Imagine Survivor meets 90210. Battlestar Galactica meets Lord of the Flies? Lost meets Deep Space Nine? Actually, I’ve read a lot of comparisons done by other critics out there, and after viewing The 100 pilot, I’m just going to call it different. In this case, different is good.
There have been quite a few “end of the world” scenarios in sci-fi television and movies, yet there’s something about these stories that appeal to us. Sure, they’re dark, but they’re laced with hope that a better world will emerge. The 100 kicks off from the word go with that idea. It all starts with a teen girl, Clarke Griffin (played by Eliza Taylor), who is suddenly thrust with 99 other teenagers into a ship. They are going down to the earth, which was destroyed by nuclear holocaust 97 years ago. They were chosen by the adults on “The Ark,” which is the name of the ship that the remaining survivors on earth have been in habiting all these years.
Thus the drama begins, the teens facing fears, anger, resentment, hope, freedom…a myriad of changes considering their entire existence aboard the Ark has been bleak and oppressive. The Ark was never meant to handle a growing population and resources became limited. Very strict rules were implemented and even the slightest infraction meant death, except if the offender was under 18. Then they were kept in prison and executed at 18. These teens were the condemned, and now have a new hope on earth. Clarke is the lead character on the ground, immediately focused on finding food for survival, and manages to gather a small group to accompany her on the mission. The other teens remain behind and follow their own agendas.
While the teens go through their struggles of rediscovering an abandoned and overgrown earth while trying to work out their personal differences (needless to say, they divide into factions pretty quick), the adults struggle back on the Ark. The higher ups know the real reason the kids were sent to the ground, the Ark is dying and only has four months of resources left. Earth is the only shot at survival. Yet these adults have as many issues with power struggles as the kids. Chancellor Jaha (played by Isiah Washington) rules with a firm hand, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to his second in command, Councilor Kane (played by Henry Ian Cusick, who sadly is using an American accent in this show). In the middle of all this is Clarke’s mother, played by Paige Turco, who has her own moral agenda that gets in the way of others. When a move is made against Jaha, putting Kane in control, things get ugly.
The best part of The 100 pilot is the pacing and plotting. It’s exciting and even from the very first scene. There’s a lot of back story and it’s well revealed through this adventure on both sides, thus avoiding the common trap of awkward scenes and general time wasting with exposition. There are endless opportunities for storylines in these two settings, and by the end the viewer interest is heightened enough where we’ll want to come back and see what’s next.
The weakness of The 100 is it does stray into teen drama a lot of the time, just enough to make you realize you are watching a show on The CW. I do accept that teens have their angst and social issues, but given their circumstances these teens are also well aged in perspective beyond their years. These petty little squabbles do seem a bit too “high school” at times. At the same time though, there are some scenes where these teens let loose and allow themselves to enjoy their new surroundings, like taking a swim in a river for the first time. Of course, we know there’s always something that lurks in the waters, so there’s an element of danger in everything they do, thus heightening the viewer’s engagement. There is a surprise ending, and the creators promise one of those every week, but such endings are a CW trademark for several of its shows. The 100 would feel out of place without them.
The 100 is a limited run series, so plotting of these 13 episodes is intended to be tight and intense. There’s a lot of story to share in relatively little time. This might be exactly the kind of format The CW needs to make an ambitious series like this work and keep viewers interested. Given the time slot after Arrow, they have the perfect lead in. Now the story has to sell itself. Given what I’ve seen so far, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The 100 airs Wednesdays at 9 pm, after Arrow, on The CW
I was able to interview a few cast members and producers Matt Miller and Jason Rothenburg at Comic Con in July. My report of that session can be found in our Interview section.