Mar 21 2014 12:00pm

The 100 Could Be Worse, But It Could Also Be A Lot Better

97 years ago, humans on Earth decided the Cold War wasn’t enough and nuked the frak out of each other. The planet was rendered uninhabitable, and billions died, save colonies of 400 farmers, scientists, and engineers from 12 nations who made their way to their space stations. Over the decades, the space stations joined up and formed the Ark. But as time went on, the resources dwindled as the population grew to 4,000. To keep a lid on crime and so as to not waste precious oxygen, all misdeeds were punishable by death—getting chucked out the airlock into the cold clutches of space, specifically. Since even in the apocalypse you can’t go about killing kids willy nilly, anyone under 18 was kept in lockdown. The adults in charge make the difficult decision to pack up 100 teenage lawbreakers into a dilapidated shuttle and drop them back on Earth, because science.

Once they land, chaos ensues. Most of the kids, drunk on freedom and independence, get crazy, including a budding psychopath named John and a secretive assassin named Bellamy. A few kids, including sensible Clarke, wild child Octavia, love-triangle interest Finn, and a pair of hangers-on, recognize their best chance of survival is to find food and shelter. According to all the smarties, Earth is supposed to be uninhabited by sentient life, and for a time it looks like they might be right. Until the kids come across a 2-faced deer and another gets a spear through the chest from an unseen creature with a really weird footprint. Clearly the nuclear holocaust caused some serious damage, but not what anyone expects. Earth may be habitable again, but it’s not welcoming.

Will the kids survive the hostile environment? Will the kids survive each other? Will the kids knock boots in the woods? Will the adults stop shoving people out of airlocks long enough to have a planful conversation? Tune in next week to find out. Or not.

Once upon a time, The CW planned to make a Battle Royale series. Obviously The 100 (CW, Wed. 9p) isn’t that show, but it does share its genetics with other stories of pretty teenagers fighting, killing, and sexing each other in a dystopian future ruled by tyrannical political leaders who want to use their fighting, killing, and sexing in manipulative ways. The downside to that mold is that it doesn’t allow for much unpredictability, and The 100 suffers for it as far as the pilot goes. From what I’ve read in other reviews, the show gets better as the cast and crew settle into their roles and sort out the more problematic elements—the terrible CGI is a major gripe, the science is shoddy but forgivable, the plotting is plodding, and the characters are less developed than those on The Walking Dead (ZING!)—but the pilot... I can’t decide if it’s bad, really bad, or just insanely stupid. I didn’t outright loathe it for reasons I’ll get into in a moment, but it’s also really far from good.

Clarke may be a princess, but she’s also clever and no-nonsense. She has the remarkably rare ability to think ahead and weigh her options for the most efficient outcome rather than just goofing off and getting into fights like the rest of her ilk. Ilk like impulsive Octavia, whose sole purpose in life seems to be boys. “Before you get any ideas,” Octavia purrs, “Finn’s mine.” Without skipping a beat Clarke retorts, “Before you get any ideas, I don’t care.” She’s like a less interesting, less witty Veronica Mars. Wells, the son of the Chancellor who commits a crime to ensure he gets sent down to Earth with Clarke, is fascinating by virtue of being the show’s Piggy and also for only having 1 leg. Also, his dad is a slumming Isaiah Washington, so there’s that. Bellamy is up to no good for his own selfish reasons, reasons which will probably backfire very soon. There’s some other people doing other people stuff, but so help me I couldn’t tell you their names or backstories to save my life. Some guy is a jerk, another is a nerd, another a stoner, and most go where the crowd takes them.

The 100 is based on a YA book (one that’s on track to be a series) by Kass Morgan, but for The CW it’s the perfect storm of tame sexiness, angsty sarcasm, and the over-inflated sense of self-importance only youth can provide. But the show is also darker than you’d expect, with deep waves of brutal violence and cruel behavior rippling between the scenes of sexy people doing sexy things in as few articles of clothing as network television will allow. Too bad that complexity is cribbed from other sources. Very little of the show is truly unique. The 100 is cobbled together from fragments of Battlestar Galactica, Lord of the Flies, 1984, The Hunger Games, Lost, Lost in Space, and Land of the Lost (sensing a theme here?), infused with a seemingly endless array of possible love triangles, and populated with young actors harvested from The CW’s Hottie McHotterson factory.

