Three Reasons to Watch The Colony…Or Not

Tuesday night, Discovery Channel premiered its handy-guide-to-the-apocalypse reality show, The Colony. The show follows a “cross-section” of society thrust into Cormac McCarthy conditions as they try to build civilization from the ground up.

And you should watch it! Or not. There are arguments both ways; this apocalypse is very your-mileage-may-vary. Below, a short list of things that will help you decide if you want to tune in next week.

1. THE APOCALYPSE. Sure, having to form a society amid the apocalypse sounds like it would be awesome. However, grouping the first six survivors together before the show begins takes away a lot of the each-man-for-himself attitude that any good apocalypse needs. Bonus: shoving the last four toward the Sanctuary like they’re late to a birthday party. (What would have happened if the first six turned away the other four? World’s shortest show?)

I will say that the interpersonal drama seemed to be relatively un-tampered with, though the producer-planted “marauders” seem to wind up a few of the survivors to a degree usually only seen in Sean Penn movies. On the flip side, there’s the moment when all survivors work together to haul water, laundry day is declares, and the cameraman gleefully pans over the men standing with their hands in their pockets watching the four women wash socks. Comedy gold.

2. THE GOODS. The lack of actual apocalypse means that we can’t follow the survivors throughout a ruined city, so the show developed two other ways for them to acquire things, which makes sense, in theory. First, the survivors were pointed at a raided department store, where they had to scramble for goods before “marauders” struck (fine). Second, the survivors took up their warehouse abode, where they fond leftovers from previous survivors (okay) and a host of inexplicably-unused items raring to go (their home was apparently a Sand and Charcoal Baggers of the West Coast factory). You know, just in case anyone wanted to filter some river water for drinkability or anything.

3. THE CAST. This element frustrated me the most, and while I can see what they were going for, I think they also missed the boat on this from a sociological perspective. Let’s pro/con this.

Pro: the show did seem to select relatively stable people who would actually contribute to a new society and had some interest in being useful, as opposed to the sort of people who sign up for reality television hoping they get a spinoff, and who spend all their video-confessional time claiming to the camera that they’re not here to make friends.

Con: the “cross-section” of society includes in its entirety: a nurse, a mechanic, a marine biologist, a martial arts instructor, a doctor, a handyman who specializes in solar and renewable energy (no really), a carpenter, an aerospace engineer, a computer engineer, and a mechanical engineer.

I am no apocalypse expert (Discovery hires those to tell you about the importance of sharing meals and other things you might have missed if you were an alien visitor to our planet). However, I’m going to guess that generally, in an apocalypse situation, you won’t get a cross-section quite like that. Instead, you will be trying to rebuild the world with three executive assistants, a waiter, an accountant, a construction worker, a small business owner, a 13-year-old who skipped school, a wailing toddler, and an 85-year-old who was running errands and left her insulin at home. Your life will be short and filled with power struggle over who should be eaten first based on their relative usefulness. (Admit it, you checked that manifest again to see who you would pick.)

If you are lucky enough to be at whatever Extremely Useful People Convention these Colony people were attending when your apocalypse comes, I freakin’ DEMAND that you build a useful civilization again, you know? And make it snappy.

This show has a lot to recommend it: the mechanics of survival are absorbing, some of the participants are compelling (computer engineer John Cohn is taking an early lead for Most Relatable), and the network really does seem interested in having progress made instead of just poking the participants with sticks to see what happens. However, the previews are perfect example of what makes this show both so interesting and so totally useless for the average apocalypsian. Next week, the survivors go through a power struggle between two factions (absolutely!) and build working solar panels from things they find lying around the warehouse (…absolutely).

The Colony airs Tuesdays at 10pm EST on The Discovery Channel.

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