westworld

The 10 Best Shows of 2016

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

There was an avalanche of new content that stormed our television screens during 2016, but some shows stood much taller than the rest. Here are the 10 best shows of 2016, in no particular order –

the crown on netflixThe Crown: The Crown traces the life and times of a young Queen Elizabeth as she struggles to balance the monumental responsibility that has been thrust on her, with her once ‘regular’ life. Claire Foy is stunning in her portrayal as a young woman with an immense burden on her shoulders. The show is visually arresting, tightly scripted and is proof that story-telling is, and always will be superior to big budget special effects. {Netflix}

Westworld: What happens when robots created solely for the purpose of human pleasure discover consciousness? Worse, what happens when they realize the magnitude of the abuse that they’ve been put through? A mind-bending storyline with equally confounding twists and a cast that reads like an honour roll, no show this year is capable of making you stay up at night the way Westworld is. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things: The eighties are back with this eerie sci-fi mystery that plays like a Stephen King novel brought to life. Stranger Things boasts of not only Winona Ryder (who is flawless as a distraught small town mother trying to make sense of aliens in her backyard), but also the most lovable 10 year olds in recent television history. {Netflix}

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The Night Of: Dark and gripping, The Night Of is, to borrow from the show itself, a subtle beast. Naz Khan, every bit a good Muslim boy, finds himself accused of a gory murder, and it doesn’t help that he has no recollection of events. Riz Ahmed, John Turturro and Bill Camp are fantastic in this courtroom drama that makes no mince of discussing racial prejudice and Islamophobia in the backdrop of the American justice system. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The Night Manager: John Le Carre’s riveting espionage novel is brought to life by this lavish BBC production which has some sublime acting performances. Hugh Laurie doesn’t just play, but transforms into Richard ‘The Worst Man In The World’ Roper, a billionaire weapons dealer, and Olivia Colman is brilliant as Angela Burke, the very pregnant and very determined British enforcement agent who’s out to catch him. As for Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager may as well be the show which cements his place as the next James Bond. {Amazon Prime Video}

Game of Thrones (Season 6): The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered this year, with each episode having a bigger revelation than the next. With resurrections, family reunions and sweet revenge, the sixth season was probably the fastest moving in terms of storyline after the first, and the final episodes of the season, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘Winds of Winter’ were television masterpieces. If you’d abandoned the show a few seasons ago, now is the time to catch up. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

The People vs OJ Simpson – American Crime Story: The miniseries that swept the Emmy’s this year, People vs OJ Simpson resurrects the real courtroom drama of the infamous murder trial that shook ‘90s America. The screenplay is such that it’ll have you on the edge of your seat, even though the events that transpired are now history. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

Black Mirror: Black Mirror is a compilation of 6 episodes, each narrating a different (horror) story detailing our relationships, and growing reliance on technology. Whether it’s the story of killer robotic bees or a future where your worth is measured in ‘likes’, Black Mirror will have you looking at your phones very differently. {Netflix}

Better Call Saul (Season 2): Better Call Saul might only be two seasons old, but the spin-off has already outdone its much celebrated original, Breaking Bad. The series about a small time lawyer’s path to becoming an ace con-man has excellent story-telling, sharp dialogue, terrific acting, and is one of the best shows on TV right now. {Colors Infinity}

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The Americans (Season 4): The thriller series about two Russian spies living average American lives during the peak of the Cold War only got better this year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys give extraordinary performances, yet again, as the show dives even deeper into the complex themes of identity, patriotism and family, with a few wigs thrown in. {Hotstar, Star World Premiere HD}

 

You can read the round up of my favourites from 2015, here.

The Great Escape

{First Published In The Hindu Metroplus}

The American elections are on Monday, and from what I read in the newspapers, it seems like Donald Trump has a legitimate chance at becoming President of the United States of America, and perhaps the most important leader in the free world. As if that’s not depressing enough, NASA has just released a video which shows how the Arctic ice-caps are on the verge of disappearing altogether, putting a greater question mark over life as we know it. During times like these, you can’t help but wish you were in a different planet altogether. While that’s an impossible task (at least at the moment), I can give you the next best thing: Immersive, critically acclaimed television shows that will pull you into another world, even if it is only for a weekend.

