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What to Watch: ‘Westworld’ and ‘Into the Badlands’

An action-packed weekend of dystopian television to keep you on your toes.

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Don’t call it a comeback (because it never went anywhere), but for true television nerds, the HBO Sunday night lineup is back on top. Between Silicon Valley, the amazing Barry and this weekend’s premiere of the long-awaited second season of Westworld, you might not even need to turn to a streaming service for entertainment. (Well, besides HBOGo.) Still, we’ve got a variety of options in the theme of “terrible visions of the future” for the upcoming week of premieres for discernable viewers, starting with…

Westworld (HBO)

Ahhhhhh. Yes. Yes. It’s been too long since we checked in with Dolores Abernathy & robot friends. After the first season finale, there were a lot of hints about where the show was going: Samurai World? Space? Ancient Greece? ACTUAL reality, outside the park (whatever that means). And HBO has been clever in its marketing, “allowingfake leaks about this season to disseminate around the internet, which works as a great smokescreen for whatever actual spoilers made it out there about our favorite violent delights.

Into the Badlands (AMC)

In the television fan fiction world that I like to keep running in my brain, Into the Badlands is the reality that exists outside Westworld, which would explain the post-apocalyptic obsession with old-timey shootouts. Now in its 3rd season, the show about a gun-less society that has found new ways to get their kicks from ultra-violent brutality promises to ramp up a notch. Or hey, mayyyyybe the Samurai section of Westworld is actually where Sunny (Daniel Wu) and M.K. (Aramis Knight) reside, and it’s only a matter of episodes until Maeve (Thandie Newton) conscripts these two warriors into a larger melee. See? Crossworlding is fun!

Genius (NatGeo)

Last year, the debut of Genius brought us Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein; a performance so great it had us all desperately trying to figure out what channel National Geographic resides on. This season, we’ve got Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso, and if it’s anything like the actor’s last historical transformation to play Che Guerva in the movie version Evita…well, it’ll be an acquired taste then. Previews have us crossing our fingers that the actor– minus the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber or playing opposite Madonna–will actually have us tuning in every week. Raising the stakes not just a little, we’re talking of a show produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. This could either be magnificent or just passably saccharine, but either way….we’re in.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Dropping next Wednesday, Hulu’s extremely bleak adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s already pitch-black dystopian novel won’t be for everyone. (And will certainly require a vocal trigger warning before recommending to friends.) Falling in this week’s theme of “future realities we’d rather NOT see come to pass,” The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely a less fantastical, harder to swallow and horrifically more plausible vision of where the world might be headed if a Children of Men’s-like scenario hit the United States. Women like Offred (Elisabeth Moss), who are deemed breedable, are forced into the world’s worst threesomes with the elite power couples of Gilead (America), where the scarcity of babies have turned feminism into a simultaneously quaint and extremely dangerous concept. You don’t tune into The Handmaid’s Tale for the LOL’s, but for the magnetic-if-monstrous performances of heavy-hitters like Ann Dowd as an “Auntie”: the handlers of the handmaid’s, who enact their own rigid form of justice for women who refuse to conform to the standards of their new life. Just like our current reality, the best option for survival in Gilead is to make a run for Canada.