The phrase "turning tragedy into art" has perhaps never been more poignant than in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. A masterclass in visual storytelling, the series is a dramatized look at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986.
The 5-part miniseries highlights in equal parts the best and the worst of humanity, shifting from corrupt and idealistic government officials doing their best to cover-up the incident to heroic individuals who risked their lives for the greater good.
It is based on anecdotal recounting by the survivors of the disaster and takes inspiration from Nobel prize-winning Belarusian author, Svetlana Alexievich's book, Voices from Chernobyl.
Chernobyl premiered on May 6, 2019, in the US, and almost immediately propelled to the top of Critics' top TV shows list. By the time the series ended its 5-episode run, the show was amongst the most acclaimed television shows of all time, ranking with the ranks of Breaking Bad, and Band of Brothers.
On April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Pripyat, Ukraine, suffered a catastrophic failure. The ensuing explosion blew the roof off the reactor and exposed radioactive materials to the atmosphere, thereby threatening all life.
The HBO miniseries is a dramatic re-telling of the events of the real-life disaster from the point of view of first responders, firefighters, liquidators, scientists, miners, volunteers, and other personnel as they race against time to stop the disaster from destroying the world.
Set in the height of the Cold War, the series also explores the Soviet government's conspiracy to cover-up the extent of the disaster.
Chernobyl was a triumph for all involved- cinematographers, sound engineers, directors, producers, scriptwriters, makeup artists, and yes, the cast members.
Everyone involved brought their A-game, and that goes doubly true for the main cast. The ensemble cast and the dynamic between the characters are what make the harrowing 5-episode journey almost endearing.
Jared Harris plays Valery Legasov, an inorganic chemist working for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. He gets called upon as the chief of the commission in charge of the investigation behind the accident.
Stellan Skarsgård gives a tour de force performance as Boris Shcherbina, vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers who oversee the management of the nuclear disaster.
Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, a composite character representing the scientific community as a whole, whose council was instrumental in the containment of the disaster.
Other members of the cast include Paul Ritter as Anatoly Dyatlov, the deputy chief engineer of the plant at the time of the explosion; Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the pregnant wife of one of the firefighters; and Adam Nagaitis as the firefighter, Vasily Ignatenko, husband of Lyudmilla, and one of the first responders on the scene.
The series has been overwhelmingly positive with critics as well as with the fans. The miniseries ranks among the best shows, not only of 2019 but of all time.
It received nineteen nominations at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, bagging the awards in the Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Directing, and Outstanding Writing categories.
It was also nominated in four categories at the 10th Critics' Choice Television Awards, with Stellan Skarsgård taking home the Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie.
Skarsgård also won the award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Limited Series or Television Film at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, with Chernobyl winning the award for Best Limited Series or Television Film.
On IMDb, Chernobyl currently holds a 9.5/10 rating aggregated from 412,180 users, ranking fifth in the most acclaimed TV shows of all time, just tailing AMC's Breaking Bad, and another HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
In June 2019, it became the highest-rated TV show of all-time, with a score of 9.7/10 calculated from over 140,000 users.
The show holds a similarly high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, at a 96% approval rate. On Metacritic, it holds an 83-out-of-100 score, signifying "universal acclaim."
Despite the overwhelmingly positive ratings and rave reviews from critics and fans, if you still feel undecided about whether the 5-part miniseries is worth your effort, then you are missing out!
If not entirely for entertainment value, the show is a must-watch for historical purposes. Chernobyl is as educational as it is harrowing. It is more horrifying than the modern horror genre trope because it is a real-life tragedy that actually occurred.
It provides a sobering look at how Europe and the greater world, as we know it, almost ended due to simple human neglect.
The show is also a social commentary on idealism- in this case, communism. The Soviet government tried to bury the true scale of the incident by spewing propaganda and throwing red herrings, all in order to save face.
Chernobyl is a cautionary tale about how blind nationalism, greed, and idealism almost brought the world to ruin.
One other reason why you should watch Chernobyl is to remember the heroes of Chernobyl. You would be hard-pressed to find heroes the likes of whom were seen at the frontlines of the disaster, whether they be firefighters, doctors, nurses, scientists, liquidators, volunteers, or government officials. The true magnitude of the human effort is unclear, but tens of thousands of innocent people gave their lives so that the greater world could live.
Chernobyl is a true achievement in visual storytelling. The direction, the acting, the soundtrack, the makeup, and set design, and the attention to historical accuracy all lent to making it a somber look at one of the worst man-made disasters in history. Chernobyl truly is must-watch TV!