The Buzz: Westworld is the Perfect Show for Today's TV Audience

The has already taken over the cultural conversation of television and we will look at how it is the perfect show for the modern television audience. We also start a new series for the month of October. Each week, we will give a recommendation for a great horror movie on streaming to view to get into the Halloween spirit. We also look forward to a horror film being released next year from an unlikely source. Finally, on this week’s “In the Loop” we will see how Netflix’s Oscar chances just got a boost and which formerly promising mini-major film studio is on the brink of being sold.

If you have any thoughts or opinions, please drop a comment below.

Television: Westworld: We are at a crossroads in the television market. The original ratings system feels obsolete; at the very least it needs to be readjusted. But, the real question is what is more important, ratings or the cultural zeitgeist?

HBO, as a cable company that relies on subscribers rather than advertisers, has been more concerned about cultural zeitgeist. They breed conversations between audience and critics. That is why Game of Thrones continues to be one of the most expensive shows to produce. It garners the totality of televisions conversation that is on social media. This is also why the tepid response to the 70’s rock and roll show Vinyl quickly led it to be cancelled despite the impressive pedigree of its creators.

This Fall Season, there is no doubt that the most talked about show is Westworld. Although it only garnered 2 million views during its premiere last Sunday, the show seems ubiquitous on social media. This is the show that will take over the cultural conversation of the season.

Created by Jonathan Nolan, of Memento and Persons of Interest fame, and Lisa Joy, Westworld is a serialized version of the cult 1973 film of the same name directed by novelist Michael Crichton. It’s the perfect show for the modern television audience.

The show starts with Evan Rachel Wood’s naked body as she sits in an empty room akin to the typical dystopic research lab. From there the show goes on a sprawling trek through the Old West as citizens in this sleepy town welcomes the “newcomers.” This is a high-end amusement park as patrons pays lots of money to attend this fully immersive world. Each character they meet including that of Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden is a highly advanced android meant to mimic humanity. You can kill these androids, go on quests with them and even have sex with them. It is a real world RPG.

This amusement park’s technology was created by Anthony Hopkins playing Anthony Hopkins with a God complex. He and his team led by Jeffrey Wright had just recently installed an update to all the androids in the amusement park in an attempt to make them more human. But, the update creates a weird effect amongst the androids as they begin to malfunction in unusual ways.

It does not take a Westworld scientist to guess what tropes and themes this show is going for. But, Nolan and Joy have created a show that is exactly what is needed for a show in the zeitgeist today. The show is a high concept show that draws in viewers by premise and keeps them with cliffhangers. Immediately after the premiere of the show, dozens to hundreds of theory articles were published. This show invites conversation and that is what the modern viewer wants.

Very few shows permeate amongst every television viewer anymore. There are no longer six channels where everyone would talk about the latest episode of All in the Family or Kojak. But, television is best as a communal medium. The week in between episodes is the time to talk about it. That is how the show is kept alive in between airtime.

Westworld not only invites conversation, it encourages it. Nolan is probably better fit for television than he ever did for movies despite his successful career thus far. He can utilize television’s ability to relay and explore broad philosophical themes than a 2-hour movie which inherently needs more specificity. The show is a modern riff on the Prometheus myth (one of many) but does not rest on those allegories alone. It also has the sex and violence to keep people from getting lost in the possible implications humanity. At one point, the programmers who run the world decide to distract the patrons from all the bugs in the update by programming a shootout led by the bandit Hector (played by Rodrigo Santoro). Nolan shoots the fight with revelry and it is a welcome distraction in the robust 70-minute premiere.

The questions, the theories and the conversation is the only way for culture to be universal anymore. Think about what has fit that mold in the last year. Beyonce’s Lemonade, although great musically, allowed people to speculate on who “Becky with the Good Hair” was or theorized what exactly Jay-Z did to deserve this revenge album. That is also why true crime shows like Making a Murder or Serial, both innovative products in its medium (the documentary series and podcast), allowed people to play investigative reporter for a brief period of time and go onto Reddit to share their findings.

Like the newcomers in Westworld, the modern television audience also needs total immersion. Boy, this show is prescient.

Coming Soon: Get Out: Jordan Peele is best known for his comedy as part of the comedic duo Key and Peele. His gift for satire was what made the show one of the best sketch comedy series of all time. But, he always had a love for genre, especially horror. In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, he talked about his fascination with the link of horror and comedy. Luckily, Blumhouse, the production studio behind Sinister and Paranormal Activity has become known for giving directors a chance to make anything they want for a small budget in return for distribution. This model has allowed Peele to make Get Out which from the trailer seems to be a strange tonal comedy-horror hybrid about an African American going into a white community. As Peele points out in his interview, “It’s a horror movie with a satirical premise.” He likened the film to Scream, The Stepford Wives and People Under the Stairs. The trailer seems to be a strange satire on what it is like to be a person of color living in a white society, which will always get me into the theater to watch.

Get Out is scheduled to be released in February 24, 2017.

Horror Movie Streaming Pick #1: Hush: Imagine you are being chased by a sadistic killer without two of your five senses. That is the premise of Hush, a film from up-and-coming horror director Mike Flanagan, who has Ouija: Origins coming out later this October. The premise is a simple one; a deaf-mute woman is being chased by a sadistic killer. Flanagan does nothing fancy with this premise and exploits it for all hour and twenty minutes. He doesn’t need to bog the film down with motivations from the killer or any raise any artificial stakes. This is a universal, base fear. So, he filmed it at its basic level. Hush is Wait Until Dark for a modern age and is currently available on Netflix.

In the Loop: Netflix has finally found a theater chain to screen their movies. Since Netflix has begun to get into the acquisition and distribution game of movies, theater chains such as AMC and Regal have refused to show their films, fearing them as competition. But, Netflix has been desperately seeking an Academy Award, whose rules include having a movie have a theatrical run for seven consecutive days. Netflix signed a deal with a luxury theater chain iPic which has 15 theaters in the U.S. They plan to release The Siege of Jadotville, a war drama, and the new Christopher Guest film, Mascots, later this October.

Last week saw the release and failure of Masterminds, a comedy from the Relativity Studios that has been stuck in limbo for over a year due to Relativity’s financial problems. It was only a few years ago when Ryan Kavanaugh boasted about a “Moneyball-esque” approach to producing movies that are guaranteed hits. But, with the failures of films like Immortals and Earth to Echo and more recently Ben-Hur, Relativity had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the summer of 2015, the original release date of Masterminds. Now after Masterminds become another flop for the studio after making $6.6 million in over 2,000 screens, Kavanaugh may finally be fielding bids from other entertainment groups to purchase the fledgling studio. Thus far the contenders are Dalian Wanda Group ran by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, who has said he always wanted to own a Hollywood studio, Alibaba, an E-commerce group from Southern California who have produced the Star Trek Beyond and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadow, and Netflix.