If you’re still wondering: yes. It is as good as everyone says. It is worth your time. And it is very, very hard to watch.
If you’re like me, Chernobyl is a vague event. The basics are clear: a nuclear reactor in the Soviet Union melted down and an entire area of the Ukraine is off limits because of the possibility of a severe case of death. It was a symbol of the Soviet Union. Bloated as it was with bureaucracy, cost cutting, and nepotism, it was only a matter of time before safety standards were so lax as to allow such an event to happen.
But as the show labors to prove: it’s not abject laziness that causes such an event. It’s willful acceptance of the lie: The Soviet Union is strong, and anything suggesting otherwise is propaganda.
Chernobyl is a horror miniseries. It’s terrifying in ways existential and personal. And it finds the beauty in the macabre just as it finds the terror. The light of a radioactive fire as it shines on a fireman’s face – as he begins to understand that this may not be an ordinary flame. The sound of the Geiger counter, ticking away furiously, showing radioactive levels higher than the device can read. You can’t look away, as much as you want to.
While the filming and sound is incredible and could carry the entire show on its own, the script and actors utterly inhabit the roles. And you feel for them in such meaningful ways, without being able to remember their full names without looking them up. The two main leads: Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard bear the weight of dramatic chops. Two actors so capable you wonder if they were pulled out of history to reenact their past. Nothing could prepare me for the look on Stellan’s face when he slowly realized that the job he had to do, the one he assumed wasn’t really a problem, would be his death. And now he has to convince others to die as well.
The script is so good it blows my mind that it was penned by the screenwriter of such hits as: Scary Movie 3/4, The Hangover Part II/III, and the Identity Thief. How refreshing, that a passion project can become the greatest achievement of Craig Mazin’s life. Because Chernobyl is five episodes of the greatest drama on TV.
It’s a timely one too. In a span where our political leadership lies to us more than ever, here is a show all about lies, and the cost they have. Not just in nuclear disasters, but in daily life. How can you trust anyone when everyone lies? How can you keep people safe, if the truth is covered up? Sadly, for the men and women of Chernobyl, you might have to die for the truth.
4 out of 4 stars
p.s. full disclosure. A lot of dogs die in this show. A lot. Be prepared.