Westworld - TV review

by Greg Dixon / 21 October, 2016
All the money may be on an ambitious reimagining of Westworld, but can it live up to the hype?
Westworld. Westworld.

Sky TV always makes me feel like Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. Every year, I say I’m leaving that mob – sorry, pay-TV network – because it’s so expensive, particularly when compared with streaming services like Netflix. And every year, just when I think I’m out, Sky pulls me back in.

It’s not the rugby coverage that keeps me coming back: rugby bores me. It’s not the movies either. And it’s certainly not the Sky channel called TLC, home to such afternoon delights as Sex Sent Me to the ER. No, what keeps me from cancelling my subscription is SoHo, a channel that, as Sky’s advertising recently crowed, has shows so classy they collected over 50 Emmys at this year’s awards.

The big winner, of course, was HBO’s much-obsessed-over Game of Thrones. And just as it has been for its makers, Thrones has been SoHo’s biggest marquee attraction for the past six years and a key reason I’ve stuck with Sky. However, as all good Daenerys devotees know (gulp, sob), only two seasons of Thrones remain before it becomes yesterday’s dragon droppings.

So what comes next for HBO, for SoHo and for my Sky sub? Well, all the money, though maybe not mine, is apparently on Westworld.

If the hype machine missed you, this new series is a reimagining of the 1973 movie about a robot amusement park where the robots go gaga and start murdering the punters. Written by Michael (Jurassic Park) Crichton and starring Yul Brynner in a black cowboy hat, it was a bit bloodthirsty but as camp as all get-out.

The 2016 version is a robot bird of a different, rather more ambitious feather. With JJ Abrams on as an executive producer, a cast including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Thandie Newton and a reported budget of more than US$100 million, it is positioning itself as “important television” with “important things” to tell us about the nature of consciousness and the meaning of life.

Westworld is a vast, 30-year-old Wild West amusement park where the rich pay to kill and copulate with extremely lifelike android “hosts”. As the glossy first episode opens, it is having a little trouble with the town’s sheriff, who has gone all twitchy after a software upgrade. Meanwhile, one of the robot bad guys goes on an unauthorised killing spree, culling the town’s robot citizenry. Meanwhile, Dolores, a host who apparently sees the love of her life die every time a new lot of punters arrives in town, appears to be becoming sentient, too, after her twitchy robot father whispers something in her ear. Meanwhile, Harris is a murderous, bloodthirsty guest on a mystery mission to find out what’s really going on with Westworld’s robots. Meanwhile, Westworld’s founder, Dr Robert Ford (Hopkins), is getting twitchy himself, and his sanity is becoming the subject of speculation among his plotting employees.

That’s a lot of meanwhiles. But then the first episode, as first episodes can be, was a lot about the writers positioning their pieces for what is to come. And what is to come? Well, much like Thrones, a lot of violence, naked flesh and then more violence, one supposes. Apparently that’s the winning formula.

Harris, in particular, seems to be revelling in scenery-chewing, though this included a very nasty, extremely distasteful sequence where he dragged Dolores off to rape her, saying, “I didn’t pay all this money because I wanted easy. I want you to fight.” I could do with less of that and more of the “important television” stuff.

And there certainly is evidence of a potentially interesting philosophical vein running through, making it possible this sci-fi-Western mash-up will be more than just a violent TV amusement park. But this hangin’ judge still has a lot more evidence to hear before he can decide whether Westworld is the next Westeros.

Westworld, SoHo, Mondays, 2pm and 8.30pm.

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