If I was to sum up The Man in the High Castle in one sentence, it would be that it’s a great idea for a TV show in principle, but the execution of that idea leaves a little to be desired.
I know that should really be the conclusion to my review rather than the introduction, but I felt the need to put my cards on the table early.
A TV show – and I know it’s based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, but I’m operating on the assumption that in 2016 most viewers won’t have read the book – set in the 1960s about a world where the Nazis and Japanese won the Second World War and share an uneasy divide of the former United States of America does sound interesting. Add to that the early twist where a character finds a film reel showing news footage of the ‘our’ end to the war (where the Allies win) and you have the potential for a science fiction masterpiece.
But alas, the idea is not enough to make it so.
So what’s the problem?
Is the acting poor? No it’s not. Everyone involved, from the lead actors like Alexa Davalos and Rufus Sewell down to guest artists like Burn Gorman do a perfectly acceptable job and make the most of the material they have to work with.
Is it the design? Again, no. This looks brilliant and credit must be given for the way the world looks suitably different as a result of the Axis winning the war. The American architecture and even vehicle design has been changed to look like it’s influenced by their new overlords.
So what’s the problem?
It’s become the done thing for TV shows nowadays to be made with more than one season in mind. That’s fine most of the time, but when you’re basing a show on a 239 page book, there’s only so much story you can tell without adding unnecessary padding. Running at almost 10 hours in length, there was more than enough time to tell this story in a single season.
But because they’ve obviously decided that this will run and run, the more interesting aspects – such as what the hell is going on with those film reels – are almost totally ignored and instead we’ve got scene after scene of the Japanese Trade Minister looking longingly into the middle distance and Frank’s mate Ed telling him to be careful.
I did watch through it all, and I’m sure I’ll go back to it when Season Two comes out, but it was a struggle at times.
I suspect that when it finally ends, people will look back and talk about how it should have finished earlier and that the premise was extended for too long.
In that respect it will probably end up like Under the Dome; another TV show based on a book that would have worked a lot better if it was condensed into one action packed season, but alas outstayed its welcome.
So while it’s not unenjoyable, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you avoid it, you’ll have to approach it knowing that it probably could have been done better.