Westworld Will Be HBO's Next Huge Hit...for Some

Westworld Will Be HBOs Next Huge Hitfor SomeHBO has a Game of Thrones-sized hole in its lineup every June when the fantasy epic ends its season and the network goes back to airing something like the already forgotten Vinyl or the dreamy The Leftovers, which may get critics drooling but barely puts a dent in the ratings. The network's newest series Westworld (Sunday, 9/8c on HBO), a mashup of the hardcore science fiction and sweeping Western genres but more philosophy lecture than either of those, is the latest attempt to keep HBO a year-round necessity -- my mom can't be the only one who cancels her subscription after Game of Thrones is gone.

After watching the premiere, there's a good chance that my mom and many others will continue to be able to save some bucks, but for others with a predilection for robots, technology and sociology (*raises hand enthusiastically and forever*), Westworld will be worth every penny.

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Based on the the Michael Crichton-written-and-directed 1973 film, Westworld is flat-out insane. Set at an undetermined time (is it the future, an alternate history or what?), a company has realized an adult theme park set in the Wild West where the extremely wealthy can be entirely immersed in a rugged, dusty world with swinging saloon doors, prostitutes with their busts pushed up into their faces and bandits dressed in black who can rob the local saloon at any time. The trick to its success, however, is all up to the pre-programmed and scripted androids who populate the park and interact with the flesh-and-blood rich who vacation there.

Given that J.J. Abrams is an executive producer and Person of Interest's Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are on board as showrunners, it should come as no surprise that the androids don't tip their Stetsons and say "Howdy" for long. You know, like Itchy & Scratchy Land. These robots go bad... or are they just going where you or I would go? At the heart of Westworld are questions of the advancement of artificial intelligence, our relationship with technology and human nature in a vacuum, as visitors act out their deepest fantasies with little to no consequences and androids develop consciouses beyond their programming and begin to question their roles as adult playthings.


That makes Westworld more similar to the deep-thinking The Leftovers than the hack-and-slash power struggles of Game of Thrones, and leaves most shows looking dumb by comparison. That's also why HBO likely isn't betting too big on Westworld to resonate with audiences on the same level as the blockbuster Thrones despite pouring buckets of cash into Westworld's creation and tolerating production issues that ground the show to a halt. But if prestige is HBO's thing, Westworld has plenty to go around.

You'll almost certainly spend all of your time in Westworld divided between two places; in Westworld, watching the sandbox-style town come to life and the "Outsiders" play to their hearts' contents within it, and in the high-tech but minimally dressed outerworld where Westworld is operated from, which includes areas where the androids are created, updated and examined and a war room where Westworld can be viewed in what appears to be an advanced holographic map.

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But story-wise is where Westworld has its best chance at becoming a hit. Westworld treats its Western half with such care in the pilot that it's easy to get lost in the genre and forget you're watching science fiction. That mainstream entry point is a vital thread to the series because despite being about artificial intelligence and robots and whatnot, there are meaty cowboy stories contained solely inside Westworld's Western component that the show could explore and could stand on their own if Westworld chooses to go that path.

And their simpleness turns to complexity when viewed a second time -- I appreciated the pilot even more on a repeat viewing -- with new information gained from having already watched the entire episode, to create layered statements on philosophy and our role in the development of technology. This intersection of traditional storytelling with mind-blowing futuristic ideas is by far the most intelligent and enjoyable part of the series.


However, it will cause confusion. Westworld doesn't adhere to traditional rules of television, opting instead to focus on the upper-level "What if?" nature of its premise. That means some basic questions -- like where things take place, what year it is and how things actually work -- will go left unanswered. But that's the point. It's like a sensory deprivation tank where inessential details -- details that we unnecessarily preoccupy ourselves with -- are left in the dust to accentuate other things. Stripped of those questions, viewers instead should revel in the existential ideas the show is asking. Westworld wants you to engage in debate with your brain, it just doesn't want you to ask the same old boring questions. In other words, Westworld is not the type of show you flip on to relax after a taxing day.

In addition to Abrams and Nolan (who wrote the Dark Knight movies with his brother Christopher and the short story that Memento was based on), big-name actors are on board, including Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld who has grandiose ideas about what the place can be (think the old dude from Jurassic Park). There's also Ed Harris as "The Man in Black," a repeat visitor whose dark side takes him places no one else goes; Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, a Westworld local who begins to question her existence; Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe, a programmer who studies humans in order to apply their functions to the androids; James Marsden as Teddy Flood, a visitor with eyes for Dolores; and Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay, the madame at the local saloon.

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The performances are all excellent, but things are particularly bright in what I will call the "robot acting," which you'll see plenty of from surprising sources. Just wait 'til you see Louis Herthum do his thing as Dolores' father Peter -- he completely sells the idea that he isn't real in one of my favorite performances of the year.

On the technical side, Westworld clearly blew every last cent of its bloated budget. Spanning shots of what I'll guess is Utah are glorious, and when placed up against the futuristic headquarters of the Westworld architects, enhance the fantasy-like quality of the theme park. Nolan does an excellent job helming the pilot, and prestige TV favorites Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones' "Watchers on the Wall") and Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad's "To'hajiilee") direct later Season 1 episodes. And it's supported by another excellent score from Game of Thrones' Ramin Djawadi, who outdoes his past work.

When it all comes together, Westworld is one of the most intriguing new series of the year and the best new science-fiction series on television. It won't be HBO's next massive hit, but for people like me -- and hopefully you -- it won't matter. You'll want to visit Westworld and never leave.

Westworld premieres Sunday, Oct. 2 at 9/8c on HBO.

This article originally appears on TV Guide.com.

