HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’, Authentic, Stark and Eerie

It is difficult to write about a television series that is based on such a grim incident because one has to be careful about one’s choice of words.

One is tempted to use words such as ‘awesome’ ‘spectacular’ ‘wonderful’ to describe something creative. But there’s a strange uneasiness about calling a work of art ‘awesome’ when you know that the events it depicts devastated the lives of thousands of people. So how does one describe HBO’s Chernobyl? The word that best comes to mind at this moment of time is ‘remarkable’.

Remarkable in every aspect. Craig Mazin was best known to the world as the writer of Hangover sequels. So, it is quite a surprise that he is the man behind what is now IMDB’s highest-ever rated TV series or is it? In this interview, he explains how there is a connect between writing a comedy and something like Chernobyl because you are essentially in search for the truth. He also explains how narratives can shape ideologies and perspectives, and who controls the narrative becomes more important than what the narrative is. Chernobyl’s underlying theme is how the narrative around the disaster was twisted and suppressed to protect the image of an insecure nation, and how nationalistic concerns triumphed over the needs of basic safety and scientific arguments. False narratives, however, have a half-life smaller than the most unstable radionuclides.

They decided to go with British actors with British accents rather than have actors speak with a fake Soviet accent. That is a clever move because it will really never make sense why Russians/Ukrainians would speak English in their own country. The other option was to go with an entire Soviet cast speaking Russian/Ukrainian and then subtitling the dialogues. That would give the show a more authentic look but I guess they were looking for a wider audience and English helps that, particularly when you have veterans like Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård. Apart from that, the rest of the show preserves all the artefacts of the former Soviet Union including the instructions, the uniforms, and even the panel board and myriad buttons in the Control Room of Reactor No.4.  The attention to detail that the show runners went for is a lesson for all docudramas.

The science part that minutely explains how a nuclear reactor works and how an RBMK reactor exploded has been fascinatingly explained without dumbing it down. You could forgive yourself for having a trip down the memory lane to your school science text books and the periodic table.

Chernobyl although described as drama should legit be considered under the horror genre. The static radio noise like sound the Geiger counters make, slowly reaching towards a nauseating crescendo, make for an eerie background score. The real reason though why Chernobyl is terrifying is because it really happened and it could have been so much worse.

After the season finale, the mini series received high praise from none other than David Simon (the creator of The Wire). It would be unfair to compare Chernobyl with traditional TV dramas that last over at least five seasons but Mazin made a conscious decision of limiting the episodes to five and he didn’t need to add any filler scenes and overstretch the story beyond what was necessary.


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