Game of Thrones – The most obvious choice if you’re looking to spend the weekend doing nothing but staying glued to your screen. Game of Thrones, apart from being one of the most talked about shows in the world, is an engrossing fantasy series that takes place in the medieval world of Westeros. If you like the ideas of becoming familiar with evil queens, men who rise from the dead, and giant fire breathing CGI dragons, this is the show for you. {Game of Thrones is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

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Westworld – If you’re more of a forward looking person, then you should try Westworld, which is based in the future. Westworld is about a futuristic theme park that is inhabited by very realistic robots. Inspired by the novel written by Michael Crichton and directed by Jonathan Nolan, Westworld’s premise lies in the very uncomfortable thought of artificial intelligence becoming so human-like, that they begin threatening our very existence. The visuals are stunning, and the show is technically brilliant, but the real success of the show are the questions of morality that form its core.
{Westworld is available to stream on HotStar, and the sixth season is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD}

Stranger Things – Stranger Things, technically, doesn’t take place in another world – the story is based in a sleepy, small American town in the ‘80s. The story revolves around four children whose friend suddenly goes missing after a night of board games. The more they try to investigate into the disappearance, the more they realize that something mysterious and terrifying is taking place in their town. Stranger Things is a must watch if you enjoy Stephen King novels or are generally nostalgic about the good old days when kids had to ride their cycles everywhere and played board games instead of playstations.
{Stranger Things is presently streaming on Netflix}

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The Americans – The Americans is another show that takes on the 80s, albeit in a completely different light, for its focus is on the Cold War between Russia and America. The show traces the life and times of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings who are a wholesome suburban couple by day, but Russian KGB agents by night. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch, and that isn’t just because of the wigs, elaborate disguises and 80s spy equipment. The Americans is one of those rare shows which will twist perspectives, make you root for the apparent bad guys, and question your own moral compass.
{The Americans is presently telecast on Star World HD}

These Violent Delights

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It was the famed novelist, Michael Crichton, who had written and directed ‘Westworld’, the film, back in 1973. The sci-fi thriller was about an amusement park where guests with heavy pockets could indulge themselves in any way they wanted with the highly realistic robotic inhabitants of the park – from gunfights to lovemaking, everything is kosher to those who can afford it. These robots are programmed in such a way that they can never harm the guests, until one day, they begin malfunctioning and predictably, all hell breaks loose. Westworld was a film that was far ahead of its time, and a runaway box office hit as well. The truth is that I’ve not seen the film (although I am very familiar with Crichton’s similarly themed Jurassic Park) which is why HBO’s lavishly produced television reboot of the film was one that interested me as much as it did.

Westworld (the TV series) picks up thirty years from where the movie left off – the park is well established again and the robots are more human than ever, to the point where it’s impossible to distinguish them from the guests. The only tell that they have is their inability to harm live creatures, which means they’ll happily let flies sit on their face, and sometimes, their eyeballs. These robots live programmed lives wherein their fates are already have already been written, unless an interaction with a guest throws their day off previously scheduled events. Even then, once the guests leave, they go back to sleep and wake up with no memory of past events, ready to lead their scripted lives once again.

The entire scientific set up is headed by Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins, who is as hypnotizing as ever), who is in charge of creating and programming these bots. It’s when he installs an update in them, an update that allows the bot to access previous memories and have ‘reveries’, that the bots begin to malfunction, and chaos looms.

The show is unapologetic about its (mostly) ridiculous and over the top premise, and takes itself very seriously, making sure you’re as immersed in their world as they are. The Westworld of 2016 has been created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Ray Nolan, and has JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk sitting as executive producers – all names and talent that need no introduction, least of all in the realm of science fiction television. The casting is also incredible – a veritable coup by itself, for it brings together the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Hemsworth (the oldest of the Hemsworth brothers), Jeffrey Wright and Rodrigo Santoro, among others.

Westworld is only one episode old, making it the perfect new show to watch. To be fair, the premiere left the audience with more questions about the show than answers, but I do believe that it’s by design, for it makes sure that you’re counting down the days to the next episode. The sets are lavish, and it’s evident that every penny of its massive budget is accounted for, but the story is still the hero of the show, which is why a simple shot at the end of the first episode will have you more agape than all the special effects put together. Westworld calls itself a reboot, but think of the term as a technicality, for there is little else that is as original on television right now.

{Westworld is presently telecast on Star World Premiere HD every Tuesday, and is also available on HotStar}