Growing up in the 80s, it’s amazing how many sad and terrifying things were going on in the world as we kids played with our friends and toys, watched cartoons and played video games. Meanwhile you had tragic events kicking off in 1986 such as the Challenger space shuttle exploding, and the worst of all was the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion that’s still effecting lives to this very day.
HBO being the entertainment powerhouse that it is decided to craft an epic mini-series that recreates this terrible event while giving viewers access to both facts and dramatic fiction in the simply titled Chernobyl. It’s without a doubt one of the best shows from the company as the acting, pacing, and its overall suspenseful, intriguing and horrifying subject matter will keep you glued to your seat.
On Saturday April 26, 1986 at 1:23am, the lives of the people in Pripyat, Ukraine as well as all of Europe and the entire world was changed forever when a reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. While that was bad enough, the constant high radiation coming from it poisoned the air, land, and water, leading to thousands of deaths, cancer victims, and other mutations back then and are still effecting some today.
To understand what happened and how to best clean up this tragic event, the Russian government calls in Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute. He’s then paired up with Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) who serves as a middleman between Valery and the government that’s in charge of getting everything he needs to fix this disaster, from sending in people to empty the water underneath the reactors to stop a complete nuclear meltdown, but knowing they may not live, to sacrificing soldiers and workers to high radiation to remove debris and kill animals in the area to prevent the spread.
A fictional character is thrown in, Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) who is supposed to represent numerous scientists who helped investigate the event, and these key people are the only chance the world has for exposing the truth about what happened while also living with the tough decisions being made and the gruesome effects of those first exposed to the accident.
I think the series is best described as something along the lines of Schindler’s List, another equally intriguing but terrifying story of real life events. I’m pretty sure that’s what HBO was going for and they nailed it here. I enjoyed watching the series as I wanted to get to the truth behind the event as well as hear about some of the everyday people that suffered from it. But at the same time the series is so horrifying, depressing, and hits a bit too close to home with present issues such as the pandemic and the obscuring of the truth going on, that I had to take breaks between some of the five episodes as not to fall into despair.
Everything about this show screams quality as its clear HBO spared no expense getting some of the best talent out there. Jarad Harris and Stellan Skarsgård turn in some of the best performances of their lives here, and one of the biggest stars of the show is the disturbing and frightening music score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that captures the sadness and terror of the event and its aftermath perfectly with droning stringed instruments while also using actual audio recordings of the dosimeters used during the tragedy mixed in.
The visuals and audio are made better thanks to 4K UHD visuals with HDR, and the Dolby HD audio. There’s also a few special features included that go behind the scenes of all five episodes, the cast, and director, and how some of the key scenes were brought to life from script to screen.
Chernobyl is easily one of the best mini-series I’ve ever seen while also being one of the most saddening. The acting, pacing, content, and music are practically perfect. While it is difficult to watch, this series should be mandatory viewing for fans of history and drama, as you’ll be hard pressed to find something that does both so well.