Good TV – ‘Chernobyl’

HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ is jam-packed with jarring cinematography, genetic mutations and killer cold war history. The hardcore miniseries is the best thing on TV, hands down.

For fans of Soviet and post-Soviet style such as Gosha Rubchinskiy, Egor Rogalev, Bernie Sanders and Vladimir Putin, look no further than HBO’s newest, must-see miniseries, ‘Chernobyl.’ The show captures all the shortages, shenanigans and inefficiencies of the Soviet system that resulted in countless inflamed thyroids, monster-like birth defects and unspeakable human tragedy. It shows the gruesome lunacy of Soviet logic and how terror was at the root of that panopticon state. The USSR embodied all the catastrophic and apocalyptic features of a sacrificial furnace – where utopia so easily turned to dystopia and conformity, servility and submission were the defining traits.

Depicting the insane events that led up to the ‘Zone of Alienation,’ Craig Mazin’s ‘Chernobyl’, which debuted on HBO last week, is a serious AF account of what happened when a nuclear power plant near the sleepy town of Pripyat, Ukraine, exploded back in April 1986. The accident triggered an endless gush of unpleasantries for the Soviet Union’s ultra-sinister strongmen and subjugated sheeple, as well as a broadside critical meltdown for the Evil Empire itself, culminating with the transformative events of 1989: the wholesale unraveling of that ghastly gulag state from center to periphery. By 1991 the whole system collapsed in on itself.

Aflame in weird colorways and phosphorescent effects, it looks like something resembling the ravishing aurora borealisamidst bocolic fields and brutalist concrete architecture. The alien-like spectacle mesmerizes the local populace with its eerie luminescence and ashy particulate carried by the westerly winds. The bitter irony is that the beautiful glowing embers swirling around Ukraine contain highly radioactive, crystalline formations that will force early death upon thousands of the region’s inhabitants.

Pripyat’s residents had no clue about the existential hazards that were unleashed that midnight when nuclear reactor No.4 experienced a catastrophic meltdown. The show is a deadly serious take on Chernobyl in all its dark history and Politbyuro-directed subterfuge. It makes you despise those rascally Russians and their political propensities — those birdbrained Bolshevists who gleefully implemented Marxism-Leninism and perpetuated the pernicious decrees, pious platitudes and socialist drivel that ultimately undid them and their neo-mystical heaven on earth. They almost took down all of Eastern Europe/Russia with their gross incompetence and evil capriciousness.

Genius writer Craig Mazin (he did ‘The Hangover’ and ‘Identity Thief’, etc.) and director Johan Renck(‘Breaking Bad‘) wanted to examine the hidden dimensions of the USSR’s sprawling Potemkin Villageand the defining moment of the 20th century. A toxic nuclear nebula spread from Ukraine to Scandinavia contaminating countless cubic meters, millions of acres of land and sending thousands of Soviet subjects to their premature deaths. The official count, according to Soviet apparatchiks, was 31. The commie nomenklatura, desperate not to let the Yankees know the scope of damage or the ineptitude of its nuclear engineers and political functionaries, would crumble within three years.

Compounded mistakes and sloppy cover-ups turned the catastrophic meltdown into a metaphor for a crooked empire. The series’ resonance is in the under the radar heroism of a few humble atomic boffins — Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) and Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) — and Communist Party functionary Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard). They seek to expose a tragedy that left thousands of hectares of fecund land uninhabitable and led to a modern-day ecological Armageddon, toxic rivers, irradiated territory and unquantifiably high cancer rates and mutations.

“What I was not prepared for was the breathtaking human drama that occurred after that explosion and told from the perspective of people I’ve always been separated from, Soviet citizens,” Mazin says. “‘Chernobyl’ is a human story. It’s not a disaster movie. It’s not about explosions. It’s about people and truths and lies.”

‘Chernobyl’ is an reverberation from the Cold War, a time of the great Gipper and glasnost, missile silos and Soviet propaganda, punk rock and socialist gimcrack, and a globe more starkly divided along lines of good vs. evil, mystics vs. realists, and ideology vs. pragmatism. Moscow’s perennial duplicity and deception at trying to prevent fundamental truths from surfacing demonstrates that alternative facts, narrative distortions and poisonous politics are a part of the past as much as the present. But the Russians prove far more capable (and culpable) than anyone else of orchestrating a vast surveillance state and coercive Leviathan monster.

Contrary to being a Hollywood hit piece or anti-Russian diatribe populated with Anglo-American thespians, ‘Chernobyl’ is a visceral, multi-part autopsy that lifts the lid on the doublespeak and corruption (still rife today!) in that roughshod part of the world. The camerawork, artistic direction and production value of the series is tip-top, to be sure. The masterful aesthetic incorporates unobtrusive, highly nuanced scenes and state symbols — from housing estates, Red Army biohazard gear and brutalist office structures to Eastern Bloc R&D centers — an on the money, triple combo-platter of CCCP kitsch, KGB-style political intrigue and historical set-pieces that transplant you directly in the gray-toned, totes gross USSR/’Zone of Alienation.’

Watch HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ every Monday at 9pm (Rotten Tomatoes gave it ☆☆☆☆☆s!). The acting is ace and the docu-drama ‘disaster porn’ is a delight. Peep the trailer here. Thank you, Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck!