HBO Max’s ‘Station Eleven’ Is, Hands Down, the Best New Show of the Year

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This isn’t even close: Station Eleven is the best new TV show of the year. It’s haunting, gorgeously made, heartfelt, an end-of-the-world vision that lifts you up as much as it gives you nightmares. It may also be the year’s hardest show to recommend. Will you watch a 10-episode series in which the globe is decimated by a novel flu strain?

But Station Eleven, which is based on the 2014 best-selling novel by Emily St. John Mandel and made by writer Patrick Somerville (who wrote Netflix’s Maniac and contributed to HBO’s The Leftovers), is uncanny television. A dystopian series full of death and menace that threads in so much humanity and optimism that you want to be in its precarious world. I was gripped, cheered, and horrified.

To be sure, this is art-house TV and demanding in stretches—not the next fix for the Squid Game crowd (although I found it much more jolting). The braided timeline gives us the bustling world before the virus hits, starting with a performance of King Lear in Chicago in which its star, played by Gael García Bernal, collapses and dies onstage. It also shows us the world two decades later, when nature has overrun civilization and a mysterious (but joyful) troupe called the Traveling Symphony is caravanning around, performing Shakespeare and fending off threats from strangers and a Prophet figure who has gathered a small army of menacing children. 

In the Chicago timeline, a freelance writer named Jeevan (played wonderfully by Himesh Patel) finds himself looking after Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), an eight-year-old actress, and taking refuge in a high-rise condo with his brother Frank (Nabhaan Rizwan). These three will ride out the dark early months of the pandemic in a kind of magical wintertime isolation.

Lori Petty as the Conductor.

Photo: Ian Watson/HBO Max



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