Checking in on Westworld

Checking in on Westworld

Outside of politics, I love polarization. I take extreme polarization as one sign of making worthy, interesting, fun art. And two seasons in, Westworld is clearly one of the most polarizing scripted shows on television. It engenders passionate conversations on Facebook, dozens of sub-threads on Reddit, and a weekly (loving) bloodbath in a group chat I share with friends I’ve known for decades.

But I’m not a part of any of that yet.

When Westworld premiered, I was still eyeballs-deep in a hangover from the season finale of Game of Thrones, and in no position to pick up a brand new show. I had no bandwidth to spare, mentally or emotionally. A show that was going to build a world and an internal logic as knotty as Westworld’s was only going to exhaust me, so I checked out after the first episode and haven’t looked back.

But after talking to a couple impassioned co-workers who swear by the show’s quality and promise both despite and because of its knottiness, I’ve decided I can spare the bandwidth now to check back in with the show. This is how I approach a lot of things (watermelon, Vice documentaries, libertarianism): every couple of years, you just have to check back in on something and make sure you still hate it.

I think about my media bandwidth at least ten times a day – what can I make time for, not just on various devices, but in my own head? And while I don’t subscribe to the myth that we are the average of the five people we interact with most, our literal and emotional and artistic vocabularies are always shifting to accommodate the culture we’re consuming. So here’s who I am this week, and why:

10% HBO’s Succession

Why? Because I never got to watch Brian Cox play King Lear on stage, and now I get to watch him craft a Scottish-American Lear of his own in this new series about a family-run multinational media empire that plays out like a darker, somehow less tragic Arrested Development. Kieran Culkin is very funny as youngest son Roman Roy, but the long money is on Hiam Abbass to steal the show as step-matriarch Marcia Roy.

30% Qing Qi’s “YBGTT”

Why? Qing Qi (pronounced “King Key”) is doing herself no favors in terms of search engine optimization, but she might blow up anyway. And I really hope she does, because her sound is some of the most Bay-sounding hip hop I’ve heard since the E-40 revival of 2006 when “Tell Me When To Go” brought hyphy culture to the mainstream. Her lyrics are filthy, her production is barebones and highlights piano in ways that makes me think she can read my mind, and her borderline-violent sex positivity cracks me up. Cardi B might be the hero we deserve, but Qing Qi is the one we need right now.

60% Jay Rock’s “Win”

Why? Because there’s a sub-genre in hip hop that I call marching band rap. It’s like Jock Jams but black AF. You might hear marching band rap at a professional sports event, but you’re more likely to hear it on the football fields of HBCUs and majority-black high schools. I was turned on to this style of music back in 2000 when my oldest brother would drive me to school in his pickup truck with the upgraded stereo and the faulty subwoofer, blasting C-Murder’s “Down For My Niggas.”

This music is designed to do two things: get you too hyped for life and put. Horns. Over. Everything. I loved this song when I was a kid, but hadn’t thought much about it lately until Jay Rock, who found mainstream success this year after killing the first verse in “King’s Dead” from the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack, released a follow-up single two weeks ago for his new album, Redemption.

Horns and hype. Jay Rock perfected the formula and, with this video, solidified his place in hip hop as that uncle who your dad isn’t really related to, but he’s at the house all the time anyway and gives you flawed advice that comes from a pure heart. Jay Rock is my age, but he’s all our uncles. Now get out of his way.

And as for Westworld, I’m now three episodes in, and … I get it. I get the appeal. We’re all waiting to find out when Bernard’s glasses finally slip off their precarious perch on his nose. And he’s an android, right? I mean, I’m guessing, but he has to be an android, right?

header image: john p. johnson / hbo

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