Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
Cue the piano player music. Westworld returns for its fourth season on HBO this Sunday night at 9pm.
Confounding is the perfect adjective to describe this show. It's a compliment. It's a criticism. You never know what you're going to get with these artificial beings trying to take over the planet. Or save it. Or destroy it. No one really knows.
The original Westworld was a sci-fi thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park. Robots malfunctioned at a Western-themed Park and began to kill visitors. It's Yul Brenner at his finest in a cowboy hat.
The first season of the series arrived with maximum hype. Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris led a cast of heavy hitters and tremendous special effects in HBO’s coveted Sunday at 9pm time slot.
The opening credits looked like they cost more than most seasons of other shows. Evan Rachel Wood starred as Dolores Abernathy, a robotic "host" who feels that she's coming to life and the futuristic Western theme park slipped into chaos.
Westworld quickly stumbled upon the Heroes problem. The first season of Heroes was fantastic, but then everyone got powers and the universe was less special.
As Westworld has progressed, it seems everyone is a host. Or are they? They've been killed, but have they? The big reveal that a particular human is a host no longer carries any weight.
But the characters keep me coming back for more despite the confusing plots. Here's why:
Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) - She frightens me. Wood's performance as Dolores is chilling, shifting from caring to violent with an invisible flick of a switch. If Dolores told me what to do, you bet that I'm listening. She was destroyed in Season 3, but now she's back as a writer named Christina. Okay...
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) - Couldn't get enough of him in the first season with the genuinely surprising reveal that he was a host. Or was he? He was Arnold, right? This was the first of many "are they human" characters that confused the audience. Choose a side, Bernard.
Maeve (Thandiwe Newton) - The struggle to find her daughter was the emotional strength of the first season. She turned into an ass-kicking righteous warrior as seasons progressed taking no prisoners. Love the look, the accent, and the clear distinction that she is a host who achieved consciousness.
Teddy (James Marsden) - Another host who defended Dolores at any cost. Never got over Dolores changing who he was to create a killing machine. So he killed himself, or did he? He's back this season. Uh oh.
Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) - The eyes. It's all in the eyes. From her first appearance in the saloon, Clementine locks you in as a good host should.
The Man In Black (Ed Harris) - I'll watch Ed Harris in any project he's in, and this is a perfect for the intense actor. He's the literal black hat who was obsessed with the park and provided the big William surprise in season one. His quest for immortality has become difficult to follow. He got his throat slit in a post-credit scene by his host twin, but both seem to be back this season.
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) - The park creator and soul of the first season until he met his demise. The man behind the curtain provided some answers and guidance. He was all about the hosts and one step ahead of everyone until his demise. The show has been teetering without him.
Charlotte (Tessa Thompson) - She came to the park after the host uprising. I got that she's "corporate", but never really felt like I should care about her. After meeting her demise as a human, she returned as a host with Dolores info inside. Now she’s Dolores. I think.
Caleb (Aaron Paul) - Love the actor, don't get the part. At all.
Oscar winner/Tony host Ariana DeBose joins the cast this season as the roommate of Christina (that's Evan Rachel Wood). No doubt beautiful chaos will ensue.
Westworld is a gorgeous show to watch and the acting is excellent. But let's ride out west again and have the hosts revolt instead of challenging human existence with interchangeable characters. The humans who visit the park can get their comeuppance. Let the player piano play.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Jon Stewart: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize (PBS)
Tuesday, June 22nd 9pm ET
I'm an unabashed Jon Stewart fan. He's an extremely funny guy (thus the prize) who has always gotten the most out of his staff and then cheered them on to exciting new ventures. The list is too long...Colbert, Carrell, Bee, Oliver and countless other comedic greats.
Everyone gathered in person to celebrate the newest winner of the coveted Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Look who showed up to celebrate, and that tells you everything about Jon Stewart's legacy. You might not like his politics, but you must respect his wit.
The Split Season 3 (Sundance Now)
Thursday, June 24th
This British divorce lawyer dramedy appeared in my Greatest Hits when I thought the series was ending after two seasons. Well Hannah and her eclectic family are back for a third season with divorce front and center on the table. Sadly this season will actually be its last.
This season focuses on Hannah (the brilliant Nicola Walker) and Nathan's (Episodes Stephen Mangan) split which is intended to be amicable but takes a turn for the worse.
Divorce is one thing - lawyers divorcing is a whole other level of angst. Family drama and humor is what makes The Split work, and there's plenty to go around in the final six episodes. Watch trailer.
Chloe (Prime Video)
Friday, June 24th
A young female British temp worker becomes obsessed with the Instagram account of Chloe, a woman leading the perfect life. Chloe meets her demise, and the temp gets to the bottom of what really happened.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Mind Over Murder (HBO) – Six-part documentary on six individuals (five pled guilty) of killing a Nebraska grandma but were exonerated by DNA evidence 24 years later. Monday at 9:00 PM ET.
The Future Of... (Netflix) – A close look at the impact of technology on our daily life. Tuesday.
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – Elliot Page leads the way in the third season of superhero children. Wednesday.
Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes (HBO) – A non-fiction follow up to the excellent miniseries from 2019. Wednesday at 9:00 PM ET.
Loot (Apple TV+) – Maya Rudolph's husband (Adam Scott) leaves her nothing but billions of dollars, and she gets involved in a charity foundation in this comedy. Friday.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Police Squad! (Prime Video) – This six-episode short-lived ABC comedy was the origin of The Naked Gun movies. Leslie Nielsen plays Frank Drebin and gives a master class in deadpan. The brilliantly stupid puns, gags and jokes are nonstop on the L.A.P.D. You'll have to pay for this one, but it is worth the investment.
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.