Thursday, March 20, 2014
Pilot Review: The 100
The 100 takes place a few centuries into the future when mankind has all but decimated itself thanks to a nuclear war. The survivors take refuge in space on a contained vessel that is quickly running out of resources to sustain the last of the human race. Earth's atmosphere has been deemed unlivable for 100 years due to the dangers of radiation poisoning. But it's now been 97 years since the attacks, and with only 3-4 months of supplies remaining aboard The Ark, as the floating space colony is called, the adult leaders send 100 juvenile delinquents, all sentenced to execution on their eighteenth birthdays, to explore the possibility of returning home to Earth. It's win-win: if the planet is uninhabitable, those who were scheduled to be killed will die anyway; if it's habitable, everyone gets to live. But apparently The Lord of the Flies is no longer required reading in this future world, because we all know how this one's going to go down.
We are first introduced to Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor), a girl just a month away from turning eighteen. She is one of the last chosen to disembark down to Earth, and she takes the assignment deadly seriously. Clarke has something to prove: her father was executed (or "floated," meaning he was killed by being tossed out into space) for telling the truth about the humans' dire situation, and her mother (Paige Turco, NYPD Blue) is The Ark's last remaining doctor and the sponsor of this little expedition. She's joined by an assortment of douchey teenagers, plus a janitor named Bellamy (Bobby Morley) who wants to reunite with his delinquent sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos, Cult) and Wells (Eli Goree), the son of The Ark's leader (Isaiah Washington, Grey's Anatomy). Obviously, things don't go the way Clarke hopes they will. First, their pod lands on the wrong side of a mountain containing food and clean drinking water. Then, Bellamy and some others lead an uprising in which they cut off all contact with The Ark, leading them to believe they are dead so that the teens can start their own colony on Earth.
Most of what takes place on the ground is quintessential CW: a bunch of beautiful young people running rampant without any adult supervision to a blaring pop soundtrack. To their credit, though, it takes over half of the pilot before anyone shows any skin, and there's barely a hint of romance anywhere. So The 100 is trying to stray from the typical CW fare in being accessible to both the hormone-driven high school/young adult audience and the more complex thinking adults who may be watching. That's where the politics aboard The Ark come into play, and they're easily the show's strongest point. Henry Ian Cusick (Lost, Scandal) plays a power-hungry councilman who has little faith in the kids surviving their experiment and even littler faith in the adults trying to survive the depletion of resources in space. His tete-a-tete with Paige Turco is deliciously entertaining, but the fear underlying his selfish actions comes across as very real. The entire show, actually, does a good job in establishing the dangers of this world as immediate and real. The future of the human race, quite literally, depends upon the decisions these characters make, but the world is so screwed up that no one seems to care about anything but his or her own personal future. It's an interesting twist on the "selfish teenager" trope of, well, every TV show featuring a teenager, giving us a chance to empathize with even the most unsympathetic among them.
Because of this, none of the characters come across as forgettable or unnecessary, which is quite a feat in a show with this many characters. First-time writer Jason Rothenberg has written a well-paced, quick-moving script (adapted from the novel by Kass Morgan) that gives each character some definition and some time to shine, all while introducing these complex themes of self-sacrifice vs. selfishness, survival vs. extinction, teenage rebellion, etc. He even throws in some fantasy and science-fiction moments (including a truly surprising reveal of what post-nuclear animal mutations might look like) for good measure. It's a great piece of writing and contributes heavily to what makes The 100 successful. The performances are generally above-par as well, particularly for The CW, which so often employs actors skating by with minimal (if any) talent but lots of good looks. Eliza Taylor isn't particularly engaging (yet) as Clarke, but her character is meant to be the show's wet blanket. Avgeropoulos is strikingly gorgeous and fun as Octavia, a girl with a secret past, and Morley is appropriately exaggerated as her brother plotting to, literally, take over the planet. The more seasoned adults are, again, the strongest part of the acting ensemble. Turco and Kelly Hu (Arrow) show the only real emotion from any of these hardened people, and Isaiah Washington makes a strong entrance in the pilot's final act.
The basic formula here is Lost + The Hunger Games + The Lord of the Flies = The 100. It doesn't always make sense (Seriously, how dumb can these teenagers be to not realize that if Earth is indeed uninhabitable and they make The Ark think they're dead, they won't be able to survive for very long?), and some of the production values look a little cheap (the water creature comes to mind), but it's having a lot of fun anyway. And unlike the other space-themed CW show currently airing, Star-Crossed (which I never reviewed but still watch, mostly because it reminds me of an old-school WB show), it has some weight to it. The 100 goes beyond telling a dystopian love story and picks up on some very adult themes. Just for that it's worth watching, to witness the maturation of The CW in real-time. But there's also a pretty decent show in there, too, one that has a good deal of potential to be great.