. His refusal to escape to Mexico captures this well. As both a great gag and a chilling indication of how shallow his goals are, Booth rejects it because people there don’t properly appreciate his acting. Menzies, by contrast, is deep and internal. He’s consumed by the guilt of not saving his friend and President and watching his hopes for America’s future get compromised into near non-existence. And yet, he holds the reins so tight only moments of emotion leak out.

Manhunt (AppleTV+)
Anthony Boyle depicts a Booth who can’t resist being the center of attention. (AppleTV+)

Between Boyle and Menzies stands an impressive collection of actors doing incredible work. The scripts pull solid, unshowy performances from several typically comedic types, including Patton Oswalt as Detective Lafayette Baker and Matt Walsh as Dr. Samuel Mudd. Other well-known character actors like Lili Taylor as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Spencer Treat Clark as con-conspirator Lewis Powell, and Betty Gabriel as freewoman and sought-after dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley make their parts feel complete and well-rounded with limited screen time. 

The real standouts in the supporting cast tend to be less recognizable though. Far and away, the series MVP is Lovie Simone as Mary Simms, a woman technically in Mudd’s employ while still functionally forced to live very much like an enslaved person. 

Manhunt (AppleTV+)
Lovie Simone’s portrays Mary Simms, a key player in catching John Wilkes Booth. (AppleTV+)

From a visual standpoint, Manhunt benefits from strong directorial voices, including Carl Franklin and John Dahl. Both bring a sense of the cinematic, keeping the show from a blandness even the best streaming shows sometimes have. Additionally, they’re proven hands who excel at highlighting thematic elements without making them overbearing. There’s no shame in being a television director, especially these days, but it would be nice if both Dahl and Franklin got another chance at big-screen feature directing, something neither has done in over a decade.

At seven episodes, Manhunt moves without feeling frantic. It doesn’t overstay its welcome even as it widens its gaze beyond just the search of Booth. Strong visual language and great performances top to bottom ensure viewers will have plenty to take in as they likely learn, or are at least reminded, of how complex the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination was beyond just his loss of life.

Manhunt mounts up and ride out on AppleTV+ this March 15.

NetworkApple TV+
SimilarAgatha Christie's Poirot Dexter, Fallen, Fate/Apocrypha, Fearless, Game of Thrones, Gossip Girl, Hilda Furacão Little Women M*A*S*H, Monarch of the Glen, More Tales of the City, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Planet of the Apes Pride and Prejudice Sherlock Holmes Soul Land 2: The Peerless Tang Clan, Super Pumped, Tales from the Neverending Story, The Buccaneers, The Lost World, The Strain, The Sun Also Rises, Tientsin Mystic, Unorthodox, Wycliffe,
Watch afterAltered Carbon, Breaking Bad Chernobyl Dark, Fargo, Game of Thrones Halo MINDHUNTER, Money Heist Stranger Things
Studio3 Arts Entertainment, Apple Studios,