There’s a weird dichotomy going on with this show. On one hand, you have a bunch of generically sexy actors playing hot-for-each-other teenagers who are more heavily vested in going skinny dipping than finding food, and on the other you have a gaggle of super-serious adults mulling over the ethics of killing hundreds of people in order to save thousands. Hell, they send the kids down to earth partly as a scientific mission but mostly to buy those still in the Ark an extra month of oxygen—the kids are criminals and thus expendable. Even the 100 are a rather polarizing bunch, with a fraction who want to survive and explore and a much larger portion dedicated to doing “whatever the hell we want!”

But what little teases there are of class struggles, ethics, and scientific exploration are buried under all the moony eyes and high school politics. I can’t decide if the teenagers’ mob mentality—they tend to side with whichever loud hot person has the plan that requires the least amount of responsibility—is an intentional comment on society or lazy writing. I suspect it’s the latter. Same goes for exposition, which has a disconcerting habit of being revealed by some off camera random shouting out key bits of information. Octavia and Bellamy are siblings, and since it’s illegal to have more than 1 child on the Ark, she’s now a criminal. Her backstory is revealed by an unseen teen calling out to no one in particular “Hey! That’s the girl they found under the floor!” *deep exasperated sigh*

Like every other CW pilot, there’s way too much going on, not enough substance, and a whole lotta potential. Most recently, Arrow and The Tomorrow People got off to rocky starts but have improved by leaps and bounds—the former is consistently engaging, entertaining, and emotional, making it one of the better shows currently on air. While I can’t in good conscience recommend The 100’s pilot, I will suggest the show as a whole. There’s a lot more going on than beautiful people looking at beautiful irradiated fungi, and I’m curious to see them peel back the layers. They’re clearly building to something, and I think that something could eventually be worth delving into. If it isn’t cancelled first.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Sandra Levy
1. Sandylib
I kept thinking maybe someone should have read William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" for how the kids with no supervision or backup would react.
TW Grace
2. TWGrace
getting chucked out the airlock into the cold clutches of space, specifically.

What a stupid waste of resources.
Luis Milan
3. LuisMilan
I'm with #2 on this one. Offenders shouldn't just be chucked out the airlock, they should be grounded into pulp and used as fertilizer for plants and/or turned into Soylent Green Space Crackers (now with 20% extra rebellious-youth flavor!).
Alex Brown
4. AlexBrown
@Sandylib: I actually buy the kids' some extent. Most of those kids have been locked up for a few years, but none of them have ever had any sort of freedom before. And here they are, discovers and explorers with absolute independence for the first time in 3 generations. I get that some of them would rather knock boots and play with bonfires than do anything vaguely responsible or mature (though how a people who have spent nearly a century in an oxygen-rich environment would even *know* about fire, much less how to build one, is a mystery). Some partying makes sense. Most of the kids partying doesn't. Apparently none of them get hungry or thirsty over the 24 hour period they're stuck on Earth. Which is where it gets too ridiculous even for me.

@TWGrace: Yeah, seems to me they're losing oxygen by doing so. If anything, kill the criminals and put them in cold storage until you have a few of them, then shove a bunch out the smallest airlock.

5. JReynolds
Alex Brown @4:36 pm:
Tastes like teen spirit!
6. isnochys
so, you have a population of 4000.
take 2,5% and throw them at the nearest planet.
and all 100 seem to be the same age.
if that isn't a major impact on your demographics, I don't know.
All kids of one year just deployed into a suicide mission..
How ridonculos
7. THughes
I fully admit to stopping at the first commercial - the "It's the girl from under the floor" was the final straw for me, but yeah, there are major resource management issues here. I'm thinking everything from the longer term issues in genetics to the short term - where exactly did they get clothes for 4000 people in space? Why would they wear shoes in space, and where did they get them for the teens? What space is there for 4000 to sleep and have some private space? Vitamins? How do you deal with long term radiation issues? I didn't see the stations spinning wildly in the early external shots, so what gravity are they used to - and how can the kids walk after their crash-landing onto a surface with a much higher gravity?

