In “Westworld,” HBO again brings viewers a sprawling universe filled with unique characters, moral and ethical dilemmas, violence, sex and wide-ranging stories. What the show lacks, though, is a depth of human connection.
Which is understandable, given that most of the characters here are robots. But then they are — potentially disastrously — leaning toward consciousness, so maybe the show will warm up.
In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep audiences engaged. Elaborating on Michael Crichton’s prescient film from 1973, “Westworld” is a theme park in which highly sophisticated, completely human-looking robots known as hosts offer Wild West distractions to human guests.
A guest can join a posse, take a girl upstairs at a saloon, get in a gunfight, heck, just decide to shoot everything in sight; anything goes, and the androids are unaware that they’re anything but human.
For the most part. As the show begins, certain androids are displaying troublesome behavior. The man who invented the park (Anthony Hopkins) takes this in stride, but his right-hand man (Jeffrey Wright) is concerned and wants to delve deeper.
“Westworld” has a laundry list of impressive actors — there’s also James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, and a host of fine character actors — and it keeps you guessing as to who is a host and who is a guest. But at its center is an impressive Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores, a wholesome rancher’s daughter (she thinks) who suddenly starts having something like memories.
The question of whether artificial intelligence can gain consciousness is obviously timely. The question of whether Wood and company can make “Westworld” as emotionally viable as it is fascinating to watch remains to be seen. Still, try looking away.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
9 p.m. Sunday