Now that we’re past the halfway mark in Westworld‘s debut season, we’ve had plenty of time to absorb the show’s complex story. The series, based off of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name has quickly become one of the most talked-about series this side of The Walking Dead. What makes it such a true anomaly though is that it represents HBO’s first true hit since Game of Thrones first hit the airwaves. Sure, the network has done well enough for themselves with Veep, Ballers, True Detective, and Silicon Valley. But for whatever reason, they’ve struggled to get a drama to stick for years now. So what exactly has made Westworld so damn appealing early in its debut run on HBO?
1. A rare prestige sci-fi series
There’s plenty of science-fiction out there on television right now. Even so, there’s only a small percentage of that group that qualifies as true prestige television. Right now, that list is limited to the likes of The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, The Expanse, and Orphan Black. Joining those elite ranks is Westworld, a show that’s accomplished a whole lot in just five episodes. It’s an honor not shared by many other sci-fi contemporaries, and for HBO, it marks the network’s first successful foray into the genre. Of course, having Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams on board creatively certainly hasn’t hurt things either.
2. A Lost-level of intrigue
Part of what made Lost such a cultural phenomenon was the way it had fans talking and debating about it constantly. The mysteries it posed were a source of discussion for fans on a weekly basis, generating a level of buzz that was practically unprecedented in television.
Westworld has had a similar strategy working in its favor over its initial run of episodes. Everywhere you look right now, audiences and critics alike are trying to decode the mysteries of the series. Who is the Man in Black? What’s happening to the robotic hosts of the theme park? Is the story being told in separate timelines? These are just a handful of the many questions being asked right now, and while Westworld has a tall order in eventually providing us with satisfying answers, there’s little doubting the benefit of the buzz they’ve created in the meantime.
3. It’s the first HBO series since Game of Thrones with true long-term potential
If you look at HBO’s current lineup, the pickings are pretty thin in terms of shows that could conceivably still be around five years from now. Game of Thrones is closing up shop soon, Veep is already five seasons deep, and True Detective‘s fate is largely up in the air right now.
In the case of Westworld, we have a series that the showrunners already have mapped out well into the future. The show has a full head of steam well into its first season. It’s not hard to envision it soon becoming HBO’s flagship series as a result. There’s a lot to be said for a show that plans beyond its first season, and with a clear picture of what it wants to do next, there’s nigh infinite potential here for a lengthy run.
4. Cinematic production values
The Golden Age of Television has largely been buoyed by TV shows beginning to take on a cinematic feel, both in terms of their narratives and production values. It’s not every network though that can pour the amount of resources into a single show the way HBO did with Westworld. The Hollywood Reporter estimates the total price tag for the series to be around a whopping $100 million, with the pilot alone costing upwards of $25 million. That’s a massive investment for a movie, much less a single season of television, and it’s produced a stunning visual experience for viewers. Westworld‘s vast landscapes, talented cast, and incredible special effects don’t come cheap, but they also set it apart from the rest of mainstream TV today.
5. Westworld poses a chilling moral dilemma
Existing in a moral vacuum tends to bring out the worst of humanity. Anyone playing a video game like Grand Theft Auto is apt to unleash their id, especially without any real-life consequences for their actions. Westworld takes that concept a step further, throwing its guests in the middle of violent real-life conflicts. Shooting one of the hosts forces someone to kill someone who walks, talks, and bleeds like a real human being, and it poses a chilling moral question to anyone watching the show: What would you do?
As Forbes posits in their own review, “with such power at our fingertips, would we indulge our inner demons? Would we become psychopathic killers, rapists, if the consequences of these transgressions no longer applied? How much of our own morality is bound to what we can get away with?” Everyone watching Westworld is forced to ask themselves some tough questions concerning their own morality, something that few other HBO shows (if any) ask of their respective audiences.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!