Which TV series has great production values

Why "Chernobyl" is currently the best series

+++ opinion +++

Recently, a bitter discussion broke out about whether “Chernobyl” really is the best series of all time. In the IMDB, the disaster series from HBO 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. rated TV-Series “- with an astonishing 229,000 votes. But for free! We don't want to lead this idle debate at this point, because the best 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 shimmering. You rub your eyes in amazement when you look at the creative people. Mastermind behind "Chernobyl" is series creator Craig Mazin, who as the director of "The Specials" (2000) and "Superhero Movie" (2008) did not necessarily spill his fame and whose scripts for "Scary Movie 3", "Scary Movie 4" and "Hangover 2" are also not among the great moments of the art of writing. So we don't know how a masterfully written drama series flowed from the pen of Mazin, but we are simply delighted and pay the greatest respect to the New Yorker, who carried out years of meticulous research, for his great concept and brilliant implementation.

We don't give a rating for series, but we would actually pull out the 5 stars because “Chernobyl” simply blew us away on every level.

That's what "Chernobyl" is about

The Chernobyl reactor accident rocked the world on April 26, 1986. Two days later, after increased radioactivity was measured in a Swedish nuclear power plant, the Soviet state can no longer keep the devastating nuclear accident under cover. CPSU General Secretary Michael Gorbatschow (David Dencik) personally appoints Energy Minister Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgard) to lead the investigation into the accident and to do everything possible to limit the damage.

With the well-known nuclear physicist Valerij Legasov (Jared Harris), Scherbina has an upright but gnarled expert at her side who provides him with the scientific facts about the disaster. The involuntary team travels to Chernobyl and, after assessing the disaster, has the residents of the model city of Pripyat, three kilometers away, completely evacuated. The extent of the damage is much greater than expected. The reactor core threatens to melt through, making drinking water inedible for millions of people for centuries.

This part of the plot is a nice starting point to explicitly illustrate the extraordinary quality of "Chernobyl". Already in the first episode it takes your breath away when series director Johan Renck (“The Last Panthers”) staged soberly and without any gimmicky how the reactor in Block 4 explodes and the first pitiful workers are sent to the radiation hell. This is followed by an emotionally important, brilliantly played key scene in which Legasov and Scherbina want to avert the very worst. To do this, a tunnel has to be dug under the reactor over several weeks to prevent the core from melting through.

Only specialized miners can do the job. Mazin introduces this special kind of person with its own storyline, so that these charcoal-sooty primeval rocks get a face. Led by the gruff but honest foreman Andrei Glukhov (Alex Ferns), they heroically and stoically get to work on their suicide mission - at 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 the radiation damage they suffered before their 40th birthday). It gnaws at him hard.

Here, the creator Mazin easily sets a decisive mark for his story. Legasov, although always aware of the threatening state apparatus, finds it difficult to lie. He sits with Sherbina before they instruct the miners on their deadly task. Legasov looks tortured and questioning at Scherbina ...

Sherbina:What?

Legasov:I'm not good at it, Boris. (Pause) Im lying.

Sherbina:Have you ever spent time with miners?

Legasov: (shakes his head questioningly)No.

Sherbina:Always tell the truth. The men work in the dark. You see everything.

A splendid atmospheric scene that cemented the core of the characters, the story and maybe even the whole country to the point. These two central figures work so well because they are opposites and yet complement each other perfectly. Legasov thinks through the scientific and technical processes, Scherbina organizes the implementation - this construction incidentally leads to the fact that the technology of nuclear energy is also understandable for laypeople in the dialogues. Although Legasov, whose suicide is anticipated in the prologue of the first episode, is the obvious popular figure, Mazin draws him with ambivalent insertions, because he too hesitates only briefly to send the so-called liquidators to certain death in certain situations.

More than a disaster

And so "Chernobyl" is much more than a catastrophe drama with horror images of radiation victims, but rather a character study, a society portrait of the Soviet Union in the 80s and a highly exciting thriller, in which the investigation and various cover-ups are described. Through Legasov and party boss Scherbina, who turns out to be far more human than initially assumed, the viewer gets access to those affected: the citizens of the Soviet Union. That was particularly important to Mazin, as he says. He wanted to show the impact of the disaster on people. We think: He succeeded in doing this consistently and very consistently. Over the course of the five episodes between 60 and 72 minutes in length, Mazin repeatedly incorporates subplot strands about individual fates.

And even if loyal Russian state media mocked themselves about "Chernobyl" and announced a counter-series, From a western point of view, dealing with the catastrophe is ruthless, but absolutely decent and fair. Artistic freedoms, such as the creation of the fictional researcher Ulana Khomyuk played by Emily Watson, who represents the many scientists who supported Legasov, are dramaturgically legitimate. No clichés of the “bad Soviets” are cultivated here, but rather differentiated characters are presented. There is the rigid state that wants to downplay and cover up everything, but its fulfillment aids also have their motives. But there are also the heroes of the story who take action against it as far as they can - always with the KGB behind their necks and the knowledge of what will happen to them if they go too far until the final showdown. Of course, “Chernobyl” benefits from the fact that the series has two outstanding leading actors, Jared Harris (“Mad Man”) and Stellan Skarsgard (“Good Will Hunting”).

Television at the highest level

Also in terms of production values, “Chernobyl” is top television. In addition to the human drama and the maneuvers of the two protagonists in their search for the truth, director Johan Renck tickles all the tension out of the crackling Geiger counters. The topic of Chernobyl affects people personally who at the time experienced the disaster and its geographically far-reaching consequences at least from a distance (like the author of these lines) but Mazin manages to tell something universal in the time of climate catastrophes and the increasing demands for climate protection. We humans need a reasonably intact planet in order to be able to live at all - it's that simple. This is deliberately overlooked in all interest politics, including in the case of Chernobyl, where the Soviet state has long refused to recognize the design flaws in the RBMK reactors other nuclear power plants were to be repaired.

Because it would not have been missing much and the living space for 50 million people would have become uninhabitable - which in turn prevented the heroic efforts of the 600,000 more or less voluntary liquidators, many of whom died immediately or over the years. According to the state, 31 people were officially killed in the reactor accident. More realistic estimates range between 4,000 and 93,000. 300,000 people alone had to leave a 2,600 square kilometer exclusion zone in what is now Ukraine and Belarus.

Conclusion: With the disaster drama series “Chernobyl”, creator Craig Mazin offers a perfect mixture of painful history lesson, superbly played psychological thriller, fine society portrait and sheer human drama. Television of the highest order, with some scenes hard to bear physically and emotionally.

In Germany, “Chernobyl” ran on Sky and can still be accessed there via Sky Ticket.