First thoughts on The CW’s “The 100” (spoiler review)
Disclaimer: I have no familiarity with the Kass Morgan novel The 100, on which the new TV series on The CW is based. I’m only assessing the show’s pilot based on the pilot itself.
And so far I’m very impressed. I think this is the best pilot I’ve seen on The CW in years. Okay, it’s a little rushed setting up the exposition at the beginning; I would’ve liked to see the situation on the Ark fleshed out a little more before the main characters were thrown into their situation. If this had been a movie-length pilot, they could’ve done so. But for whatever reason, those seem to have fallen out of favor these days. Given the time frame they had, the pilot was actually pretty well-paced, handling the exposition and character establishment efficiently and without too much awkward dialogue.
The premise is that a nuclear holocaust wiped out life on Earth 97 years before and the various orbital space stations housing the only survivors clumped together in “the Ark.” Conditions are draconian on the Ark due to limited resources and space, so any crime committed by anyone over 18 is a capital crime, both as a way of maintaining strict control and to keep the population size in check. But now The Ark’s life support systems are failing, so the leaders send their population of about 100 juvenile delinquents down to Earth, nominally to assess whether it’s habitable again and pave the way for the others’ return, but more immediately to give the Ark another month’s worth of life support. It explains why the survey party sent to Earth would be such an ill-suited group as a bunch of delinquent teens, since they weren’t really expected to survive or function effectively anyway — or at least that was secondary to the real purpose of sending them. So the Botany Bay-meets-Lord of the Flies scenario is reasonably plausible.
So far there’s pretty complex politics going on both on the Ark and on Earth, as factions jockey for power, and the motivations generally ring true. The clear villain up top is Councilman Kane (Henry Ian Cusick), who’s utterly ruthless in enforcing the letter of the law, but who genuinely seems to believe it’s necessary for the species’s survival. The heroine up top is Dr. Abigail Griffin (Paige Turco), who has a nice line when she says to Kane that she cares more about making sure we deserve to survive. I suppose I’ve seen that idea set up and delivered more effectively in other stories, perhaps, but it’s a sentiment I’m fond of, so I liked it here.
But the main story is down on the planet with the teens, the lead character being Abigail’s daughter Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor), who’s a natural leader, helper of others, and problem-solver, just the kind of person the 100 will need to survive — but of course these are delinquent teens, so not a lot of them have the good sense to follow her. And rabble-rouser and stowaway Bellamy Blake (Bobby Morley) encourages them to act up and misbehave, and to take off the bracelets sending vital-sign telemetry back up to the Ark so that the adults will think they’re dead and won’t follow them (the ship’s radio was trashed in the landing). He also apparently tried to assassinate the Ark’s chancellor (Isaiah Washington) and escaped to Earth, so he’s not a nice guy. But he has a motive for considering his actions self-righteous: his parents broke the law by having a second child, his sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropolous), who was thrown in prison for the crime of existing, and banished with the rest of the teens. (Odd that there aren’t any, you know, 11-year-0ld delinquents in the group. But then, maybe there’s been a ban on childbearing for the past 15 years or so, due to lack of resources?)
So there’s a lot going on, a nicely complex situation and a rather believable one, given the austerity that would be necessary for survival in a desperate situation like this. I do have trouble buying the idea of a global nuclear holocaust at all — it doesn’t seem as likely an apocalyptic scenario today as it would have 25 or more years ago. But allowing for that premise, the rest works pretty well — although some of the shots of the Ark itself are questionable from a physics standpoint. (I’m not sure the structure as shown would be stable given all the rotating sections, and if they’re using rotation for gravity, then the shot of Cusick staring out his window at a stationary vista of the Earth and another part of the Ark made no sense.)
And I really like the cast. It has a number of familiar and welcome faces like Paige Turco, Kelly Hu (adoring sigh), Alessandro Juliani, and a couple of familiar faces from Continuum, Terry Chen and Richard Harmon. (Gee, d’ya suppose it’s filmed in Vancouver?) Eliza Taylor is a very appealing lead; she has a really nice strong voice and conveys her character’s competence, charisma, intelligence, and emotion quite well. The other young leads are engaging as well, and Marie Avgeropolous is utterly gorgeous. The one thing that bugs me is that the core cast is disproportionately white; there’s good ethnic diversity in the supporting cast, but they’re still, well, supporting. Of maybe nine signfiicant players among the teens on the ground, there’s one central black character and one peripheral Asian character. On the Ark, though, it’s more even; the group of six significant adult players in the episode (Turco, Cusick, Hu, Chen, Washington, and Thomas McDonnell) was only half-white.
Still, overall I find The 100 quite engaging so far. I can’t remember the last time a CW show hooked me this thoroughly right off the bat. Even Arrow, currently their best genre show, took a while to become compelling after a merely decent pilot. I was lukewarm at first about their other new genre show this year, Star-Crossed, but it’s really started to intrigue me now that DS9/Andromeda veteran Robert Hewitt Wolfe has joined the writing staff. The central “alien Romeo and human Juliet” romance is kind of a dud so far, but the stuff around it gets more interesting every week. But it took a while to get there after a slow start. As for The Tomorrow People, I’ve been watching regularly but with little more than mild interest; the thing I like best about it is the theme music. And Madeleine Mantock. As for Beauty and the Beast, I’ve been so bored with it this season that I just started letting the episodes accumulate on my DVR for a few weeks and then realized I had no intention of ever watching them. And I don’t watch any of the vampire stuff, and I could never get into Supernatural because I find the leads uninteresting.
So I really hope The 100 can maintain the level of this pilot, or surpass it. I suppose there’s a lot about the “unsupervised sexy teen castaways in a mutated wilderness” premise that could go in a very hokey or gratuitous direction, but so far the storytelling and worldbuilding are effective and I’m eager to see more.