Hit or Sh**: HBO’s WESTWORLD

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

westworld

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If HBO had to be summed up in a word, “routine” would be a pretty good choice. Be it  a hard-biting crime drama, an exercise in excess on the small screen , or even a simple comedy about schoolteachers , you’re guaranteed two things: boobs and blood. Even as Westeros shuffles off stage right, WESTWORLD takes its place center stage, delivering the same titillation in different costumes. But like the voyeuristic thrill-seekers that drive the titular park are forced to ponder, is there anything wrong with such violent delights?

As it turns out, “routine” also sums up the premise behind HBO’s latest pilot pretty well. For the lifelike android inhabitants of the Westworld amusement park, every day follows the same scripted scenario: wake up, shovel cow shit, maybe get shot by an outlaw, and go to sleep. Memory wipe and repeat. The only variation in these patterns occurs when visitors, cowboy cosplayers with a lot of money to play around with, stop by to use the robots as props for their own Wild West fantasies.

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RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 takes the V out of VR.

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But some of these indulgences are a bit scarier than others. Take Ed Harris, a park visitor of over 30 years, whose introduction sees him murdering a homestead of robo-ranchers and (implied, anyway) raping their “daughter,” Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). Shocking, as the network demands, but this is the kind of behavior that Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his head programmer, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), built Westworld for. What they didn’t build it for, however, is to creep out guests with malfunctioning bots. But as more and more animatronic cowpokes start acting up following their latest software update, the pair have to figure out what’s up before someone gets hurt. And as the facade begins to crumble, androids like Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden) begin to realize that there is something horribly wrong about their existence.

There’s well-endowed women and exploding faces aplenty, to be fair, but this is merely the tax that all must pay for a place at HBO. For every gratuitous shot of a security team loading their machine guns or a saloon hooker bouncing her tits, there’s dozens more intriguing probes into the philosophy and ethics of creating life, controlling destiny, and generally being God. WESTWORLD has a lot to say about a lot of different things, and if the pilot is anything to go by, then a wide range of themes will be explored over the show’s many plot lines. In fact, if there’s anything about WESTWORLD that gives me cause for concern, it’s the nagging worry that perhaps it wants to be too many things at once.

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“Gee, never woulda guessed that could happen in an HBO show.”

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Nothing I can tell you about WESTWORLD’s production values will come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the network. A great cast begets great performances. A great crew begets great-looking scenes. Great writers beget great lines and even greater payoffs. No expense will be spared when you put JJ Abrams, Jonathan Nolan, and Michael Crichton at the helm of your show. This is HBO. While the quality of the content may vary, the execution is guaranteed to be fantastic, and WESTWORLD is no exception.

So yes, WESTWORLD’s pilot follows a routine. The checklist is methodically works through is the same one used by every other premium show out there. What’s different here is the level of care put into this routine. Science fiction is the final frontier for big television, and HBO will be damned if they screw it up now. While it remains to be seen if WESTWORLD will remain coherent through the entirety of it’s run, it’s all but guaranteed to be a wild ride throughout.

Verdict: Hit

WESTWORLD airs on Sundays on HBO

Ed Dutcher

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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