What We Know About ‘The Plot Against America’—HBO’s Alternate History for the Trump Era

john turturro the plot against america hbo

John Turturro in The Plot Against America. HBO

What if, instead of FDR, aviator-slash-xenophobe Charles Lindbergh won the 1940 presidential election? That’s the question asked in The Plot Against America—the 2004 novel by Philip Roth, and soon the HBO miniseries based on it. It will invite viewers into the home of a working-class Jewish family from New Jersey to ask: what if The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel were a little less marvelous and a little more Handmaid’s Tale? Instead of white bonnets and lips stapled shut, think swastikas and Klansmen. (In either case, sign me up for a one-way ticket to Canada.) This 6-part alternate history of World War II will have you saying “chas veshalom”—heaven forbid—and maybe wondering if, given the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this show might be a little closer to home than it initially appears. 

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When does The Plot Against America debut?

The HBO series’ first episode airs on March 16 at 9pm ET, with weekly episodes to follow, debuting on HBO Now and HBO Go at the same time.

Who is behind it?

Dynamic duo David Simon and Ed Burns, who were co-creators of The Wire and Generation Kill, created The Plot Against America as well. Also involved are award-winning directors Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing, The Americans, Snowfall) and Minkie Spiro (Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife), each of whom is helming three episodes.

Who will be in it?

The cast of The Plot Against America features Stranger Things actress Winona Ryder as Evelyn Finkel, an unmarried woman trying to find her place in the world. Her male love interest, conservative rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf played by John Turturro, is a Lindbergh supporter and later a key figure in his administration.

Other actors include Zoe Kazan, who plays Finkel’s younger sister Bess Levin, Morgan Spector as Bess’s insurance agent husband Herman Levin who’s determined to fulfill his American dream, Caleb Malis as their teenage son Sandy who comes to admire Lindbergh, Azhy Robertson as their younger son Philip, and Anthony Boyle as Herman’s orphaned nephew Alvin who wants to kill Nazis. Other cast members include David Krumholtz as Monty Levin, Michael Kostroff as Shepsie Tirschwell and Jacob Laval as Seldon Wishnow. Like many of our own families, the Levins are deeply divided over politics, a subject impossible to avoid in troubled times.

What’s the plot, exactly, and to what extent will it stick to the book?

The plot and characters will stick pretty close to those in the book by the late Philip Roth. Even though the book is from over a decade ago, it somehow feels perfectly suited to today’s political moment. “It is the Jew-haters. It’s the America Firsters—it’s their country,” says Bess in the trailer, evoking a phrase used by Charles Lindbergh and Donald Trump alike. The show’s executive producer, Simon, who passed on adapting the book in 2013 because he didn’t think it was relevant, went for it in 2018 thinking it would resonate in the Trump era.

At the New Yorker Festival last October, however, Simon quoted the author as warning him, “Never confuse Trump for Lindbergh.” Simon explained, “[Lindbergh] was an astounding hero and an astonishing American icon after the flight. … He had the power that Trump as a reality show host and failed casino owner did not have.”

He continued: “Imagine the damage that could be done if [Trump] had the charisma and capacity of even a Lindbergh. It’s scary.” That it is, Simon. That it is.

What We Know About ‘The Plot Against America’—HBO’s Alternate History for the Trump Era