It is easy enough to imagine the pitch session for The 100. The assembled suits leaning in as creator Jason Rothenberg”s agent offers a reassuring nod. “What we want to do is The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies with a permanent b-plot about a dystopian space station.” And so it came to pass that a room full of CW executives, with visions of the next best thing since Smallville dancing in their heads, bought an otherwise clanky and dim-witted television series.
Yes, I said this is a CW show, and I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Come on, you’re reviewing a CW series? That’s like Mike Tyson picking a fight with Betty White.”
Fair point. The truth is I had no idea this series existed until I saw it on Netflix. Only after finishing the first episode, which is as shameless in its use of contemporary top 40 music as the Transformers franchise is with its product placement, did I bother to Google the series and learn of its online distribution model. The whimsy of conventional/new media partnerships made me give up another 120 minutes of my life. To quote Arrested Development, “I made a huge mistake.”
In short, The 100 is a wholly derivative affair. Instantly, it evokes memories of the BBC’s Outcasts. Except that where Outcasts wanted to bridge the gap between a political drama and environmental narrative, The 100 struggles to do either – though it desperately wants to be both.
The 100’s story begins with 100 juvenile delinquents being sent to Earth from the Ark. The Ark being an amalgam of a dozen of humanity’s mid 21st century space stations. The purpose of the teenage exile is to test the Earth’s survivability after a nuclear holocaust (further echoes of Lord of the Flies) seemingly wiped out all human life on the ground. When the dropship carrying the kids misses its LZ – as dropships are so wont to do – the group divides into Ralph, now a girl, and Jack factions. Without communications, the only tether between the kids and the Ark are the wrist bracelets that monitor their vital signs. Space Jack then takes it upon himself to divest himself of his bracelet, knowing that if the orbiting adults think he and the other kids are dead from sudden and acute radiation poisoning, they won’t bring down the Ark to restart civilization. NB: this development presumes that the surviving humans are, in fact, morons who didn’t think to put a tamper alarm on these essential vital sign monitors.
The idiocy of the Ark’s leaders is further reinforced when the story later reveals the need for a massive population culls as a means of population control in the face of failing CO2 scrubbers. Really? You’d think that a little math and proper resource monitoring might preclude such Malthusian problems.
This long-term conflict, as well as the concept of unattended teens doing nothing more than cuddling in the wilderness, might be salvageable if there weren’t so many other stupid mistakes along the way. For example, even though the Earth has reverted to green verdant forests in the wake of the nuclear war, there are roving acid gas storms which somehow affect only animal life. We see mutated higher-order life forms, like deer and tigers, but no insects or small-scale herbivores. Despite the kids talking about their courses in wilderness survival there’s a fixation on hunting large game (paging Mr. Golding) with knives rather than setting snares for rabbits and squirrels.
Then there’s the biggie: for a generation born in space, these kids are having absolutely no problems adjusting to life on Earth. The entire lot of them should be giddy from an oxygen rich environment, struggling with Earth-normal gravity, shitting themselves silly from drinking non-reclaimed water, and having at least some allergic reactions to terrestrial plants and non-zero pollen counts. And since the show is so keen to play upon the mutation trope, I’m amazed that a century’s worth of humans living and dying in low orbit hasn’t subjected the Ark to some level of wide-spread genetic damage from radiation.
Instead, the greatest hardship witnessed by the 100 has been an inability to swim.
But Adam, aren’t you just being a dick at this point?
No, I’m not. The writing is desperate to sell the real life stakes of the Ark e.g. the only resources you have in space are what you bring up from Earth. At one point the Ark’s chief surgeon faces a death sentence for using too much blood during an operation on the Ark’s leader. At the same time it’s hand-waving over all of the inconvenient parts about near-future life in space. Nobody is talking about the fuel spent on simulated gravity, water reclamation, and food production. It is as if the series doesn’t have a single writer who knows anything about space. If they did, then the producers would have re-imagined the Ark as a submarine, or an underwater sea colony. Either would have had the effect of isolating the kids from the adults without drawing attention to all of these gaping plot holes that come into play when near-future space is involved.
Even though some of The 100’s burgeoning conflicts seem interesting, there’s simply too much that is lazy or absent minded in the scripting to make me want to invest any more time into this series. The series’ potentially commendable hard edge, as evidenced by one character putting a knife in the neck of another who was on death’s doorstep, comes off as heavy handed and clumsy because adults and authority as a constant b-plot serve to undermine, rather than re-enforce, the brutality of the 100’s life on Earth. There’s too much Home Alone and not enough Lost to make the stakes seem real. Thanks, but no thanks The 100; considering that teenage Adam held to Babylon 5 as the best TV ever, I don’t think you’d keep my attention even if I was in your target demographic.