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6 Reasons Westworld is Going to be the Best TV Series Next Year
A few weeks ago the HBO released the first teaser for their new series, Westworld. A show based on Michael Crichton’s (Jurassic Park’s writer) 1973 classic of the same name. The film’s story took place in an adult amusement park where visitors can live out their ultimate fantasies on robots who are programmed to satisfy the tourist with whatever the tourist wants. But when a malfunction occurs in their programming, the robots turn on the guests and wreak havoc. From early signs the show looks to be using the same premise. And this premise is the perfect concept for a show; it’s so perfect that I’m willing to give six reasons why Westworld is going to be the biggest hit for the small screen next year.
The Original Film
It’s not what Michael Crichton’s visionary 70’s film contained on screen that gives it potential; it’s what Crichton’s film couldn’t put on the screen that will bring interest and potential for the series.
The original was packed with mind-bending ideas. It explored how humans lose all sense moral when they can perform child-like fantasies on robots who will provide no consequences. But the film asks: when does killing become acceptable? When can it be used for recreation? Not stopping at the theme of killing, it also delved into how artificial intelligence might be able to suddenly develop emotions. However, while posing these thought provoking questions it never dug deep into them, and that was probably due to the constraints of the era.
The film at the time was a low budget directional debut that’s running time only met ninety minutes. It didn’t spend long exploring the themes in depth because the budget wasn’t there. So instead we got a backdrop for a horror/western played out like a straight out slasher film. But you could see the potential for future material. There’s a lot you could spin into fresh television, and the fact that it’s sci-fi means you could run in any direction with this. Leading to gripping, unpredictable, yet thought provoking television. Something worthy of our so called ‘Golden Age’ of TV.
Brother of Chris Nolan, Jonathan is usually Chris’s right hand man as they write their screenplays together. That means Westworld’s showrunner is the man responsible for mind bending sci-fi’s Interstellar and Inception.
In all Jonathan’s writing, he has dug deep into very complex and largely ambitious topics. Inception dealt with the nature of reality and our perceptions of it. Memento was a film where a man suffering short term memory loss was trying to piece together his wife’s murder, but things weren’t easy, as people who appeared to be his friend might actually be his enemy. Jonathan wrote this with a unique structure, the narrative playing out backwards as the main character tried to remember. It showcased his deftness at handling complex themes, and fractured narratives with ease. Perhaps his grandest piece was Interstellar though, as he simultaneously dealt with themes of fifth dimensions, fate, faith and love. Seems he’s tailor made for this sci-fi lark.
Also, he’s already had experience with working in TV, as his series, Person of Interest is currently about to head into its fifth season on CBS.
With over 9 awards between them, the cast is certainly heavy on movie star talent (like most HBO shows nowadays). Ben Barnes (Dorian Gray), Ingrid Bolso Berdal (Hercules), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim), James Marsden (X-Men), Thandie Newton (The Pursuit of Happyness), Rodrigo Santoro (Focus), Jeffery Wright (Casino Royale) all feature in the series, but I have to save one name until last because he just fits this world so perfectly: Ed Harris. Who for fans of the original may be thinking that he bears a striking resemblance to Yul Brynner. Well, they seem to be playing similar characters in the image below.
Harris’s official character name is The Man in Black so maybe an offspring of Brynner’s Gunslinger perhaps?
If there was a flagship network for the ‘golden age’ of TV then HBO would be right up there. Pioneers for inventive and risky television I call them. For years now they’ve produced movie quality shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, True Detective and Boardwalk Empire. They’ve also attracted a steady stream of movie talents like Matthew McConaughey, Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray, now Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris. However, it’s the networks faith and backing of the shows it produces which makes HBO special.
HBO last year were met with criticism of its show, The Leftovers, which deals with the reaction of a small town when 2 percent of the world’s population goes missing. The show was criticised after just a couple of episodes for being too obscure, depressing, and not providing enough answers for the audience, but HBO stuck to by it, even renewing the show for a second season half-way through. It proved a good decision as the show improved in quality and provided answers all the way to its brilliant finale, squashing many of the critics. That’s why I have faith Westworld has found the right home and will have the required time to develop.
The Show’s Angle
As I said before, the TV adaptation is a chance to delve deeper into the themes that were unexplored by the film. So by delving into the broader spectrum of TV it will have to lose the horror slasher angle the movie went in at.
Jonathan Nolan knows this; he’s recently stated that the show will take up the robot’s point of view as the show wants to explore the many themes of artificial intelligence. So the series will probably feel different from the film, but deliver on the concept of the original film.
There’s been MTV’s Scream, FX’s American Horror Story, FX’s The Strain, and most recently FOX’s Scream Queens. They’re all horror shows that are more classic slasher horror to an extent. However, Westworld looks to be the first horror show that will be more psychological horror.
Jonathan Nolan said to Entertainment Weekly back in January as to what to expect: “I would say, picture your neurosis. Picture the things that keep you up at night – human behavior, artificial intelligence – any of those things that trouble you, worry you. That is exactly what the show is about. We are hoping to exploit all of those anxieties… We’re incredibly excited about it, both on the narrative level and on a cinematic level.”
It’s hard to deny a mix of sci-fi exploration with old style westerns towns and a bit of horror is not an exciting prospect in weekly installments.
Westworld debuts early 2016 on HBO with an eight episode run.