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TV for the fake news generation: why Westworld is the defining show of 2016

HBO’s sci-fi hit is an ambiguous, amoral tale pored over online by people looking for meaning. If that isn’t a show for our times, I don’t know what is.

Westworld is a hit. Viewing figures released this week confirmed that the first season of HBO’s sci-fi western drama received a bigger audience than any other debut in the channel’s history. The same applies in the UK with Sky Atlantic. In the past seven days Westworld has been nominated at the Writers Guild of America awards, with Golden Globes sure to follow. Its 10-episode run has been marked by an endless stream of online conversation and content.

By any definition it has gone well. But I’d go further and say that Westworld is the defining piece of TV in 2016. Game of Thrones may be a bigger phenomenon. Bake Off may have gripped Britain as it looked for a post-Brexit hug. But no other show, intentionally or otherwise, seems to me to have been so markedly a product of its time. (Ok, maybe the news.)

The most obviously relevant aspect is the subject matter. When even the Daily Mail run a front page warning of the dangers of a robot revolution, you know it’s no longer a niche concern. Westworld details the travails of a number of robotic “hosts” whose job is to pleasure human guests in a Wild West theme park. As the humans subject them to barbaric acts, the robots begin to develop signs of consciousness. The humans are too confident in their own abilities to realize the trouble that’s round the corner. The robots, meanwhile, must come to terms with sentience. What does it mean to be “human” anyway?

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