Words: Jordan Bassett and Dan Stubbs
Chernobyl, directed by Breaking Bad’s Johan Renck and created, written and executive-produced by Craig Mazin (The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), became the highest rated show on IMDB last week. The series explores the 1986 nuclear disaster near Pripyat in the Ukraine and has received stellar reviews for its stark realism and stellar performances. If you’ve watched it all, here are six shows with similar themes.
A Day Called X (1957)
Two decades after Orson Welles scared the bejeezus out of America with his pseudo-documentary radio adaptation of HG Wells’ novel War Of The Worlds, this mockumentary attempted a similar trick. Footage of local folks going about an average day in Portland, Oregon – kids in the classroom, factory workers on the job – is intercut with that of actor Glenn Ford, who delivers a fictional broadcast which relays news of an incoming nuclear attack from Soviet bombers.
Then the locals do their thing, building defences to see off the pesky attackers (this time they’re just pretending). Recruiting real people as actors and blurring the lines between fiction and reality, the docudrama was arguably well ahead of its time.
This TV movie is possibly the bleakest thing to have ever been shown on the BBC, with the possible exception of the news or the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special. The docudrama allowed the makers to revel in the sheer, unrelenting misery of the story, which shows the effects on the city of Sheffield when the UK is caught in the crossfire in a war between the USA and the USSR. The population is decimated in the nuclear winter that follows, and the survivors live in fear and poverty as the UK is pushed back to a Game Of Thrones-like medieval society. Radioactive rats for dinner again mum? Yum!
When The Wind Blows (1986)
Raymond Briggs, the man who brought us beloved Christmas classics The Snowman and Father Christmas, and the brilliantly snot-based Fungus The Bogeyman, is also responsible for an animated film that makes Watership Down look like a Disney movie. In it, we see an elderly English couple dutifully following government instructions for surviving a threatened nuclear attack, expecting that a bit of Blitz spirit will get them through. When it strikes (“Blimey,” says Jim, the male half of the couple) it of course turns out that a few bits of wood do not provide adequate protection. Instead, we witness the painful physical decay of radiation sickness, all to a very of-the-time soundtrack courtesy of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and with a theme by David Bowie.
This sadly short-lived show, beloved by fans but cut short by its studio CBS after just two seasons, charts the fall-out of a nuclear explosion in the sleepy town of Jericho, Kansas, as residents attempt to rebuild their lives. Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) has long since left his hometown, though returned – at exactly the wrong time – to collect his inheritance… and is now trapped in Jericho. Watch the first two series, then continue the tale with the six-instalment comic book released to satisfy fans gutted by the cancellation. Jericho Season 3: Civil War was penned by the same writing team, so the quality’s high, minus the pesky interfering studio.
The 100 (2014 – present)
Okay, let’s get a bit more sci-fi, shall we? This E4 drama, which first seeped (like radiation) onto our screens in 2014 and continued with its season six in April, pictured a future – 97 years in the future, to be precise – in which survivors of a nuclear war live aboard a space station orbiting Earth. Readers, there are too many people on the space station. And – lo – 100 badly behaved younglings are dumped on our ruined planet and left to fend for themselves. After a convoluted – though entertaining – narrative arc, the sixth season brought the show back to the start. So if you’re looking to scratch a radioactive itch, it’s a good shout.
Years And Years (2019)
If you aren’t watching Russell T Davies’s new BBC show – available now on iPlayer – why the hell not? It’s a series that mixes fear of the future with a multigenerational story about a Manchester family, making it something like a Black Mirror filmed on Coronation Street. Flashing forward a year in time with each passing episode, it deals with the rise of populist politics, the refugee crisis, integrated tech and – in the very first episode – Trump threatening China with a nuclear bomb as a parting gift from the end of his second term as US President. It’s all a little too real for comfort.