SAN FRANCISCO – Believe it or not, the folks at the CW seem to have discovered literature.
Earlier this year, the cable channel known for modestly entertaining shows about pretty young things, tripped over “Romeo and Juliet” to come up with “Star-Crossed,” and now they’ve apparently read William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.”
OK, yes, it’s possible they found Golding’s 1954 classic while looking for “Lord of the Rings,” but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt because, thematically, the CW’s new teen-dream dystopian drama “The 100” is relatively sophisticated.
The show, premiering at 9 tonight and based on a novel by Kass Morgan, was developed for TV by Jason Rothenberg and takes place sometime in the future after nuclear war has made Earth uninhabitable. The only survivors of the war were 400 people living aboard various space stations orbiting the planet. Now, there are 4,000 of them aboard a massive “ark,” and they’re running out of resources. The only hope is to send a group of 100 cute teenagers and young adults to Earth to see if the planet can support life again. Each of the kids wears a wrist gizmo to send data back to the space station. If the data feed stops, it means the young explorer must be dead.
Golding’s conceit was to posit that human nature’s drive toward preservation of the individual is so strong that even children, separated from the societal influences of the rest of the world while stranded on a remote island, inevitably surrender to base, animalistic instinct in spite of a stated desire to live by rules to promote a common good.
As in Golding’s novel, “The 100” young colonists cobble together the foundations of a social structure that devolves almost immediately into a warrior class and a builder class.
The warriors are motivated by a desire for power and dominance over what they perceive as weaker colonists. They are willing to break any rule to survive. The builders believe in everyone working together to create a workable proto-civilization and in the need for rules of acceptable behavior.
At first, Earth seems to have become not only habitable again, but perhaps even the paradise it was long before human life emerged. But one by one, Bellamy (Bob Morley) and the warriors either convince or force most of the others to remove their data bracelets, leading adults left back on the spaceship to worry that the kids are dead. Chief medical officer Abby Griffin (Paige Turco) is convinced her daughter, Clarke (Eliza Taylor), and the others are still alive.
Not surprisingly, paradise isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
First, the kids find a pile of bones that look human, except that the skull resembles a canister vacuum cleaner. Then nerdy Jasper (Devon Bostick) is speared by someone or something unknown. Back at base camp, he seems beyond hope and Bellamy’s tribe decides he should be put out of his misery.
Then there is a strange orange fog that appears out of nowhere, not to mention the huge water creature that seems intent on having the visitors for lunch. Or perhaps a midday snack.
The actors are appealing, as you’d expect from any CW show, and the direction is fast-paced and makes maximum use of surprises. Like the young colonists, we are always on our guard for what may pop up at any time.
The theme of civilization versus the needs of the individual is as old as human existence, but it’s as relevant today as it ever was. We respond to it, identify it, whether it’s the Big Bad Wolf or the “Wolf of Wall Street.” It is used best when a film, book or TV show avoids moral absolutism. Every “builder” is subject to human nature, and the cumulative will of the group can weaken anyone’s instinct to live by the rules.
At the same time, the individual cannot survive without a social structure of some kind, which is why we see suggestions of kindness and tolerance in Bellamy’s character.