The 100

This is cheating because it’s a TV show, not a movie, but it’s technically a “moving picture” right?  And I feel like rambling about it.

I was bored and looking for something to sleep through, so I glanced at my recommendations on Netflix and ultimately clicked on “The 100”, which was recommended to me because I am one of the few dozen people on Earth who enjoyed Terra Nova and all of its campy low-rent glory (come on guys, it’s basically a worse Stargate SG-1, but with dinosaurs.  How can you not like that?!?  Damn you, Fox).  I ended up mocking the terrible writing in the pilot the whole way through, then taking it off my Netflix list as soon as it was done.  And then maybe 15 minutes later I went back and started episode 2.  Now we’ve finished binging the first season and the few episodes currently available for the second, and I am conflicted.  The show was captivating, yet the writing is terrible.  The writing certainly improved as it went along, but it was still pretty awful.  So why was it so interesting?

The premise is that the Earth had a nuclear war (there’s no context for how or why the war happened) and rendered the surface uninhabitable due to radiation.  Fortunately there were enough people up on space stations that humanity survived.  The survivors banded together to form “The Ark” and attached all of their stations together to form a place for humanity to exist.  Resources are scarce (shades of “Stargate Universe”) and they have zero-tolerance policies in order to enforce the rules they need to survive.  If you break a rule, you’re ejected into space (“floated”), unless you happen to be a juvenile, in which case they merely lock you away and let you continue to consume their resources while they think of ways to fix the problem.  There’s a one-child-only law in effect so you can imagine it’s not popular to go around executing those hard-won children over juvenile mistakes like theft… or murder.  The Ark is hobbled together out of research stations that weren’t exactly designed for this purpose, so they’re dealing with all sorts of problems on a daily basis.  After 97 years they’re starting to run out of solutions, so they decide to send one of their drop-ships to the surface carrying 100 teenaged prisoners to see if the surface is habitable yet.

The pilot felt like it was going out of its way to hit every cliche.  The characters had transparent cliche motivations, and what’s worse, the show ran circles around itself trying to explain them to you.  It was like a lesson in what telling instead of showing looks like; there was absolutely no respect for the audience in the dialogue for this pilot.  It’s extra infuriating to have each and every tiny thought explained to me when the entire worldbuilding backbone of the setting is handwaved away with “There was a war.  The end.”

The characters were hit and miss.  They’re all teenagers, which means they all make dumb decisions.  But, they’re teenagers, so at least there’s some logic behind that.  For the first little bit of the show we don’t spend a lot of time with the adults who run the Ark, so we’re stuck watching the teens have a power squabble and then decide who they have the biggest crush on first. The worst offender is the main character, who is little miss Mary Sue who didn’t even really deserve to be in prison at all but she was there because we needed a way to get her to the surface, and also she knows everything and is perfect at everything.  Gosh why won’t you guys just listen to her she totally knows everything!  Like how to scare away a mutant radiation snake that is trying to eat someone!  (Fortunately being attacked by a mutant radiation snake only results in smeared blood on your thigh and no actual wounds or lasting effects.  Also fortunately her mom is a doctor and being a doctor is hereditary, so she learned everything about how to be a doctor despite being in jail for her childhood.)  They are finally trying to give her some flaws by season 2, but are mostly failing at it.  When you try to have your character fail at something and have another character comment on how they’re surprised that your character is not perfect at everything, you may have written a Mary Sue.  Then we have Stereotypical Love-Interest who backs her up vs Stereotypical Power-Hungry Guy, but then later he turns into Stereotypical Love-Triangle.  Then it turns into Stereotypical Love… um… octagon?  (Are we up to an octagon yet?  There are some other legs so it might make it to octagon.  At one point we said to each other “How long until THESE two are in love with each other?” and it was the next episode…) when Stereotypical-Power-Hungry Guy turns out to be Stereotypical Actually-Not-A-Bad-Guy and she falls in love with him too and then she can’t decide which side she should back during an argument oh no.  But we still need a Stereotypical Bad Guy so someone else steps up for that.  Unless it’s some guy you just met recently who hasn’t had a lot of dialogue.  That guy is going to die suddenly (Red Shirts, anyone?).  Then we need to introduce Stereotypical “Outsider who knows everything about this planet and can serve as plot-device-exposition” who is helping you because he is in love with you despite having never actually met you.  Also he will teach you to be a ninja, which doesn’t take nearly as long as you would expect it to.  Apparently.

It’s interesting because it was very cardboard in the beginning.  You could predict each and every character’s actions and motivations after a few minutes of them being on screen.  All you needed to do was peg which role in the template they were supposed to fill and blam, this is what they will do next.  But the character writing quickly turned around and around halfway through Season 1 they actually started to bother giving the characters backgrounds and motivations and by season 2 some of them have even started moving into the morally grey areas that tend to turn out some of the most interesting characters to watch – the kinds where you disagree with what they’re doing, but you totally understand why they would want to do that given their situation.  I think the turnaround in the character writing is one of the things that redeemed the show halfway through the first season.  The characters in the pilot were awful.  I hated them all.  I wanted them all to die in the descent to the planet.  But now they’ve actually started to devote some time to the characters, they’ve stopped patronizing me by painstakingly spelling out every motivation or thought, and I even have some favourites.

And I realized as we were finishing up the last couple episodes that were available… there are strong and weak characters who are both male and female on every faction we’re introduced to (okay fine I don’t know that I’ve seen a prominent female Reaper yet but that would make sense too).  That sort of diversity is important.

It also helps that they abandoned the “Oh no something is attacking you and gosh now the girls are in their underwear somehow.  By the way sexy underwear is standard issue prison garb I guess.” bullshit of the pilot, where no one was ever injured ever, and even if they were you knew they’d miraculously pull out of it and be fine a few minutes later because a wizard did it.  By episode three or four they had embraced the dark side and allowed characters to actually be harmed or even die, and they stopped stripping the girls of clothing at every opportunity.  It’s even somehow managed to get away from the “All of these teenagers are super attractive because there are no ugly chicks in space” theme it had going on early in Season 1.  I am seriously curious if there was a massive overhaul in the direction department after the first few episodes, because the transition is pretty dramatic.  And definitely for the better.

The area the show is continuing to fail on, though, is science.  Oh my god do not watch this show if you know anything about science.  Any science.  Especially not science involving radiation.  I swear they deliberately go out of their way to spit in the face of scientific logic, sometimes.  Now that the characters have stopping being as awful, I spend every episode mocking the science.

And the soundtrack.  ugh.  What is it about plastering commercial tracks overtop of things that comes across as so fucking cheesy?  Is it because you know they paid a shitload of money to essentially advertise a band, or is is because it just feels lazy?

But anyway.  I honestly don’t know if I recommend this show or not.  I might just be watching it because it’s fun to bitch about… but it’s actually doing some interesting things with the characters now and the episodes aren’t just full of bullshit filler to pad out the thin plots (like some other post apocalyptic TV shows…).  So maybe I actually like it?  Hrrrmmmm.  Apparently it’s based on some books so I may have to check out the source material.  Then I will know who to blame for any Mary Sue or Bad Science transgressions, at least…

About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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