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I have just finished watching Episode 1 of Chernobyl on @HBO. My perspective is that of someone born and raised in the Soviet Union who has vivid memories of 1986, the catastrophe itself and how it was handled by the Soviet politicians and the state media...
First of all, it is almost inconceivable that a Western TV show would go to this amount of detail authentically portraying Soviet life in that era, knowing full well that its target audience (Western viewers) would never appreciate the effort or indeed even understand it...
Trust me, I try very hard to find inaccuracies, however minor. The Americans, a show with similar fetish-like obsession with authenticity, had plenty of small and big Soviet errata to be entertained with. Improperly fastened military shoulder bars, that sort of thing... Not here.
Everything, and I mean everything so far has been incredibly authentic. The typical provincial babushkas talking outside, the kitchen supplies and utensils, the white "celebratory" uniforms of school children (the tragedy occurred just before May Day), the shoes, the hair...
Even the little buckets used by Soviet citizens to take out the trash. They even found that crap somewhere! But I'm impressed by much more than the mere minutiae of Soviet everyday life. Yes, in this regard, Chernobyl is much more true to life than any Western show about Russia..
But, what is more impressive, is the characters, their actions, their thoughts, their motivation. The deep, ruthless drilling of the Soviet mind, what governed us, drove us and shackled us. Chernobyl pulls no punches and lays it all bare....
And this is really the key to its magic, for me at least. Not only is Chernobyl more realistic than any Western show/film about Russia, it's more realistic than anything Russians would have ever made about themselves, at least on this topic. I am not hyperbolizing. Not at all.
In fact, there have been several Russian films about Chernobyl, and only one, made in 1990, during final stages of Perestroika, does justice to the sheer brutality of this deplorable event. And even this one is more about a hero struggling against the odds, a melodramatic trope.
As for the more modern product, there is a film about heroic KGB agents trying to stop a CIA saboteur, for example. Modern Russian cinema, unable to unshackle itself from political expediencies and the "glory of the Motherland", could never make a drama like this one.
As an aside, I am particularly happy about the decision to have the characters speak normal British English, not mangled Russian or English with a corny "Russian" accent. Poor Matthew Rhys and Kerry Russel... Their tortured attempts to speak Russian almost ruined The Americans...
In conclusion, yes, the nit-picky Russian viewer in me was utterly satisfied. The initial "Wait a minute, why are kids going to school on a Saturday?" response quickly gave way to "Shit, that's right! We didn't switch to the 5-day week until 1989!" Pure delight, I tell ya...
But, far more importantly, the intellectual honesty in how the show treats an extremely traumatic event is more than impressive. It's important. Knowing how many fans HBO has in Russia, my hope is that it will elicit more than just knee-jerk defensive responses.
Also, my 17 year old son watched with me, and his first reaction was to immediately dive into the Google rabbit holes trying to research as much as possible about Chernobyl. I don't know about you, but to me this is as good a testimony of the shows greatness as anything
I have just finished a thread where I review Episode 2, scene by scene, if anyone is interested.
And Episode 2. Sorry for out-of-sequence posts
Here is my recap of Episode 4, which somehow managed to be even more gut-wrenching than the previous one...
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