Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: Why the critics got it wrong about Westworld

Because I like to live life on the edge I watched Westworld the other night. This has been largely reported as being a bad idea.

Critics have been quick on the draw to shoot down HBO's flashy new sci-fi western hybrid. Surprising, because HBO usually signs, seals and delivers the entertainment goods. The network is home to a bunch of the all-time best shows ever, like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Wire.

Did they really fluff it up so bad with Westworld? Could they have? Do HBO even know how to make a bad show? Well, yeah. Last year's Jack Black fronted nuclear dud The Brink springs to mind. But they don't often get it wrong.

If you somehow managed to miss the wave of pre-release hype and the torrential backlash here's a super-quick rundown of what Westworld's all about.

Rich humans behave extremely badly in a Western-style theme park that's populated with humanoid robots that appear to be developing artificial intelligence.

"Its surface slickness aren't enough to mask the indecision, condescension, and hollowness at its core," fired Hollywood bible Variety.

"A series that's constantly leaping all over the place, without rhyme or reason," sniped respected culture site Vox.

"In trying to make an immense and shattering statement it ends up saying nothing at all," fired New Zealand's favourite news source, us, as we pumped Westworld's dying body full of hot lead.

Such venom. Much criticism. Bigly dissing. Wow.

Reading all that the show sounds just awful don't it? Why would anyone wanna watch something that's reviewed so poorly? Shallow condescending telly? No, thank you very much.

But as there was a whole day to wait before the next exciting and important episode of Real Housewives of Auckland dropped I decided to throw caution to the wind and watch some Westworld.

Having now watched the two available episodes (Monday, 8:30pm, SoHo) here's my review: Westworld? Pretty good!

You may notice there's some slight disconnect here. The way I see it there are two possible explanations for this.

The first - and most likely - explanation is that everyone else is wrong. This is my favoured option and the one that three out of four dentists agree with.

The only other explanation - and the one that's extremely unlikely - is that maybe, perhaps, I am? But I don't think so. And here's why.

This is a brand new, major series. It stars incredible A-list talent like Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins. The set design, costumes and effects are all remarkable. The show was created by Jonathan Nolan, who co-wrote the mind-bending movie classic Memento and The Dark Knight Batman flicks with his director brother Christopher, and, on top of all that, it has sci-fi overlord JJ Abrams onboard as executive producer.

All of that is more than enough to cut it some slack and have a little faith in the show in these very early days. So far I've found it entertaining and interesting. It's filled with great performances and has a healthy amount of intrigue going on which is keeping me hooked.

Ed Harris as The Man in Black.
Ed Harris as The Man in Black.

Yes, there are obvious holes to pick. The big one being its premise of a robot-filled theme park that requires nightly resetting. This seems like an awful lot of faff in this day and age of virtual reality. The other being why, when let loose in this fantastic place, do humans instantly turn into appalling murderous sex offenders. I hope we get answers.

But look, HBO are spending fat wads on this thing. They are clearly lining it up to replace the soon-to-conclude Game of Thrones as the network's 'big' show. They want it to run for years. Right now you can stream two episodes on Neon. Two.

It seems premature to bemoan its hollow core, or jumpy pace, or lack of big statement. Aside from the cracking, b-grade romp that was Wayward Pines I can't think of any recent series that has doled out any answers or revelations by its second episode.

Right now it's all about hooking interest and teasing your curiosity.

So when Harris' sadistic Man in Black gets a cryptic pass on being allowed to behave like a right bastard I want to know why. When Wood's gentle victim goes against her programming and kills a fly I want to know why. When Hopkins sees the church spire and snaps into a cold righteousness I want to know why, gawddammit.

The difference being I don't expect to find out by the time the credits roll on ep two. I'm cool with waiting a bit to find out. Not too long, mind. If Westworld goes Lost I'll be getting out.

So, yeah. Westworld? It's pretty good! I'm very much looking forward to seeing what's rustled up in episode three. I don't expect any answers, but I do expect more pieces of this slick, intriguing puzzle. And for now, that's enough.

Read more: Why Anthony Hopkins refuses to watch Westworld

Episode 3 of Westworld airs tonight on Soho at 8.30am.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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