Chernobyl (2019) is an HBO miniseries airing weekly from May 6 to June 3 and is directed by Johan Renck & written/created by Craig Mazin. Within a short span of time since release, Chernobyl has broken several user rated records on IMDb beating TV shows like Game of Thrones as well as Breaking Bad and becoming the highest rated series by user till the date of typing this.
HBO’s Chernobyl is a living testament of how a linear emotive narration of a real-life story yields a better catharsis from the audience over an analytical-documentative approach.
Even though Chernobyl involves a lot of scientific jargon ranging from generation of steam to the elaborate procedure of turning down an RBMK Nuclear Reactor and why you should not have graphite-tipped control rods in one, it never slows or overcomplicates the storytelling; rather it acts as a ‘catalyst’.
The hook of the miniseries doesn’t lie in the high production value of creating the abandoned city of Pripyat or revealing the administrative failures and arrogance of the USSR Government but rather in the high stakes situation that the creators created accompanied by the ‘factual context’.
The beauty of having an invisible & unbeatable antagonist (the radiation) makes the hook only stronger. It is a villain that can’t be seen, says nothing, can’t be reasoned with and worse… can’t be defeated. This is a villain that you breathe, you drink, you eat, you love and you procreate. Its mere existence is enough to abandon cities and collapse governments. It is nature in its purest form of timeless destruction. Coupled with the stakes of millions of lives and yet to be, creates an inescapable catastrophe.
Each scene moves the story forward by clarifying the stakes. The story focuses less on the damage that has happened and presses on what can happen, which is always worse.
This scene-by-scene specification of stakes develops a curiosity and intrigue to know what caused this disaster in the first place.
Finally, when the iron is hot (curiosity is high), the creators hit the hammer (revelation of lethargic governance of USSR). This leads to having a satisfying scratch to the itch audience have developed throughout the series.
Chernobyl knows where to start and where to end, where to create context and where to use it. It is a brilliant blueprint to take you through one of the most intricate scientific & administrative tribulations of the modern world.