Pilots and Premieres: “The 100” – Series Premiere

Who:  “The 100,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on the CW, Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.

What: “The 100,” a science fiction drama set nearly 100 years into the future.  According to the preliminary voice-over, Earth was ravaged by nuclear warfare, irradiating the planet’s surface. Survivors fled to space stations orbiting the Earth.  Now, 100 years into the future, the survival of the mere thousands of the survivors’ descendants aboard the “Ark” is threatened again, as the oxygen and life support reserves dwindle and the machinery aboard the conglomeration of space stations degrades.  The only hope for the human race centers on the survival of 100 adolescent prisoners, chosen for their penchant for breaking the rules, who are sent to the planet’s surface to sniff out whether humanity can return to its original home and survive.  The 100 are a mixture of society’s elite and most oppressed; the resulting stew becomes something very similar to Lord of the Flies – except, as the 100 accept and embrace their new-found freedom, they realize they are not alone.

When: The series premiered on the CW, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The action is set in two locations: in space, aboard the fictitious space station amalgamation known as the “Ark,” and on Earth, in an unknown location at an unidentified crash site.

Why: I’m always on the hunt for good science fiction, though this show offers less science and more fiction, except where the space station is concerned.  Also, it features Henry Ian Cusick, better known as Desmond from Lost.  I have a great affinity for the Lost alumni.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

The 100 = ***1/2

SYNOPSIS

Humanity survived a nuclear holocaust in the fictional near future that irradiated the planet’s surface, sending survivors into space to fend for their lives aboard several international space stations, which were eventually joined together to become the “Ark.”  One hundred years into the future, humanity is in danger once again, as the century-old machinery fails, and oxygen supplies dwindle.  The society aboard the Ark is run under strict rules and laws, including population control and discouragement of defiance of the ruling council and its decrees in any way.  The Council is comprised of, among others, a Chancellor Jaha (Isaiah Washington) and his Vice Chancellor Kane (Cusick).  They and the chief medical officer Abby (Paige Turco) decide to send 100 involuntary participants deemed criminals – adolescents incarcerated for various crimes, including illegal space walks and being an unauthorized second child – in order to test the viability of the planet’s surface to sustain human life.  Unfortunately, some of the 100 include the chief medical officer’s daughter and the chancellor’s son, among others.  In addition, once the 100 reach the Earth’s surface, despite the fact that they wear bracelets monitoring their health and vital signs, most of them see their situation as a new lease on life and freedom and remove their bracelets in the hopes that the Ark will leave them for dead.  Only Abby’s daughter, Clarke (Eliza Taylor), fights to communicate with the Ark, while others are content to run wild in a new, anarchic society. These two schools of thought are at odds, even as the 100 confront unexpected inhabitants of the new old world.

THOUGHTS

Comparing The 100 to Lord of the Flies is not unfair: this show is essentially William Golding’s classic novel, set in the future and partially in space.  Aboard the Ark, there are two factions of ruling adults: those who mercilessly follow the rules, and those who bend them or break them in favor of following the tenets of compassion and humanity.  On the planet’s surface, there are those juveniles who see following the instructions given to them as the only ticket to salvation, while another school of thought and its members are willing to embrace their more primal instincts, including violence and allowing their rampant hormones to run free.  No one’s wearing animal blood yet, and their survival is threatened by more than the elements and mutated creatures evolved from the fictional nuclear holocaust, but The 100 borrows liberally and unmistakably from an obvious source.

On the one hand, the tweaked premise shows promise: after all, with shows like Survivor on the air, there is a certain freshness to this story and a real sense that though this is set in the fictional future, it’s a not-too-far-distant future where something like the situation being depicted – the planet, ravaged by humanity’s neglect and misuse of technology resulting in potential survivors to flee to space – might be possible.  Presumably, the target audience is the CW’s usual viewership, the 18-34 set, and there is plenty of teenage angst to pepper the story of individual and global survival.  On the other hand, the characters are rather cookie cutter and caricature-like, particularly Cusick’s Kane, who plays an unfeeling bureaucrat in idiosyncratic surroundings with an over the top flourish (and a passable American accent).  In fact, most of the Ark residents are American – a troubling and narrow vantage point for the show to start from, even if it’s an American-made show.  It seems a bit too convenient that the producers did not invest in a pretend future world with bit more geographical diversity, even if 100 years somehow unified speaking patterns to be more American aboard the Ark.

Then, there are the actual adolescents, a veritable mixed bag of acting ability.  Taylor is decently convincing, approaching her role with conviction, as is Thomas McDonell as apparent love interest Finn, but the actor portraying the Chancellor’s son and most of the random supporting cast in the younger bracket seems to be angling for after school special or perhaps B-horror film rather than a thrilling kill-or-be-killed survival tale.  The result is that most of the 100 young adults are simply uninteresting, if not unsympathetic, while the adults, in the two episodes that this viewer has watched, though competent in their performances, offer no complexity, playing their two-dimensional roles well within their two dimensions.  Perhaps time and comfort will permit them to stretch.

Of particular interest, however, is Isaiah Washington, who seems to be emerging from his pariah status after his abrupt departure from Grey’s Anatomy some years ago, when he allegedly directed homophobic slurs toward a costar.  Not only is he featured in Sandra Oh’s final episodes on the medical drama, but he has found a home here, on this futuristic would-be thriller.  His chancellor, at this time, is morally ambiguous, walking the line between the dogmatic Kane and the hopeful Abby.  This viewer is interested in watching to see how his character develops and whether the Chancellor is ultimately a likable fellow who must make unlikable decisions, or whether he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as ruthless as his ambitious second-in-command.

In the end, The 100 offers some horrifying depictions of a future Earth that survives but has unequivocally changed into something sinister and wild, with mutated wildlife and possible human survivors, evolved from those exposed to the nuclear fallout.  Shocking moments are sprinkled into the episodes, and it’s this tension and intensity that are ultimately the draw to continue watching.  Kudos to the writers and episode directors (so far) for taking something that is ultimately derivative and potentially mediocre and turning it into something suspenseful, that engages the viewer and demands further tuning in to find out what happens.  Even if most of the principal cast leaves something to be desired on an individual basis, the ensemble together as well as the premise, while not necessarily original, work together in a satisfying way.  As such, this viewer, rating the pilot 3.5 stars, will continue to watch as long as the suspense and potential horror factors sustain.  Since the CW renewed the show today for a second season, those factors will be monitored closely by this blogger.

RECOMMENDATION

The 100 is recommended to anyone who enjoys combinations of science fiction and horror, such as Sphere, Event Horizon, the X-Files (think monster of the week), the 2001/2010 films, Planet of the Apes, or stories/screen offerings that venture into renderings of a dangerous, lawless, and wild Earth, such as Lost World, Terra Nova, etc.  Liking the novel Lord of the Flies can’t hurt either, since the adolescents on the planet’s surface are reenacting much of the plot of that book.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

The CW renewed The 100 for a second season, effective today.  The second season premiere date will be announced next week, but the show will return for the 2014-2015 season.  In the meantime, a first full season was ordered and is still in the process of airing.  This viewer will continue to watch – for now.

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