Four episodes in, I’m willing to call this adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s novel a winner. In Dick’s dystopian vision, the Nazis develop the bomb first and win the war. The US is divided up into Nazi territory (basically everything east of the Continental Divide), a Japanese co-prosperity sphere on the West Coast, and a Rocky Mountain “neutral zone,” where refugee Jews, people of color and random malcontents survive as best they can.
As our story begins, it is 1962, and there is about to be a leadership change in Berlin. The Japanese are worried that the Nazis, having rolled up the rest of the world, will turn to them next, starting with San Francisco. Most Americans have figured out how to get on with their lives, although there is a low-energy resistance movement on both coast. Two would-be revolutionaries, however, are heartened by the discovery of a movie showing an alternate history — one where America won the war. They go in search of the mysterious Man in the High Castle, somewhere in the mountains.
One of the show’s real strengths lies in the visual depictions of the fictional alternate universe. Nazi America has ultramodern public transportation and supersonic planes, but no interstate highways (no Eisenhower), and no rocket fins on the cars (no Cold War, no Sputnik, no space race). Family life in uncomfortably close to Leave it to Beaver, except the Beav wears a Hitler Youth armband, and there are no people of any color. In Japanese America, they have solid state TV, which shows Japanese sumo wrestling, and rich Japanese buy American cultural artifacts to bring home. Guns and Bibles are, of course, illegal everywhere.
All of this is fun, but the show’s creators didn’t forget the important stuff. The writing is pretty good — they’ve made a few changes to the original, but nothing outrageous. The acting, with a cast of mostly unknown actors, is pretty good too.