Monday, December 05, 2016

Review of Westworld Season 1

(Television Addiction)

So, along with the rest of the world, I've been through the wild ride that was season 1 of Westworld.

I suspect my experience has been similar to the rest of you.  But let me test that theory.  I'll jot down a summary of my experiences, and you tell me if it was the same for you or not.

Before the Show
I never saw the original 1973 Westworld, but I'd seen commercials for it when it was being re-run on TNT back in the day, and I knew enough of the basic premise.

So naturally my first thought was: They're going to make a whole show based on this? 

I mean, sure, you could get a solid 2 hours out of robots running amok in a theme park.  But a whole show?  A whole 5 seasons on this premise?  How could this possibly be any good?

But in the weeks leading up to Westworld's premire, I noticed it was getting a lot of hype.

I have HBO in my apartment as part of my cable package here, and so, since I had nothing better to do, I decided to check out the first episode just to see what the fuss was about.

And then, once you've watched the first episode, you're hooked.  (I have yet to meet anyone who saw the first episode, and didn't stay through the rest of the season.)

It was hard to tell if the show was good or bad, but it was very intriguing.  There were a number of interesting possibilities being shown, and you wanted to keep watching to see where those possibilities go.

By about episode 4, however, I was beginning to think that the show was losing its initial promise.  The plot wasn't going anywhere.  It was just mystery being piled on mystery, with no forward momentum to the story.

And then, on episode 7, things actually started to happen again.  And I was fascinated by the show all over again.

"Truly, we are living in a golden age of TV," I tweeted at the time.

I was very enthusiastic about this show for about a week.  I was having energetic conversations at work, and became that guy who was telling everyone "You have to watch this show.  What do you mean you're not watching it?  You're wasting your life.  This is the best show ever."

But then, just when I was convinced that the story was finally moving forward, episode 8 reverted back.  Episode 8 was yet another episode that just teased the mystery without moving the story forward, and I lost all my enthusiasm.

By episode 9, a lot of the mysteries were getting answers.

Some people on the Internet were angry at how predictable the answers actually were once we got them.  But I agree with this article (courtesy of Whisky Prajer) that predictability is not necessarily a bad thing.
In order for the mysteries to have a satisfying resolution, their solutions have to fit in naturally with the story.  Clues should be laid out ahead of time, and the audience should at least be given the opportunity to try to guess things before the answer is revealed.
Plot twists that come out of nowhere, and have not been built up at all, are cheating.

So, in my opinion, fair play to Westworld for having plot twists that some people saw coming.  That's how the game should be played.

I did find, however, that once a lot of the mysteries of the show had been revealed, my interest in the show started to drop.
The problem is that the show had been built all around mysteries, and once those mysteries were resolved, I started to question whether I had any interest in the plot or the characters.

But the season finale got my attention back again.
I'm not sure the plot of the show is all that great (we'll have to see where they will go with this) but the style of the show--the acting, the directing, the atmosphere--is all top notch.  You feel like you're watching something really important.

Apparently season 2 won't be out until 2018, so we've got a nice long break ahead of us.  But when season 2 does return, I imagine curiosity will bring me back


By the way, I know I'm not the first person to make this observation, but for what it's worth, I stand by my previous tweet.
Truly, we are living in a golden age of TV,

This is especially true for those of us who grew up in the 1980s, when television was just brainless garbage.

We can debate whether or  not Westworld is as good a show as it could be.  Or whether or not it truly lives up to its potential.  But there's no debate that TV shows with this much ambition never existed back in our childhood.


Freddie deBoer recently tweeted:

My impression is that the idea that television has "passed by" movies (or whatever) in terms of quality stems from uneven playing field. That is, movies get watched in whole at once, but TV shows get judged based on their promise, pedigree, initial good will, etc. But the basic condition of prestige TV is people gradually realizing a show isn't as good as they thought or isn't good at all.One of the most entertaining dynamics on social media is watching people slowly come to the communal realization that a show isn't good. But the halo effect of initial promise, high-profile creators, and general "prestige" effect inflates perceptions of overall quality of TV. Meanwhile a movie's a movie: it's as good or as bad as it is and you know in 2 hours.the Killing is the canonical example. The Night Of to a lesser extent. Perhaps Westworld right now.

This is completely true.  But perhaps that's the beauty of TV as much as it is a weakness.
The initial premise of a story is often much more interesting than the actual story.  The fact that TV gives us so much time to think about the initial premise, and all its possibilities, usually means that by the time the conclusion finally comes, it inevitability fails to live up to our imagination.
That's the downside.
The upside is, we get to spend weeks imagining all the possibilities of the premise before the disappointing conclusion finally comes.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky 2016 | Ecconomic - Dollar Collapse Graduate Masterclass Professor Noam Chomsky

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