We're living in a Golden Age of Television, as every TV writer and critic will remind you, and no one does it more golden and prestige-y than HBO. Having brought the world Taxicab Confessions, The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood and Game of Thrones, HBO is hoping they have another prestige hit on their hands with Westworld, which debuts tonight at 9 p.m.—and not another ambitious failure, like John From Cincinnati.
Westworld is about an immersive, Western-style theme park populated entirely by cyborgs (called "hosts") powered by advanced AI. Visitors to Westworld can act out any Western fantasies they might have, all thanks to the hosts who are there to satisfy whatever whims park visitors might have, from the mundane (go on an quest to capture a bandit) to the sick and twisted. So yes, in case you were worried, there's plenty of violence, sex, sexual violence and violence against women in the show.
The overall plot has a few different story threads to focus on. There's Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld, and a man who may have accidentally allowed the hosts to begin accessing their past lives and the violent ends they've reached on numerous occasions. Jeffrey Wright plays Ford's top scientist, Bernard Lowe, who spends a lot of time exploring the humanity of some of the hosts. And then there's the rapidly expanding lives of the hosts inside the park, which grows more and more complicated as the story progresses.
Early reviews suggest Westworld spends a decent amount of time doing things like exploring the nature of humanity and artificial intelligence through story lines connected to Hopkins, Wright, and hosts played by Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, which can get ponderous. But there's still an engaging world to be found there, especially while following Ed Harris's character, a rich mysterious man in black who's obsessed with Westworld and refuses to leave the park.
The show has pedigree behind-the-scenes as well, as it's produced by JJ Abrams and written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher's brother and co-writer on The Prestige, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. If the concept maybe sounds familiar, that's because it was first a Michael Crichton book, then a movie starring Yul Brenner, and then parodied by The Simpsons in the classic "Itchy and Scratchy Land" episode.
Whether it becomes a hit the size of some of HBO's previous big-time offerings (and they certainly are banking on that) relies mostly on whether Westworld can effectively fuse its intersection of sci-fi, Westerns and HBO prestige projects. And of course, whether or not you watch.