It's been more than three years since HBO first ordered a Westworld pilot, and in the time since, the show has been analyzed, speculated on and critiqued, despite no one having actually seen it. In fact, some observers all but wrote the project off as a failure after its budget soared and quite a few reshoots happened. It premiered earlier tonight, however, and it is incredible.
Featuring a ton of great performances by a wide net of cast members including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffrey Wright and some really crisp writing, it's polished and professional, but it never loses a larger sense of chaos, disorder and unpredictability. In short, it's great, for a lot of reasons, but let's focus on three of them in greater detail.
It Already Might Be The Most Beautiful Show On Television
Apologies to Game Of Thrones and a handful of others, but HBO's latest is absolutely gorgeous. The Old West landscape is barren and ugly when it needs to be, and it's lush and boundless when it needs to be. The accompanying laboratory feels incredibly real, even with rampant nudity and strange experiments in the background. Everything just feels right. The little details are all there in the way Westworld is shot.
Upon first glance, the visual appeal of the show might not seem like the most important ingredient, but for an epic that's supposed to be larger than life, a sense of wonder and a pop are very important. The audience needs to be transported without questioning what they're seeing. They need to live in the moment, no matter how ridiculous the premise might be. Westworld is able to offer that escape, and it's largely because of the landscapes, the cinematography and the art direction.
It's So Weird
No really. It's so weird. It's like a deformed and really vicious Groundhog Day, and I have absolutely no idea where it's going. Thirty minutes after the show debuted, I'm still trying to figure out everything I just saw. That's awesome. While overall quality of television has been steadily improving for almost twenty years, there are still a lot of safe choices being made. Nothing is safe about Westworld. It's insane, and it takes so many chances.
Who are we supposed to be rooting for? I don't know. What is the actual plot of the show going to be? Beats me. I'm still not even completely clear on how big the park is, whether there are cameras everywhere and what the guests are actually doing most of the time. It's all a big mystery, and God only knows what strange directions they're planning to go in next. Do whatever you want, Westworld. Just don't be normal.
The Cast Is Extraordinary
There are a lot of analytical voices on Westworld. Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris have all made a career out of playing thoughtful philosopher types who occasionally deliver riveting speeches that explain the bigger picture. Harris actually did it in the similar but completely different Truman Show, but somehow, none of these men get in each other's lane. They all feel completely original and needed.
A huge shoutout is owed to Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden too. They carry long portions of the pilot, especially Wood whose captivating smile and soft words are entrancing. It's not easy to play a character who doesn't see the larger picture or at least seemingly doesn't see the larger picture. She does it flawlessly. She's arguably the single best thing about the pilot, and with key supporting roles played by Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Rodrigo Santoro and more that should grow in the coming weeks, it's fair to say Westworld could be competitive in a lot of Emmy categories. So, well played HBO.