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We are around midway through the second season of HBO’s cowboy robot series Westworld, and it has already been confirmed for a thirdparty. But as soon as the second wraps up, we are going to need something to tide us over in the meantime. There is not many shows that may hold a candle to Westworld’s brand of intrigue, of questions about what it is to be alive, and of killer robots — but here is five that can.
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1. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Tragically cancelled after a mere two seasons (two seasons of pure gold, mind you), Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency takes place in a universe not that much unlike our own — but that features plot and technology developments that may be politely described as ‘contrived’ and not-so-politely described as ‘flat-facedly ridiculous’. Sounding familiar yet?
The difference is, while Westworld takes itself deadly seriously, Dirk and the gang’s adventures have this irrepressible vein of ridiculous fun running through them like a stick of Brighton rock. That is not to say that there are not stakes — you can find, and they are big ones. Indeed, some of the most serious moments come dressed in the trappings of silliness — the first season begins with the aftermath of a shark attack in a penthouse suite, and builds from there.
Like Westworld, there is a remarkably strong cast of relative unknowns (the largest name gift being Mr. Frodo, uncharacteristically not enjoying a woodland sprite) — and, even though it galls me to say it, the weakest link is likely Dirk himself. This does not make him a particularly weak link in the grand scheme of things, but he is uncomfortably reminiscent of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who in a manner which appears to be pandering to a specific kind of Anglophile, when frankly, the show did not need it — being a Douglas Adams adaptation was more than sufficient.
If you complete both seasons and find yourself craving more, there’s a tiny tonic — back in the first 2010therefore the BBC did its own adaptation with the respectably Doctor Whoish Stephen Mangan, which, again, was faithful in spirit by not slavishly following the first plotlines.
2. Black Mirror
Charlie Brooker’s techno-fear anthology series could make it on this list for its aesthetic alone — tending towards either location shoots, or brushed-chrome, sterile, painfully artificial surroundings. However, as you might have guessed from that awkward phrase ‘techno-fear’, the parallels go well beyond that. Since the Christmas special (guest starring Jon Hamm!) , Black Mirror’s frequently returned to the notion of artificial intelligences that are as human as you or me, which is exactly what Westworld’s been doing since day one.
While the hosts of Westworld are assembled from whole cloth and cowboy cliches, Black Mirror will get its AIs be people’s psyches, replicated in their entirely. This is something that Westworld touches upon in a recent episode, where James Delos, who bankrolled the playground, tries to cheat death by uploading himself into a bunch. Regrettably, the process is imperfect — and the final result would slot seamlessly into an episode of Black Mirror.
In his 1953 article ‘Social science fiction’, sci-fi quantumweight Isaac Asimov split the genre into three different categories: gadget, experience, and societal. The last of them (and per Asimov, the best) essentially investigates how whatever sci-fi innovation the work’s about affects people’s lives. This is one way where Westworld falls down — at least, until the hosts eventually break out of the park and go ape — Black Mirror has it in spades. Indeed, the very first incident, ‘The National Anthem’, featured no technology which does not exist in the actual world, but remained profoundly disturbing.
3. Game of Thrones
Yeah, mathematically you have already more than familiar with this one and you are spitting blood they chose to put off the eighth season for a year — but Game of Thrones is what kicked off TV’s recent wave of massive-budget productions which are contractually obliged to bust out a jolt reveal every forty minutes or so. Like Westworld, it is heavy on all of the trappings of an established and respected genre, and is at its best when it is subverting that genre expectations (compare Sean Bean’s Ned Stark not being saved at the last moment, with the show of that Ed Harris’s Man in Black is).
Like Westworld, there is loads of blood-and-thunder violence, and a similarly generous helping of casual nudity — both shows take advantage of prostitutes as figures, although Westworld’s Maeve is a fantastic deal more of a genuine character than Thrones’s Ros, that was mainly there to offer exposition with out her breasts. The most salient contrast, however, is the ability of the two displays to dangle a carrot just off-screen — as South Park had George RR Martin put it, ‘oh, they’re coming! The dragons are on their way!’ , as is the robot uprising, the ice zombies, and whatever bonus amount it’s that Anthony Hopkins hid within the park.
