New HBO series is a mirror to our current times

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“The Plot Against America” may be a nightmare too close. The echoes here of our current times can be painfully real.

A mini-series based on Phillip Roth’s novel, the action takes place at the beginning of the 1940s when the Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh — the first true mass media celebrity — decides to run against FDR for the presidency, promising to keep the U.S. out of a war in Europe.

Watching at first anxiously, then in horror, is the Levin family of Newark. Dad Herman (Morgan Spector) has ferocious faith in America; Mom Elizabeth (Zoe Kazan, subtly spectacular) is far from sure. Elizabeth’s sister Evelyn (Winona Ryder) falls for a rabbi (John Turturro) who becomes an apologist/enabler for Lindbergh. Herman’s nephew Alvin (breakout Anthony Boyle) heads north to Canada to join the fight against Germany.

Confused and torn by it all are the Levin kids, teen Sandy (Caleb Malls) and young, wide-eyed Phillip (Azhy Robertson). Suddenly their comfortable Jewish lives are a mess of broken allegiances, political upheavals and family struggles.

Created and written by David Simon (“The Wire,” “The Deuce”), “The Plot Against America” isn’t some garish exploitation of goose-stepping Nazi nastiness. It’s far too wise for that. It watches as prejudice and injustice spread insidiously like a disease, as the abnormal and obnoxious and unthinkable become commonplace.

The story rubs up against power as the rabbi and Evelyn become government props but wisely spends most of its time in Newark with the Levins, watching from the street as the ideal of America gets perverted and drained, and a nation once united gets divided. Hatred courses across the map. All that’s missing is a virus and a ton of orange makeup. Again, a nightmare so close.

'The Plot Against America'

GRADE: A-

9 p.m. Monday

HBO

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

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