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By Becky Kifer · March 22, 2014
Here are a hundred reasons to watch the CW’s new sci-fi drama The 100:
1.) Lost’s Henry Ian Cusick with an American accent.
2.) Grey’s Anatomy castoff Isaiah Washington ironically uttering the words, “You’ve been given a second chance.”
3.) A scantily dressed girl attacked by a river Sharkaconda. (Syfy, say hello to your next movie.)
4.) … trees.
5.) … uh, glowing trees?
A slight redaction: Here are five reasons to watch the CW’s new sci-fi drama The 100. Like its late-twenties-adults-playing-teenagers cast, the season’s still young—there’s time to build.
The 100 warpspeeds its entire premise—a group of teenage hoodlums sent to a desolated Earth to discover if it’s salvageable—into the first seven minutes of program. The kids are yanked from their prison cells and sent hurtling into the atmosphere (and through the hurried, exposition-heavy plot) faster than you can say “make it so-so."
The episode kicks off with a husky-voiced female VO giving us the catastrophe Cliffs Notes: 97 years ago nuclear warfare destroyed civilization, save for those orbiting the planet in space stations. The stations, representing twelve different nations, united to form the Ark. (Let’s hope none of these nations were the ones who nuked each other. Awkward.) Our narrator is Clarke (Eliza Taylor), a 17-year-old locked in solitary confinement. Alongside a hundred other teens, she’s going to be shipped planet-side in the hopes of quelling the Ark’s diminishing oxygen supply. The oxygen problem was discovered by Clarke’s father, an engineer, who tried and failed to make the information public. He was executed, and Clarke imprisoned for helping him.
Inside the craft taking them to Earth, a video message from their stoic Chancellor (Washington) informs them that they’re all dispensable, so send a postcard about the conditions and have fun storming the castle. (The castle being Mount Weather, an underground emergency government bunker with two years’ worth of non-perishable supplies. Those must be some crazy-durable canned peaches.)
After a fiery landing destroys their communications equipment, the teenagers find themselves surrounded by lush forestry. One character, imprisoned because her birth went against the Ark’s one-child policy, whoops out a “We’re back, bitches!” This cues a booming rendition of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” (It’s not so much an on-the-nose song choice as an on-the-oh-god-my-nose-is-bleeding song choice.)
The 100—aka, Deep Space Whine—treads Battlestar Galactica territory without accumulating any of the grit. There's a lot of talk of assignations and death by airlock, but so far these soles are squeaky clean. (Somebody does get a surprise spear to the chest toward the end of the hour, so there’s that PG-DLV rating in play.) It's YA TV at its most placating. The adult interplay on the Ark—mainly between Clark’s mother Abigail (Paige Turco), a doctor, and Kane (Cusick), the slimy second in the command of the station—is more absorbing than the teenage planetary wasteland that takes up most of the first hour. Since this is airing on the CW, however, youthfulness gets the screen time.
After the kids reach Earth, it’s discovered on the Ark that the Chancellor has been shot. The culprit, Bellamy (Bob Morley), is a stowaway on the planet-bound ship. He’s clearly hiding something, but the time required to shoot a significant figure with nobody seeing, fleeing the scene, sneaking aboard a heavily guarded vessel, and then traveling to Earth all before the crime is actually discovered, seems improbable. Maybe he didn’t do it, or maybe he helped the real shooter, or maybe he can just freeze time—but this conspiracy is as holey as everyone’s space station fashion.
Because teenagers are reckless, thoughtless beasts with no sense of self preservation, only about seven in the entire group are smart enough to think about the need for food and shelter. Clarke and a small posse head off toward Mount Weather for supplies, while the others hang around building bonfires and plotting to murder each other. Welcome to Lord of the Sighs. Oddly enough, no one seems as scared as they should be. You’re in a forest, you don’t seem to have weapons, and it’s getting dark. Is no one at all concerned about bears? Bears, kids. Radioactive bears.
Unlike Revolution, whose characters actually remember the good ol’ days, the folks of The 100 hanker for a planet they've never experienced. The why is both evident and not. As viewers we love End Time scenarios, mostly because we like to envision trying to survive it ourselves. Could we? Would we want to? Without any look at everyday life on the Ark, The 100 doesn’t make much of a case either way.
Are living conditions squalid? Is everyone universally depressed? Have the various races and communities homogenized into one English-speaking super group? Has any unique cultural ideology been preserved? Besides authoritarian overtones and some dead parents (terrible, I agree), no one looks sickly, people are well-dressed, and doctors are technologically capable of performing complex intestinal surgery. As viewers we’re rushed off the Ark (or stuck watching cold, gray control rooms) so we see little of the day-to-day. Without tangible, visible cues to help us understand what it is these kids are all rebelling against, their plight doesn’t mean all that much.
The episode eventually closes as Clark and company—after trekking through DayGlo forests and avoiding freaky animals—reach the foot of Mount Weather. The celebration doesn’t last long, however, as one of their party is the victim of a drive-by spearing. Who, or what, has attacked them is a story for another week. Earth is looking more like a paradise lost than found—bad for them, great for viewers. We’ll see how the series progresses, but if it turns out the spear-happy newcomers are giant talking apes, that’s definitely taking the number six spot on my list.