It just made me grumpy. I'll give it a few weeks, and if its something good, I'll come back to it I guess.
jen howell
8. jencat
Oh gawd, I just read the book this is based on (mostly to know whether to waste my time on the show, and hey, it was in the library), and it's pretty dire source material, to be honest. Something along the lines of angst/TEEN ISSUES/more angst/MORE ISSUES.

At least Olivia isn't boy-obsessed in the book, I guess, and you don't have to deal with too much of the arguing, going feral and skinny dipping because the viewpoint characters are more concerned with other things. And Clarke is, um, the only reasonable person in the entire universe.

There's lots of starcrossed teen love across the class divide bland generic angst, but no real exploration of anything meaningful. It's not even dark enough to be a 'Battle Royale' wannabe. Looks like the pilot is an adaptation of the whole book, kids-wise, leaving out all the space station adults stuff? There is a bit more world-building in the book by the sound of it. Not all that interesting worldbuilding, but, still...

I mean, I love Arrow now, after the rocky start that had, too, but... I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's not really all that many places for this series to go based on the source material?
Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
@THughes, jencat: I stuck around after Arrow (Birds of Prey!)for the 2nd ep last night and wasn't thrilled with the 30min I saw, but it was still better than the pilot. Which is both saying little and a lot. The show splits its time fairly equally between the adults and the kids, but all the suspense in the adult corner is moot because it's all wrapped up in whether or not the kids are dead - and we already know why the adults think they might be. However, the "grounders" could prove interesting in future weeks, if they turn out to be sentient. If they're just a bunch of teeth-gnashing monsters then that's it for me.

I don't fret too much about the science behind it. I didn't stress about it BSG or Star Trek or Star Wars or any other SF film/television show/book, and I'm not gonna fret about it here. It's clearly not realistic, but whatever. If realism was my benchmark for television, I'd never watch anything.
jen howell
10. jencat
@AlexBrown - ah, are they keeping the Glass plot in as well then, as she's the only viewpoint character on the station at all in the book I think? There are no adult viewpoints at all in the book (only Clarke, Wells, Bellamy and Glass), and we only know what the adults know via what Glass hears. And a *lot* of flashbacks to 'how everyone got sentenced to death'.
But the book ends where the pilot does (I think?), with the mysterious footprints/spearing (and some oxygen shenanigans up above).

It's not the science so much - god knows, I watch a lot more ridiculous stuff than this - but the believability of the story. All the dark stuff feels shoehorned for the sake of it, into characters who aren't even nearly rounded enough to carry the weight of what the story wants them to do.
Alex Brown
11. AlexBrown
@jencat: I don't recall a character named Glass, but I also don't recall half the characters' names, so. But it sounds like book!Glass is replaced by tv!adults.

I'll do what I did with Tomorrow People, and check back in around ep 5 to see how they're doing. If it's still stuck in the same rut, I'll ditch it completely.
12. Nobody Cares
Personally I can't get past the bad science. From the outside, it looks like the space station is using centrifugal force, but the views out of the windows are static, and the corridors don't curve like they should if this is how they are generating gravity on the station.

They have the tech to build self-sustaining space stations with artificial gravity, and the foresight to build they large enough to sustain populations in the hundreds, but for some reason they didn't think to create probes that could check the radiation levels on the planet?

The science is just too silly, everyone is too beautiful (why did they only send people that look like super models to the space stations?), and the character development is next to non-existent.

They also stole their music cues from Battlestar Galactica. It's just a half-assed effort all around.
13. Danz
Are there even bacteria or viruses that can survive radiation intense enough to kill a vertibrate in less than a minute?

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