There are an insane amount of great television shows available to viewers today–almost too many–but rarely are they as important and hard-hitting as HBO’s Chernobyl. For those wondering if HBO was waning in quality after that lackluster final season of Game of Thrones, this mini-series will assure them that the network will have no problems in the future. As most know, Chernobyl is a true story about the nuclear disaster that took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the mid-1980s. The show goes into detail regarding everything one would need to know about the event: how it affected the people who lived near it, how the explosion occurred in the first place, and how the Soviet government handled the fallout of the radiation spread.
Chernobyl quite literally starts off with a bang. The explosion happens within the first couple minutes of the first episode, titled “1:23:45,” and the rest of the hour follows the direct aftermath of the event. The firefighters responding to the scenes unknowingly walk towards their deaths due to the copious amounts of radiation accumulating around the site, while the power plant operators are sent to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, also dying in the process. Many people across the Internet have said the following and I agree: the first episode of this show alone is far scarier than 95 percent of horror movies released in the past couple of years. The entire show is harrowing but essential, not just because it tells the truth about the disaster itself, but because it shows the lies that caused it to happen in the first place.
In the second episode, viewers are introduced to the protagonists-of-sorts. Jared Harris excellently portrays Valery Legasov, a scientist who believes the problem at Chernobyl is worse than initially believed; Stellan Skarsgård plays Boris Shcherbina, the man who helps Legasov remedy the disaster little by little; and Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, another scientist who helps the men realize exactly how much potential for disaster there is at Chernobyl. The acting throughout this show is top-tier and this should at least get nominations for every single category at the Emmys, but the standouts are Harris and Skarsgård. Harris plays a hero with incredible perseverance and manages to make the complicated explanations of nuclear physics accessible to a wide audience. Skarsgård, however, is my personal favorite, for he shows the most growth as a character throughout the show and his mannerisms are on point to what Shcherbina is thinking in any given situation. At first he is a confident government official, but as the gravity of the situation starts to weigh on him, we see his demeanor start to weaken and his confidence begin to wane.
Both the second and third episodes are filled with cleanup and the attempted prevention of further chaos, and it couldn’t have been written and directed any better. The duo of writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck is one for the ages, for Mazin’s realistic dialogue and Renck’s visceral direction create an visual experience that will not be easy to forget. Mazin somehow makes the events depicted on screen both eerily accurate and compelling to an extreme degree. The fourth episode shows the liquidators, whose purpose will disturb animal lovers everywhere who watch this show. However, every disturbing aspect of this show is sending a bigger message about the impact humanity has on unsuspecting people or animals.
The most important message this show gives off is explored in the final episode, titled “Vichnaya Pamyat,” and it involves the withholding or ignorance of the truth by people in power. Some people are watching this show and thinking the message is that the Soviet Union is bad, and those people are missing the point. Mazin wrote this entire show knowing he was creating a commentary about leadership in modern-day America while simultaneously depicting the events of Chernobyl in an accurate manner. The magic of this show is that it applies to 2019 just as much if not more than it did to 1986. Only the best historical dramas ride this balance of accuracy and relevancy, and Chernobyl makes it look effortless.
Chernobyl is currently the highest rated show on IMDb for a reason. Every production aspect of this show is damn near perfect from the cinematography to the set design, and it contains an experience that viewers aren’t likely to forget anytime soon. Every second of film contains an aura of dread but is somehow still entertaining and compelling enough that I wanted five more hours after the season finale. Chernobyl should take the Emmys by storm because it is one of the best mini-series of the past decade, and it is a shining example of how to depict a true story in modern-day Hollywood.
I give Chernobyl an A+.