TV News

J.J. Abrams & Jonathan Nolan Adapting Westworld Into a TV Show at HBO. Wait, What?

Breaking news: J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (who producers Person of Internet but might better known as the lesser, not-Christopher of the Nolan family) are adapting a western into a TV pilot for HBO.

Holy crap!  Do not tell me they are doing Deadwood!  The excitement might literally kill me only in the sense that I clearly don’t fully understand the definition of “literally.”

Breaking news: No, you fool, they are not doing Deadwood.  Why would you even think that?  Plus, do you even want a Deadwood without David Milch?  Abrams, Nolan, and producer Jerry Weintraub are adapting the old Michael Crichton cult classic Westworld, which was a film starring Yul Brynner in 1973 and briefly a TV series starring James Wainwright (don’t pretend like you know who what that is) in 1980.

Wait, what?  Westworld?  The malfunctioning robots at an old west-themed amusement park film?  Isn’t that pretty much just famous now for being the thing Crichton did in 1973 and then straight up copied in his other, better known amusement park gone wrong novel and eventual film Jurassic Parkt?

Well, if you’ve never actually seen it (you should though, it’s quite good) then yeah it mostly seems like a spiritual prequel to Jurassic Park.  Subtract malfunctioning robots for rampaging dinosaurs and the basic plot is the same.  The specifics, though, are obviously different in some areas.  Westworld is set in near-future in which science has advanced to the point of being able to create androids who look indistinguishable from humans.  So, there is an amusement park that operates kind of like a real-life holodeck where there are historical era-themed sections of the park where you can go and live out a fantasy, such as beating an old west gunslinger in a duel and then sleeping with the hooker with a heart of a gold.  The androids are programmed so as not to be able to actually harm anyone and lose all confrontations.  So, of course that scenario gets switched pretty quickly and the androids turn on the humans.  The film’s two protagonists (played by Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) do not initially realize that things have gone horribly wrong, like being a Star Trek character on a holodeck whose safety protocols have been secretly turned off.  They are both stalked by Yul Brynner’s gunslinger android, who returned in a cameo for the otherwise entirely new sequel (new director, writer, stars) Futureworld

Poster for the original 1973 film.

As previously covered, we are in the heart of the TV development season meaning all of the networks are buying up properties and ordering pilots right now.  This Westworld adaptation is not guaranteed to ever make it past the pilot.  It’s not entirely clear what angle Abrams, Nolan, and guy whose name is not nearly as famous will take on the material.  All we have to go off is that in the announcement they stated, “Set in the amazing world dreamt up by Michael Crichton, Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin.”  Me thinks this sounds mysteriously similar to Abrams’ forthcoming Almost Human on Fox considering how that show will center on a human cop adapting to his new human-like but fully android partner.

This is an interesting choice for a property to turn into a TV show.  For starters, there has been talks of re-making it as a film since 2007.  Secondly, the original film’s premise is entirely predicated upon the surprise of the androids turning evil and the brief disconnect between how much the audiences knows vs. how comparatively little the two protagonists know.  So, one would guess that a TV show version would have to be about more than just a simple futuristic amusement park run amok with murderous androids.  Maybe they’d go all Star Trek on it, and have a big ethical debate about the rights of the androids once they become self-aware.  Sidebar: I may have watched too much Star Trek lately considering the many Star Trek references in this article.

Either way, they have one huge thing working either against or for them: to those of us of a certain age, all we can think about when we hear this news is how much we loved the Jurassic Park/Westworld parody episode of The Simpsons from its 6th season in which the robotic animals at Itchy & Scratchy Land turn on everyone.  Nothing could possiblie go wrong, right?  If you think I misspelled “possiblie” just now then you obviously don’t know the episode very well; here’s the clip

What do you think?  Excited about this show?  Think the fact that it will be on HBO gives it a much higher profile, budget, and chance of success?  Roll your eyes at any mention of J.J. Abrams producing yet another TV show since he already has so many darn shows on the show and/or in development?  Let us know in the comments.

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