The New “WestWorld”: A Show About Storytelling

fullsizerender8By Kathryn Lilley

I don’t watch many television shows, so I was surprised that I recently become addicted to a new HBO series: “Westworld”.

When I first heard that HBO was making a series based on the original concept of the Westworld film (the earlier version was written by sci-fi writer Michael Crichton), I’ll admit that I was skeptical. The original Westworld was one of the worst movies of all time, surpassed in its hideousness (despite a bravura performance by actor Yul Brynner) only by its lamentable sequel, “Futureworld”.

The premise is simple: “Westworld” is a recreation of a 19th century western town, staffed by android “hosts”, where vacationers can act out their fantasies about living in the old West. The paying guests of Westworld are told that they can live out their Wild West fantasies in complete safety. “Nothing can go wrong,” the tourists are told. Which means, of course, that everything certainly will go wrong, and fast.

Fortunately for viewers, the new HBO series far surpasses the original film. It explores issues such as the nature of consciousness, the relationship between humans and robots, and the stories we invent about our lives.

Here is the trailer for the original 1973 movie:

And here is the trailer for the 2016 HBO series.

Same premise, much more effective execution. The HBO version of Westworld is a great show for writers to watch, in particular. At its heart, Westworld is a show about storytelling. Each episode explores an aspect of telling stories, positing the notion that our memories are nothing more than the narratives we select to anchor our identities as human beings. My favorite character in the show is the writer, Lee Sizemore, a profane, alcoholic hack who is charged with writing the “depraved little fantasies” that entertain the tourists at Westworld. Sizemore’s hapless, comedic character offers a refreshing contrast to the polished perfection of the androids and robotic-seeming humans of Westworld.

Have you been watching the Westworld series on HBO? Here is a New York Times article recapping this week’s penultimate show, Episode 9. But if you haven’t been watching the series, I wouldn’t jump into one of the later episodes. Multiple timelines and unreliable narrators abound in this ambitious show, so it’s essential to watch it from the beginning. Next Sunday is the finale, and fans of Westworld are eager to know: is Arnold really dead?

Fun aspect of the new Westworld: the integration of contemporary rock music as the musical score. Here’s a clip as an example (strong language, violence advisory).

14 thoughts on “The New “WestWorld”: A Show About Storytelling

  1. Oh this show! I’m addicted to the drama, the mystery, the unknown and the action. Did I miss anything?

    Admittedly I am also lost a quarter of the time with the fragmented vignettes. And so many questions!

    All the elements of a compelling page-turner though. HBO nailed it.

    • If you blink you miss something in this show, I’ve learned! This week we learned something HUGE about both Arnold and Bernard. I am hoping they incorporate a cemetery scene into the finale, wherein all the bells attached to the graves start ringing, and the ghosts of hosts past rise to walk the earth again! ?

  2. I’m loving the new Westworld! I could do with a little less gratuitous nudity, not because I’m against nudity (!!), but because it really feels gratuitous to me, and once the “point” is made, does not serve the plot. They don’t have to hit the just-shy-of-porn note every single episode. It’s my issue with a lot of Netflix and HBO series that feel they need to prove how edgy they are with sex, which is the the weakest vehicle and lazy writing, and a waste of opportunities to be bolder and more daring inside their format. With that said, I’m truly enjoying it. I’m also enjoying Humans (similar “what constitutes sentience” premise).

  3. Sold! Hope Comcast has it on-demand. (Ironic that I have to click “I’m not a robot” at the bottom of this screen!)

    • We can watch it on the HBO App, fortunately for those who missed it first time around. I rewatched a couple of episodes trying to sort out the timelines and Billy/MiB characters. I assume the MiB will get his comeuppance from Dolores (or maybe Teddy?) in the final episode. It’s funny to be rooting for the robots against the humans, but they’re much more sympathetic in this show!

    • Ah, the fabulous Yul B! He was the only thing I loved about the movie. Kind of set the stage for a Terminator character, long before Terminator came into being.

  4. Westworld is my favorite new show. There’s so much going on on so many levels that it could easily be a total mess, but instead pulls the viewer deeper. Re: the nudity: doesn’t bother me. It’s mostly not sexual, either (you know, like a nude beach). I like the way the Ford character demands that the hosts be disrobed while in the lab, being serviced, whatever, under the guise that they’re not human, they’re machines, so they’re not embarrassed, and having them clothed would make them more human to those “backstage”. It’s got to be tough on the actors. Thandie Newton, who seems to be clocking the most nude acting hours, does a superb job of nonchalance while naked.

    Same thing with the violence. There are multiple aspects here, too. What does it say about people that they would go to a place to act out their fantasies of rape and murder (and I have no doubt that if such a place existed there would those who would go just for that)? And the “killings” of multiple hosts, as we saw Sunday night, are in themselves a comment on how accepting or immune we are to what we perceive as fictionalized violence on tv. (Those “hosts” will be repaired and placed back into the park overnight)

    My biggest critique of the show is: what about women? Yes, there are women working for the corporation backstage. There are women hosts who exist to service men, or be victimized by men, or the ideal, etc. The guests we are following are all men, although there are glimpses of women guests arriving at the park. What exists to serve women guests and their fantasies? I’d like to see a peek of this, even if it’s not the main story.

    • There was that one woman who went out with Teddy, wore a patch over her eye, had more courage and seemed like a better player of “the game” than any of the guy tourists we’ve met so far. I hope we see her again in the finale.

  5. ‘The original Westworld was one of the worst movies of all time, surpassed in its hideousness (despite a bravura performance by actor Yul Brynner) only by its lamentable sequel, “Futureworld”.

    you seem like a nice person, but your taste is horrible

  6. It’s such a great writer’s show, so I’m not surprised to hear the choir chiming in here. (except that person insulting your taste, KZers usually have more tact). I agree with you, this is one of the best things on TV in years. There are articles out there on how the narrative was conceived (a tribal counsel of Hollywood’s best and hottest writers, who worked together on the entire arc of the season, and then going three seasons forward).

    And last night… wow, a shocker every week. Love it.

    • Thanks, Larry! There are so many memorable lines in the series–one of my faves is Hector’s: “I believe that only the truly brave can look at the world and understand that all of it gods, men, everything else will end badly. No one will be saved.” Sums up my world view at the moment, as well.

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