One of my favorite storytellers is Philip K. Dick, the mind behind movies like Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, and Total Recall. I was thrilled to find out that one of his novels, The Man in the High Castle, was being turned into an Amazon original series, but it took my mom and sister to convince me to watch the pilot episode. Not because I didn't want to watch the show, but because I'm leery of Western television shows. Usually I like Asian dramas better and don't want to waste my time with a sub-par show. Still, they praised it to the skies and so I settled down to watch the first episode.
I was hooked from the second they showed a corpse with a realistic bullet exit wound. As gruesome as that might sound, it proved very quickly that the people behind the show cared for realism and detail - not something you find very often on television.
The story is set in an alternate history - what if Germany and Japan won WWII and divided America between them? It follows Juliana Crane, a young woman dragged accidentally into the underground resistance. She meets Joe Blake, an undercover Nazi agent who begins to question whether he's on the right side.
I'll say it right now - I didn't expect to be this impressed with the show, and I'm still surprised. Every few hours I think, "We really, really need a season two" - and it's been almost a week since we finished the show. Very rarely do I adamantly tell people "YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS SHOW," but The Man in the High Castle has proven a big exception.
The story is incredible. It's intriguing and filled with complex questions. Seeing this alternate history take place is both terrifying and fascinating, and it feels scarily accurate. Details are paid close attention to - you won't find half-measures everywhere you turn. American, German, and Japanese cultures are well-rounded and intricate. Nothing is exaggerated or glossed over, but it balances out the intrigue and darkness with hope and humanity, keeping you on the edge of your seat.
The first season is only ten episodes long, which is a blessing for some people (me included) who have many things to do and don't want to commit to another 22-episode series.
The cinematography is beautiful and symbolic, with perfect lighting and subject placement. The music never interferes with the show but accompanies it perfectly. The acting is excellent - everyone is convincing in their role. Nobody feels forced or over-acted. Everything has a subtle, down-to-earth feeling despite the obvious fiction of it all. It manages to be grounded in realism.
The characters are beautifully complex and three-dimensional. Where else do you see the humanity in a Nazi commander, or ruthless cruelty intermingled with honor? Where else do you see both good men do bad things and bad men do good things? Nobody fits within a two-dimensional box. Everyone does unexpected things, everyone changes in different ways. Everyone gets hit and reacts differently to getting knocked down. One of my least favorite characters, Frank, became my favorite by the end of the show. Maybe it's because we have the same personality type. Maybe it's because I connect with him more than anyone else - but where I thought he started out spineless and boring, his character development hooked me by the end of season one.
Speaking of hooks - never has the end of a show season left me in such a state of what on earth? Even 'LOST' wrapped up neater than this. The Man in the High Castle is a veritable hydra of questions - for every question that gets answered, two more spring up in its place.
I highly recommend this show - and, in fact, I would nominate it as the best Western show I've ever seen. (And I've seen a lot.)
For character depth, complexity, plot, detail, pacing, and cinematography, you won't find better.
NOTE: The show is for mature audiences. While not Game of Thrones caliber by any means, it's an intense and violent show with scattered, brief nudity (no sex scenes - think Schindler's List) and large amount of swearing, particularly F-bombs. Still, even my father was hooked on the show, and he's the most conservative viewer in the family. I wouldn't recommend this show for anyone under a mature 16.