In 1986 a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union. The HBO drama series “Chernobyl” portrays the greatest man-made catastrophe in history; We explain why the show’s masterpiece is so exceptional.
Recently, a bitter discussion broke out about whether “Chernobyl” is really the best series of all time. On IMDB, HBO’s catastrophe series is even ahead of giants like “Breaking Bad” (9.4) and “Game Of Thrones” (9.3) as “Top-” with an average rating of a sensational 9.6 out of 10. Series of Rated TV “- with a staggering 229,000 votes. But free! We don’t want to lead this idle debate at this point, because the greatest series of all time is and will be David Simon’s legendary police drama series “The Wire” (2002 to 2008, 5 seasons).
But of the series that have started in recent years, “Chernobyl” stands out gleaming. You rub your eyes in wonder when you look at creative people. The mastermind behind “Chernobyl” is the creator of the series Craig Mazin, who as director of “The Specials” (2000) and “Superhero Movie” (2008) did not necessarily become famous and whose scripts for “Scary Movie 3” , “Scary Movie 4” and “Hangover 2” aren’t among the great writing hours either. So we don’t know how a masterfully written drama series came out of Mazin’s pen, but we are simply delighted and pay the utmost respect to the New Yorker, who carried out years of meticulous research, for his great concept and brilliant implementation.
We don’t give the series a rating, but we actually get 5 stars because “Chernobyl” just blew us away on all levels.
This is what “Chernobyl” is all about
The Chernobyl reactor accident shook the world on April 26, 1986. Two days later, after the increase in radioactivity at a Swedish nuclear power plant was measured, the Soviet state can no longer keep the devastating nuclear accident covered. CPSU General Secretary Michael Gorbatschow (David Dencik) personally appoints Energy Minister Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgard) to lead the accident investigation and do everything possible to limit the damage.
With well-known nuclear physicist Valerij Legasov (Jared Harris), Scherbina has an upright but twisted expert by her side, providing her with the scientific data on the disaster. The team unwittingly travels to Chernobyl and, after assessing the disaster, causes the inhabitants of the flagship city of Pripyat, three kilometers away, to be completely evacuated. The scope of the damage is much greater than expected. The reactor core threatens to melt, rendering drinking water inedible for millions of people for centuries.
This part of the plot is a good starting point to explicitly illustrate the extraordinary quality of “Chernobyl.” Already in the first episode it leaves you breathless when the director of the series Johan Renck (“The Last Panthers”) soberly and without any trick staging how the reactor explodes in Block 4 and the first pitiful workers are sent to radiation hell. This is followed by an emotionally important and brilliantly performed key scene in which Legasov and Scherbina want to avoid the worst. To do this, a tunnel must be dug under the reactor for several weeks to prevent the core from melting.
Only specialized miners can do the job. Mazin presents this special type of person with his own story, so that these primitive sooty rocks take on a face. Led by the gruff but honest foreman Andrei Glukhov (Alex Ferns), they set to work heroically and stoically on their suicide mission, in inhuman temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius in the boring tunnel. Legasov knows that he sends many of the men to their deaths (in the end, around 100 of the 400 men die from radiation damage before their 40th birthday). It bites it hard.
Here, creator Mazin easily sets a decisive mark for his story. Legasov, although always aware of the threat of the state apparatus, has difficulty lying. He sits down with Sherbina before they instruct the miners in their deadly task. Legasov looks tortured and questioning Scherbina …
Legasov: “I’m not good at it, Boris. (Pause) I’m lying.“
Sherbina: “Have you ever spent time with miners?“
Legasov: (shakes his head questioningly) “No.“
Sherbina: “He always tells the truth. Men work in the dark. You see everything.“
A splendid atmospheric scene that cements the core of the characters, the story, and maybe even the whole country to the point. These two central figures work very well because they are opposites and yet they complement each other perfectly. Legasov thinks through scientific and technical processes, Scherbina organizes implementation; This construction also leads to the fact that nuclear power technology is also understandable to lay people in the dialogues. Although Legasov, whose suicide is anticipated in the first episode’s prologue, is the obvious popular figure, Mazin draws him with ambivalent inserts, because he too hesitates only briefly to send so-called liquidators to certain death in certain situations.
More than a disaster
And so “Chernobyl” is much more than a catastrophic drama with horror images of radiation victims, but rather a character study, a portrait of the Soviet Union society in the 80s and a very exciting thriller. in which the investigation and various cover-ups are described. Through Legasov and the head of the Scherbina party, who turns out to be much more humane than initially supposed, the viewer has access to those affected: the citizens of the Soviet Union. This was particularly important to Mazin, as he says. I wanted to show the impact of the disaster on people. We thought: He managed to do this consistently and very consistently. Over the course of the five episodes, between 60 and 72 minutes long, Mazin repeatedly incorporates subplots about individual destinations.
And even if the faithful Russian state media mocked “Chernobyl” and announced a counter-series, From a Western point of view, dealing with disaster is ruthless, but absolutely decent and fair. Artistic freedoms, such as the creation of the fictional researcher Ulana Khomyuk played by Emily Watson, representing the many scientists who supported Legasov, are dramaturgically legitimate. Here clichés of the “bad Soviets” are not cultivated, but different characters are presented. There is the rigid state that wants to downplay and cover up everything, but its performance aids also have their reasons. But there are also the heroes of history who act against her as much as possible, always with the KGB on their back and knowing what will happen to them if they go too far until the final showdown. Of course, “Chernobyl” benefits from the fact that the series features two prominent lead actors, Jared Harris (“Mad Man”) and Stellan Skarsgard (“Good Will Hunting”).
Television at the highest level
Also in terms of production values, “Chernobyl” is the top television. In addition to the human drama and tricks of the two leads in their search for the truth, director Johan Renck takes all the tension out of the crisp Geiger counters. The Chernobyl issue personally affects people who at least experienced the catastrophe and its far-reaching geographical consequences at least from a distance (like the author of these lines), But Mazin manages to tell something universal in times of climatic disasters and the growing demands for climate protection. Humans need a reasonably intact planet in order to live, it’s that simple. This is deliberately overlooked in all policies of concern, including the Chernobyl case, where the Soviet state has long refused to accept the design flaws of RBMK reactors. other nuclear power plants had to be repaired.
Because it would not have been long and the living space for 50 million people would have become uninhabitable, which in turn prevented the heroic commitment of the 600,000 more or less volunteer liquidators, many of whom died immediately or over the years. . According to the state, 31 people were officially killed in the reactor accident. The most realistic estimates range from 4,000 to 93,000. Only 300,000 people had to leave a 2,600 square kilometer exclusion zone in what is now Ukraine and Belarus.
Bottom Line: With the disaster drama series “Chernobyl,” creator Craig Mazin delivers a perfect blend of a painful history lesson, superbly performed psychological thriller, good portrayal of society, and pure human drama. First-rate television, with some scenes difficult to bear physically and emotionally.
In Germany, “Chernobyl” ran on Sky and can still be accessed there via Sky Ticket.