HBO is known for delivering well-received content that gathers a following across all but every demographic. Of course, longform shows like “True Detective,” “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones” capture audiences with their larger-than-life storytelling and grandiose visuals, but the network’s ability to equally captivate and shock viewers with their miniseries is telling of their talent for adjusting to how we consume television these days.
Take “Sharp Objects,” for example. The Amy Adams-led, eight-episode adaptation was harrowing and fascinating, leaving fans begging for a second season even though the source material from Gillian Flynn’s novel was used appropriately and sufficiently. But HBO has no plans to revive the series -- the one, short season did what it was supposed to do for them.
“Big Little Lies” can serve as another example, even though the popularity of the A-list cast was enough for HBO to jump in on a second season, beginning June 9. Each season boasts only seven episodes, but each is jam-packed with enough action and intrigue that it leaves viewers feeling like they consumed a full run.
HBO’s latest hit came in the form of a historical fiction miniseries, “Chernobyl,” which quickly became IMDb’s highest-rated show of all time. And its success (though it hasn’t impressed Russia) is such that the actual former power plant and adjacent ghost town is enjoying an uptick in tourism. Now, I can see wanting to hit up Croatia after watching “Game of Thrones” or taking a long weekend in Monterey post-”Big Little Lies,” but the site of a nuclear disaster? Not exactly at the top of my list.
Nevertheless, the destroyed Ukranian power plant and neighboring town of Pripyat have hosted 40 percent more bookings since the May premiere of the five-episode series compared to this time last year; the increase extends throughout the entire summer, according to the directors of SoloEast Tours and Chernobyl Tour. The area has been described as post-apocalyptic, with buildings reduced to rubble and streets abandoned. Back in 1986, about 50,000 people (most, if not all, plant workers and their families) lived in Pripyat, but now there only stands a rusted and dilapidated amusement park that was supposed to open on May 1 -- five days after the plant exploded.
“Chernobyl” begins the night of the fateful explosion after the mismanaged safety test and provides an up-close look at how the people closely involved reacted. The rest of the episodes examine clean-up efforts, the demise of those closest to the burst and the investigation that followed.
Tourists hitting the deserted streets today are met with tours of the plant and surrounding area, including the bunker where the decision not to evacuate following the explosion was made, monuments honoring the victims and even reactor number four, though the exploded core has been covered by a metal dome since 2017.
“Many people come here, they ask a lot of questions about the TV show, about all the events. People are getting more and more curious,” Viktoria Brozhko, a tour guide, told the New York Post.
When creator Craig Mazin visited himself before filming, he said on an HBO podcast, “To walk where they walked felt so strange, and also being under that same piece of sky you start to feel a little closer, in a sense, to who they were.”
Thinking about a trip to Chernobyl yourself? Don’t worry -- experts say you’ll only be exposed to two microsieverts of radiation during your visit, which is equivalent to what you’d get by staying in your home for 24 hours. Plus, you get official-looking HazMat suits.