The 100 episodes 1 & 2 review: Pilot & Earth Skills

The 100 is a pleasant surprise from The CW, with all the promise of the next big sci-fi series...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Pilot & 1.2 Earth Skills

If the CW knows how to do anything, its jump on a bandwagon. Back when Twilight was the big thing for teenage girls to obsess about, they commissioned a series based on similar book series The Vampire Diaries and, now that the superior Hunger Games series has taken over that space in the public consciousness, they have their own post-apocalyptic teen drama. The 100, also based on a book by Kass Morgan, is a show that has more than a few thematic and visual similarities to a wide array of different movies and television shows, then, but somehow it manages to emerge as something relatively fresh and different.

Judging only from the first two episodes, which chart the journey of a hundred juvenile delinquents to a future Earth thought inhabitable, The 100 certainly isn’t going to change the face of television, but it’s pleasingly harsh and surprisingly dark despite the CW-esque young cast and focus on romance. The pilot is economical in setting up the situation of these people, with the show set 97-years and three generations after the aforementioned apocalypse where supplies are running low and oxygen running out. The immediacy of this problem will definitely serve the show well, and provides the high stakes necessary to make things interesting.

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To test whether they can return to Earth by the three month deadline when life support fails, the government have decided to send 100 of its young offenders down to test the waters. If they survive, then humanity can return to their home planet but, if they all die from radiation poisoning, then at least there’s a hundred fewer people breathing that precious oxygen. If this sounds ruthless, it doesn’t end there. We quickly establish that all crimes, large or small, are now punishable by death, and citizens are only permitted one child per family. All of the young characters have been scorned by this regime one way or another, making them ripe for rebellion.

Of course, ideas have been taken from other properties to the extent that much of The 100 is made up of tropes and clichés of the genre, but it’s no bad thing to introduce a young audience to such harsh themes. While we might end up watching entitled teenagers run around and sleeping together in the jungle from week to week, there’s a lot already there to suggest otherwise. The Lord of the Flies comparisons, for example, might be predictable, but there’s a reason watching groups of people turn on each other is a story that keeps being retold again and again.

While Clarke, our young female protagonist whose father was executed (or ‘floated’) for uncovering the flaw in the Ark’s structure, is a completely uncharismatic lead, the supporting players are far more intriguing. There are Octavia and Bellamy – the only two siblings in existence, the former kept under the floorboard for sixteen years of her life – who immediately stand out, as well as love interest Finn, and Wells, who serves as our obligatory upstanding citizen. And although we might be focused on Earth a lot of the time, on the Ark we get to enjoy the stellar cast of Henry Ian Cusick, Paige Turco and Isaiah Washington, all attempting to unseat each other and take control – it could easily be a show by itself.

It might not be striving towards aspirations so lofty, but there’s a definite argument for The 100 trying to tell the story of today’s disaffected youth, and the way it moves forwards with this – whether as an allegory for those who go against what they’re told or a genuinely interesting discussion about the modern ‘lost generation’ and how they’re treated – will determine whether the show has anything relevant to say about our own world. It could be pretty people making out, or it could be as biting and smart as all the best television sci-fi tends to be.

There are still a lot of unknowns with The 100 but, aside from the expected focus on teen romance and pop-rock soundtrack that come with the territory on the network, it is a thoroughly pleasant surprise. Whether the show can keep up the good work or give in to the cheesier, less interesting aspects of itself remains to be seen but, with a strong adult cast and a willingness to go to some dark places down on Earth, there’s every chance we could have the next big, proper sci-fi series on our hands.

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