The first time I saw a trailer for the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” my interest was immediately piqued. However, I had no idea of the truly impactful and powerful storytelling I was strapping myself in for five weeks ago when I watched the premiere of the first episode.
That episode debuted six days before the series finale of the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” and I can say honestly, the first episode of “Chernobyl” had me more invested than anything the writers of “Game of Thrones” had been able to provide in recent seasons. I was immediately hooked, and a new watch party formed among my friends after watching the first episode.
“Chernobyl” is, as its namesake suggests, a dramatic retelling of the events that took place April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, as well as the cleanup efforts of the worst nuclear disaster in human history. But the narrative of “Chernobyl” is not one that takes a look at the dangers of nuclear energy, but rather, the dangers of ignoring facts and suppressing the truth.
“The lesson of Chernobyl isn’t that modern nuclear power is dangerous. The lesson is that lying, arrogance and suppression of criticism is dangerous,” said Craig Mazin, writer-producer of “Chernobyl,” on Twitter in April.
The show does an outstanding job of providing several layers of emotion, mostly dread and horror, from start to finish. The five-episode miniseries concluded on Monday, and now I am wondering how many times I will be re-watching this series.
The series features an ensemble cast led by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson and Paul Ritter, and each of these actors does a spectacular job in the series. On top of their acting, “Chernobyl” has brilliant writing, outstanding cinematography and a musical score that does an impeccable job of adding an atmosphere of constant anxiety and tension that seems inescapable.
The impacts of leaking radiation on the workers engaged in cleanup, as well as the impacts of fallout on nearby residents, is gut-wrenching and horrific to watch. But beyond the monster of invisible radiation, the other greatest source of frustration and anxiety in the show comes from the pushback received from Soviet officials, stubborn plant operators, and people who seem hellbent on not believing what their eyes are telling them.
The show is filled with, “Don’t go in there” and “Are you serious?” moments, where audiences can’t help but cringe knowing the fates of some of these characters. Harris provides a commanding performance as the embellished version of Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute brought in to aid cleanup efforts.
One particular shining moment for Harris comes in the second episode of the series where Legasov sits in on a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Harris does an impeccable job of conveying the frustration of a scientist attempting to explain the severity of the situation to a room full of politicians.
Each of the five episodes covers some aspect of the disaster, from the night of the explosion itself and the efforts of the first-responders who combatted that fire, to a final trial in which the overarching causes — human, mechanical and political — are explained. The show does an outstanding job of not only informing people, but providing a truly human experience throughout.
I am not alone in my praise for this series, either. So far the show has been met with wide acclaim from both critics and casual viewers alike. As of May 23, “Chernobyl” has risen to the top of IMDB’s “Top Rated TV Shows” list. This puts “Chernobyl” with a higher rating than both “Planet Earth” series, “Band of Brothers,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Wire.”
For me personally, I find the show an all-too-appropriate metaphor for the issue of climate change, and the various parallels that can be drawn from continuing to ignore it. “Chernobyl” is a powerful and brilliantly executed series that I consider a must-watch for fans of any genre, but beyond that, it completes its mission of showing the dangers of ignoring facts for favorable fiction.