Mar 19, 2014

The 100: “Pilot”

By Josh Oakley


The 100 is a hodge-podge of nearly every science-fiction/action/adventure/romance TV show seen in the last decade. The most obvious forbearer is Battlestar Galactica, and this show seems to invite comparisons. But what Battlestar understood from the beginning that The 100’s pilot can’t seem to grasp is that the cool battles and traitorous plot twists must be in service of something larger. The window dressings here are the entire show, and that isn’t enough to sustain an hour, let alone a weekly series.

The plot, as clumsily laid out through narration and oft-dire dialogue, sees humanity on its last legs. All twelve countries with space stations joined together in the wake of a nuclear war. Because of the radiation, no human has stepped foot on earth in 97 years (did they make it slightly less than a century to ensure that even the title couldn’t be interpreted in various ways?). When the pilot begins, Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) discovers that her and 99 other juvenile delinquents will be sent to Earth. They’re considered expendable, and once they turn 18 they’d be killed for committing any crime whatsoever, which is the insane law that the space station runs by.

Obviously shows need to be able to operate on their own internal logic, but the nonchalance that greets the laws of the land on The 100 is difficult to buy. Sure, this is the third generation raised on the ship, so it may seem commonplace by now. But the show fails to provide any base to jump off of. Even the good guys here are evil, and instead of using that idea as a moral conflict it merely tries to set up stakes for an even more evil villain. Filling that role, thankfully, is Henry Ian Cusick, or Desmond from Lost. He was one of the best parts of that show, but pivots dramatically here. He’s the only actor so far to know exactly how to bite into the dreadfully hammy territory the dialogue often dips into (“If I have to take us down to a cosmic Adam & Eve, I will do it” only works in the context of his delivery, but boy does it ever work in that context). There is still a major character issue here, as there is with everyone on the show, and the casting opens the door for the audience to point and say “Lost did it first”.

That isn’t an issue on the ship, where the reference point is mostly shot as if this were an episode of Battlestar directed by a parody of J.J. Abrams. On Earth, however, the basic formula follows the trail left by Lost or, in the worst scenes, last year’s abysmal film After Earth. There are elements within The 100 (the name given to the young criminals sent to the planet) that could grow into something interesting. The battle between the majority of the group, who want their home ship to believe they’ve been killed, and the son of the Chancellor, Wells (Eli Goree) has possibility. In the pilot though it mainly reeks of rebellious/brooding teen tropes. The show’s central romance fizzles quickly, mainly because Taylor doesn’t seem up to the challenge of fleshing out her paper-thin lead character. In addition to the plot points set up here (“set up” is a nice way of saying “jammed into the middle of conversations that have nothing to do with the matter at hand”), there’s talk of traitors, assassins, and at least one person who wasn’t meant to go down with the 100.

Everything here feels borrowed from much better (or much worse) source material. There’s hardly an original thought in the entirety of the pilot episode, from the opening expositional voice-over to the closing “We’re not alone”. Even Cusick’s villain isn’t good or fun enough to develop a distinct personality. Of course, the burden of the pilot is setting up the world, and this had nearly a century of history to contend with. The problem is that, in order to latch on to a show, there must be something that seems to promise a better future. Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite television shows of all time, and anything trying to work in its vein has my immediate, wary attention. But The 100 doesn’t deliver on the promise of the work that it’s clearly indebted to. Instead it seems like a teen romance, a space drama and an adventure film were stripped of an sense of purpose or allegory, mixed together without thought, and spit out. In the world of The 100 you’re given the death penalty for even the lowest of crimes. I’m by no means advocating for the arrest of anyone involved here, but hey, I didn’t make the rules.

Grade: C-

Miscellaneous:
  • If I must name one other slight positive, Marie Avgeropoulos isn’t all that bad in the stunningly generic “hot bitch” role.
  • “That my friends, is game.” At least the character who said that didn’t make it to the end of the episode.
  • “Note to self: next time? Save the girl.” The character who said this, on the other hand: Still alive.
  • Clarke is such a bland character that she seems to think “We have to warn them” is some brilliant saying her father came up with.
  • “I choose to make sure that we deserve to stay alive”: This sentiment has been portrayed a million times before, and this is probably the worst phrasing of it yet.
Image via KSiteTV


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