The show’s eighth and last season is scheduled to air in 2019. The hype machine is already in overdrive, especially as it will literally don’t have any choice but to eventually deliver on all of the crazy promises it’s been teasing the audiences with since day one. Since season , the series was making much hay of getting overtaken the publication series it is based on, in order 2019 it will be able to rub the ‘it was all a dream’ finish in George RR Martin’s face.
4. Person of Interest
Another Jonathan Nolan production dating back to this somewhat ‘thick’ period once the notion that big tech companies were not being 100% accountable with our private data was still contested, Person of Interest is a more realistic, authorities procedural-type spin on the central conceit of Minority Report — a system spits out a ‘person of interest’ (roll credits) and our heroes must prevent them from committing a crime, or stop a horrible crime from happening to them.
As you can probably already tell, it is an imperfect procedure. By hoovering up enormous amounts of information, the machine can spit out the identities of individuals of interest, but can not say exactly how or why they’re of interest. Contrary to Westworld, the machine does not get really chippy about serving as a tool, but there is a similar theme of fundamental disconnection between man and machine in drama.
Another side of this, of course, is researching the post 9/11 state security apparatus and how this rubbed up against people’s right to privacy — although when I say ‘rubbed up against’ I obviously mean ‘drove a steamroller over’. This is thrown into sharp relief with the interplay between the fundamental group of elite, semi-rogue federal representatives, and the police forces that have to pretend they know what the constitution says. As the series continues, the machine also finds itself reckoning with the presence of other, rival AIs, and the conflicting ways they function — so despite the disconnect between machine and man, maybe they are not so different after all.
Chiefly known at the time because of its incredibly foul mouth — that, as Charlie Brooker explained, was only so that they would not all sound unbearably adorable by using terms such as ‘tarnation’ — Deadwood was the type of old-timey frontier storyline that Westworld’s Lee Sizemore should have been ditching, rather than shlocky grindhouse stuff. Observing the development of Deadwood from a gold-miners’ camp into an incorporated city, the series draws heavily on actual frontier history — Deadwood is, to this day, a recognized town in the state of South Dakota.
Being put in a frontier town, the throw was a mixed bag of outlaws and misfits, including a number of the mythical Western figures like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Wyatt Earp — that is not the authors playing fast and loose with older West mythos, all three of these were in Deadwood at roughly the ideal time (and Hickok died there). Presiding over all, however, is Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen, owner of the local saloon and as such practically the mayor.
As time goes by and Deadwood becomes an established settlement, its denizens must reckon with the expanding American state and the possibility of the city being siphoned by what was then the Dakota territory — that is, of course, a foregone conclusion. You could view this as a case of modernity and progress as unstoppable forces, such as in the more recent Damnation, but series creator David Milch had dreamed of it as a narrative of order coming from chaos — so, kind of like Westworld in reverse.
This is just another chapter of tv that’s universally reckoned to have ended too soon, after just three seasons. There were talks of finishing the series with two movie tie-ins, and plans for this were bandied about since — though ‘ever since’ is getting on for thirty decades now.
Honorable mention: Juice Rap News
Right-on without being up themselves, the Juice Rap boys were basically Epic Rap Battles of History for a somewhat older audience (and were not averse to poking a little fun at their much more popular spiritual allies ). Back in 2015, they threw in their two cents on the AI debate — that was fairly optimistic, except in regards to the flesh-and-blood individuals involved.
Since Hugo’s rendition of Alex Jones notes, large tech companies are awfully fond of hoovering up our private data, a claim that has since been 100% vindicated from the Cambridge Analytica scandal — and year 2 of Westworld has shown that is something the park has always been very interested in, together with the hosts collecting the guests’ genetic material (though to be honest, if the guests will splash it around willy-nilly they have nobody but themselves to blame). Really, big data and large money’s disregard for our privacy has been often piled in Juice Rap News’ gunsights, especially when Giordano dressed as Mark Zuckerberg.