Comments (26)
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Oct 09, 2016
Hey Marsden is not a visitor!
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Oct 07, 2016
Oh, a real article here!

I think the pilot was very, very good. My only complain is the people who acts like robot glitches are not a big deal. They should worry some more to be believable.
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Oct 03, 2016
I wanted to love it because its so hard to find a great scifi show but it was boring. Yes it had lots of action but it didn't grab me and pull me in. In my opinion a great show is when you can't take your eyes off the tv and then it end you you're surprised because it felt like 5 minutes mean while its been a hour. While watching this show it felt slow, there isn't a single character or actor that I love and I've never liked westerns. I'll give this show another epsiode or 2 but if it doesn't improve I won't be watchcing it. Such a shame I was hoping HBO would get a great new show to replace GOT but this for me was a flop.
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Oct 02, 2016
This will date the hell out of me, but I watched the film when it hit theaters in 1973. Yul Brenner played the Man in Black, Ed Harris has his work cut out for him. Crighten is great for providing story lines that tend to be one and done, not because they are lacking, but because they are so difficult to top. The Andromeda Strain was my first introduction to his writing, made into his first major hit in 1971. The guy was on a roll. Both flicks are worth a look. I am really looking forward to the series, especially if even half of what Surette is promising shows up. Been a long, long time coming.
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Oct 02, 2016
Signs of life here... good article.
Can't wait for Westworld to begin, maybe, like The Leftovers, it will indeed make the other shows look seriously dumb in comparison.
Als o it could become a huge hit ratings-wise too.
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Sep 30, 2016
It's a shame this great article has already been pushed down the line and buried by individual stories about each episode of Luke Cage (which I also want to see), you would think the tech/editing group at tvguide would comprehend how to merge them all into one, like IGN or any other competent site would/does.

But, then, if they were competent, they would have already seen the need to create a separate page for all show reviews and recaps, so people could just go to that, and actual discussion promoting stuff like this wouldn't be snuffed out by the normal tvguide clickbait, short attention span nonsense.

Okay, short rant over, I feel somewhat better.
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Oct 01, 2016
Yeah this website is a shadow of its former self - a shell even - just used to promote whatever the assholes at tvguide tell them to. And yes - there is WAY too much Luke Cage shit on the front page - is Netflix paying CBS to put those there I wonder.. hrmm....
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Sep 30, 2016
"Westworld wants you to engage in debate with your brain, it just doesn't want you to ask the same old boring questions. In other words, Westworld is not the type of show you flip on to relax after a taxing day."

T
hat quote alone amps up my already high level of excitement for this show. There are mindless cookie cutter programs everywhere for those who enjoy them, I personally am always looking for intelligent programs that are well written and acted, that actually make you think and question both the show, and yourself. THAT'S entertainment and television at it's pinnacle for me!

As a side note to Tim, I really hope you'll be doing weekly reviews for this like you do for GoT and TWD. I always love them, and the discussion they promote (the GoT finale just missed 900 comments), and your Walking Dead reviews are often more entertaining than the show itself!
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Sep 30, 2016
I can't wait for this - I havent seen the movie but the story is good enough to watch the show and the trailer really made it look very interesting

Let's hope HBO can finally give me a new drama to care for (since Leftovers is over next year)
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Oct 01, 2016
You should just go watch the excellent Scream Queens instead - you know you want to! heheh...


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Oct 01, 2016
I do watch it - episode 2 was actually the best episode of the series IMO - Colton Haynes makes everything better

The jokes actually hit the mark (mostly) unlike previous installments

It wasn't as overacted as usual - the Chanel's are a lot more tame than usual - they're still dog shit characters that are annoying as fuck but still

Chad Radwell was back which is a BIG plus

Laura Bell Bundy is in it which is a plus (Hart Of Dixie fan here)

the killer's costume is creepy

Hester's scene was a good take on SotL - and it was actually better than than any other scene she has appeared in previously - and Lea Michele didn't overact like she did in that interminably terrible finale

They seem to be mixing it up with the horror - it's still a tongue-in-cheek, over the top, comedy but the horror seems a lot more evident here than it ever was in season 1

i liked it

But i also like AHS this week - so maybe i am just in an awfully good mood???

But despite all of that - it is not on HBO, my post was about HBO dramas totally lacking lately - Game Of Thrones is overrated, Vinyl was apparently terrible and was cancelled, I haven't watched The Night Of yet, The Leftovers is on hiatus and it is the final season ,
Comedies are the only thing on HBO worth watching as of late
So i am just hoping Westworld can fill a void left by The Leftovers - which was airing this time last year

Oh and just FYI - Scream Queens isn't even the best show on Network TV - so to tell me it could fill the void of Leftovers is a pretty poor example :)
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Sep 30, 2016
Meh, Pass:/
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Sep 30, 2016
way to be open-minded... yr loss - it's a killer story
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Oct 01, 2016
Oh I see Rebels just started again tooxD
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Oct 01, 2016
Nah, I get LUKE, AHS/AoS/GOT HAM?/Z-Nation/Aftermath/Flash/Lethal Weapon to keep me in ignorance of it's existance:)
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Oct 01, 2016
only 50% of those shows are good.. :P
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Oct 04, 2016
Agreed,but more entertaining than the sleeping pill that is WW;P
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Sep 30, 2016
I second MrsPhoenix's comments in that I'm really looking forward to this - and that the original 1973 movie was excellent as well!
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Sep 29, 2016
Looking forward to this Sunday's premiere, and I highly recommend watching Michael Crichton's original 1973 Westworld movie. It was off the hook LOL for an early 70s film, and Yul Brynner portrayed the original "Man In Black" the best!
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