HBO's Westworld—the sci-fi drama about the shady Delos corporation and the sentient androids it created to entertain humans—is, in many ways, totally unique. But although few series have tackled the same themes on such an ambitious scale (not everyone has HBO money, after all), these 11 shows like Westworld use a similar lens to explore what it means to be human.
Westworld Season 3 launches March 22nd, 2020. Based on a technologically-groundbreaking movie written and directed by Michael Crichton, the Emmy Award-winning series features incredible performances and compelling questions about identity and autonomy. While you wait for Season 3 to arrive, here are 11 gripping series to help the wait gallop by—in between obsessively perfecting your fan theories, of course.
Like Westworld, this short-lived 2009 sci-fi show from writer/director Joss Whedon follows a woman who questions her identity after remembering previously suppressed experiences.
The series' two seasons center around Echo (Eliza Dushku), an 'Active' at a Los Angeles Dollhouse. Essentially, actives are living dolls: humans who are rented by wealthy patrons from various establishments called 'Houses'. Actives have their original memories wiped and are re-programmed with new personalities and memories for each mission—but Echo retains some of these memories and experiences over time.
Like Dolores in Westworld, as Echo evolves beyond acceptable Active behavior and becomes more than just a vessel for patrons' desires, she throws the system in which she exists into chaos. In its brief run, Dollhouse asked compelling questions about identity, consent, and the impact of memory.
This beloved SyFy show follows the human survivors of a nuclear attack on the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. The apocalyptic strike was perpetuated by the Cylons, an AI species that developed sentience and later attacked their human creators. Now a small fleet of ships, including the warship Battlestar Galactica, are all that remain of humanity. The survivors must attempt to avoid further Cylon attack while searching for the mythical thirteenth colony called Earth.
As the series progresses, the survivors realize that some Cylons are now indistinguishable from humans—and that, for better or for worse, many well-respected crewmembers aboard Galactica are Humanoid Cylons.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Skip the 2017 live-action movie adaptation and head straight to the 1995 anime movie or the 2002 series. Ghost in the Shell is set in the year 2030, at a time when cyborgs have become ubiquitous. In the fictional city of Niihama, cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi leads an anti-cyberterrorism task force called Public Security Section 9.
As the Major and her team uncover corruption in Niihama, the show explores questions about sexuality, identity, and what it means to really be human — all in a slick and super-entertaining cyberpunk package.
The second season of this Netflix original sci-fi series landed on the streaming service February 27th, 2020. A cyberpunk dystopia set hundreds of years from now, Altered Carbon explores a world in which death as we know it is all but obsolete. Individual's memories—and therefore their identities—are stored on a device called a cortical stack, which can then be inserted into the spinal column of a new body, or 'sleeve,' whenever previous sleeves perish.
After mercenary Takeshi Kovacs is killed during a mission, he is re-sleeved 250 years later and given a choice: solve the murder of a wealthy CEO, or spend eternity in prison. Kovacs' quest for answers takes the audience along for a dizzying ride through a future filled with AI, alien tech, and dangerous political intrigue.
As The Observer noted after Westworld premiered in 2016, the HBO series' narrative gymnastics owe much to the late 1960s British series The Prisoner.
The 17-episode show—which was later rebooted to middling acclaim in 2009—follows a British secret agent who resigns from his intelligence role and finds himself transported to a surreal, isolated seaside town where everyone is referred to by a number.
Now known as Number 6, the secret agent struggles to escape the quintessentially British town that has become his prison, but is consistently thwarted by the revolving cast of characters who assume the role of Number 2.
Like Westworld, The Prisoner trusts audiences' intelligence and patience. Although built around a core series of mysteries—who is Number 1? Where exactly is The Village, and how or why did Number 6 become imprisoned there?—the true joy of The Prisoner lies in the confounding journey to those answers, rather than the destination.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
This short-lived Fox series stars nerd royalty. Not only was Game of Thrones' Lena Headey at the head as Sarah Connor, but Firefly's Summer Glau also starred as Cameron, a terminator sent to 2027 by John Connor to protect his younger self.
The series opens in 1997, but Sarah, young John Connor (Thomas Dekker), and Cameron soon leap to 2007 to avoid a terminator's pursuit. Determined to give her son a relatively stable life, Sarah finds creative new ways to take down Skynet, and forges alliances with members of the resistance.
Like Westworld — and the rest of the Terminator franchise — The Sarah Connor Chronicles depicts the potential hazards of AI, and empathetically portrays both sides of the android-human divide. It also highlights complex, kick-ass female characters who could hold their own in a firefight alongside Westworld's Maeve or Dolores.
RELATED: 8 Super-Cool Movies Like Terminator
This critically acclaimed HBO series is historical fiction rather than sci-fi. But if you enjoy the wild, wild west aspect of Westworld, you'll probably enjoy the grit of Deadwood.
Set in Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s, the series follows the town's good, bad, and ugly, and features both entirely fictional characters and those based on historical figures. Binging Deadwood might not be as satisfying as an actual visit to Westworld, perhaps—but it would certainly be cheaper, and with less risk of robot murder.
In his movie Ex Machina, director Alex Garland explored the ethics of artificial intelligence. Garland's new sci-fi series Devs, which launched on Hulu March 5th, 2020, ruminates on the same high-tech questions.
The show centers around a fictional Silicon Valley tech startup called Amaya. When new Amaya developer Sergei (Karl Glusman) never returns home from his first day at work, his wife Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) is left to demand answers from Amaya. Lily uncovers a disturbing mystery connected to her husband’s disappearance, and the work done at the ambitious company.
Like Westworld, this five-season BBC America show is a sci-fi thriller that asks compelling questions about identity and autonomy, and features truly first-rate performances.
Creator and co-showrunner Charlie Brooker and star Tatiana Maslany became near-household names when the series debuted in 2013. Maslany stars as a group of clones. The clone sisters must join forces to stay alive when the company that created them decides to eliminate the results of their experimentation.
When small-time crook Sarah Manning (Maslany) sees a woman (also Maslany) who looks identical to her be hit by a train, Sara uses the tragedy to take over the dead woman’s life. But Sarah soon realizes that she has more than a passing likeness in common with the deceased, and that her entire existence is caught up in a dangerous international web.
All five seasons of this incredibly bingeable series can be found on Amazon.
In 2020, many people are bracing themselves for the impact automation will have on their jobs. What happens when we are displaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence?
This compelling three-season series, based on the Swedish series Real Humans, asks what happens when flesh-and-blood people are displaced from their roles in the personal and domestic spheres as well.
In the parallel world of Humans, incredibly life-like artificial androids called Synths impact all aspects of human interaction. The sci-fi drama follows families and individuals as they develop relationships with the new inventions.
The finale of this cyberpunk-lite series aired in late December, so now’s the perfect time for new viewers to dive into the complete show.
Elliot (Rami Malek) is a cyber-security specialist. What he lacks in social confidence, he makes up for in his technological abilities. Elliot is approached by a man who claims he’s a recruiter for an Anonymous-like hacker group called Mr. Robot. The organization intends to destroy the financial records of a massive corporation — but over time the nature of the organization, and of Elliot himself, comes into question.
Like The Matrix (but with a wildly unreliable narrator), this Golden Globe-winning series is full of almost as many twists as Westworld.
Featured still from "Westworld" via HBO