Let's start with the obvious one: Westworld. I'm not going to mince words here: it's the best new science fiction in ages -- best in the past decade that I can remember. We'll see whether it lives up to the comparison, but the last time I was this jazzed about a series was Babylon 5. And that's not an idle comparison: I've heard that this is going to be a five-year novel in the same way, and the pacing supports that.
In case anyone hasn't heard the premise: Westworld is vaguely a remake (but mostly just inspired by) an old SF movie about a theme park with robots run amok. And that's kind of what's going on here, but it is *so* much more -- not least, in that the Hosts (the robots) might yet turn out to be the good guys. At least, by comparison.
Mind, this story isn't light and fun. One of the execs is Jonathan Nolan, who was behind Person of Interest (which I would previously have dubbed the best show of recent years), and he's exploring somewhat similar themes, but with HBO's budget and standards. So whereas PoI got a bit grim sometimes, this one gets downright DarkityDarkDark.
The thing is, though, it doesn't just get dark the way you expect. Yes, there's a good deal of violence and a modicum of sex. But there isn't nearly as much sex as nudity, and the nudity gets downright disturbing -- it's used as a narrative tool, to show the way that the humans think of the hosts as *things*, not as people. And even that only begins to set the stage for where the story winds up going, exploring concepts of sentience and free will very deeply, very honestly, and bone-chillingly. This may be the first TV show since The Twilight Zone that manages to be fundamentally creepy through its exploration of existential questions.
Pretty much everything hangs together here. The writing is tight (although I will warn that you need to be prepared for quite a bit of, "not all is as it seems"), the direction is solid, the effects are fabulous, and the acting ranges from solidly good to marvelous. (I am a confirmed member of Team Maeve by now.)
Most importantly, the *structure* is delicious. This feels like a novel, not a serial: deep, incredibly intricate, and finely woven together. I'm fairly sure that Season 1 is just giving us the surface of the story -- there are ample indications that there is far more to this world, and I would bet we're going to see a lot more of it as the epic progresses.
We'll see if they can continue as well as they've started; I'm praying we don't get another Galactica at the end. But this was the best first season I've seen of anything, period, and Nolan has demonstrated that he can finish strong. This may turn out to be one of the all-time greats, and it is well worth seeking out.
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