From The Hunger Games to Divergent, recent cinematic releases have taught us that dystopian teen fiction is worth big money right now. Naturally, TV has looked to jump aboard the gravy train with The 100 (Mondays, E4, 9pm), based on the book series by Kass Morgan. Though it often feels like a jumbled jigsaw of sci-fi influences and tepid teenage angst, there’s a building atmosphere of suspense that could make this post-apocalyptic drama the ideal guilty pleasure for those not in the American teen demographic.
The premise is high concept stuff. 97 years after a devastating nuclear war wiped out almost all life on Earth, what remains of humanity occupy The Ark – an orbiting habitat cobbled together from the world’s space stations (though apparently only good-looking Americans are allowed on board). Three generations have past and an authoritarian government reigns over The Ark with every crime now punishable by floating (i.e. death) unless the perpetrator is a juvenile. After a fatal flaw is found in station’s life support systems, 100 unfortunate teen ‘criminals’ are spat back down to Earth to determine if the planet is once again habitable.
If that all sounds like something you’ve seen before, it’s because you probably have. Like the adults’ patchwork space home, the series itself is a mismatch pastiche of sci-fi influences. A spaceship full of backstabbing survivors is reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. The band of marooned outcasts in a hostile land will evoke vague recollections of Lost. And the savagery of abandoned youths screams, “Do you remember Lord of The Flies?”. Even the setting of an Earth obliterated by nuclear fallout has featured in every sci-fi blockbuster of the past few years from Oblivion to After Earth to Elysium.
The 100 has lots of challenging ideas to play with in its narrative, such as class struggles and social injustice, the morality of sacrificing the few to save the many and asking if the steps taken to save humanity make it worth saving, but the show chooses to gloss over them with an insipid love triangle between Katniss Everdeen-wannabe Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and her Peeta/Gale surrogates, Finn (Thomas McDonell) and Wells (Eli Goree), as well as other teen angst issues. Because what’s more important when the fate of humanity is at stake than kissing boys? It all feels more than a little patronizing towards its young target audience.
It is back up in the sky where the most interesting ideas are being discussed as the dying adults quibble over silly things like politics, population control, the possible extinction of the human race and whether they have just sent their children to die from radiation poisoning. We’ve already seen one failed coup attempt and the growing social unrest on The Ark as oxygen levels dwindle places a nice ticking clock on an already explosive situation.
By far The 100’s best feature, though, is the expanding atmosphere of danger that hangs over the show like the poisonous fog that descends on the camp in last week’s episode. While the first episode seemed to pull its punches, repeatedly passing up the chance to ‘off’ one of its characters for fear of upsetting its young audience, recent events have seen one teen impaled for straying onto the wrong territory and another left alone to die in the dark as Bellamy (Bobby Motley)’s attempts to assert his authority become increasingly disturbing.
Factor in the discovery that the survivors may not be alone on Earth (there seems to exist a subterranean tribe of deformed humans lurking in the shadows) and the sense that one of the teens could be ripped to shreds by a rabid five-tailed squirrel at any moment and the idea of being left on a deserted planet with no adult supervision suddenly doesn’t sound so inviting.
If The 100 can continue in this vain for the remaining episodes of season one it may just prove that, far from being nothing but a muddled mix of sci-fi muses, it is a show that is much more than the sum of its parts.