What happens when you drop a hundred juvenile delinquents onto a post-apocalyptic Earth and force them to fend for themselves? CW's The 100 seeks to explore that concept and more with a series that's about equal parts young adult drama, sci-fi adventure and thriller. It takes a little while for the series to warm up, but when The 100 begins to hit its stride, a unique and compelling drama begins to emerge.
Created by Jason Rothenberg based on a book by Kass Morgan, The 100 is set 97 years after a nuclear armageddon wiped out the population on Earth and left the planet uninhabitable. The remaining 400 survivors were in space at the time the nukes went off, living among a dozen space stations that were brought together to create an Ark where humanity went on to live for three generations. As resources in space grow more and more limited, the powers that be make the call to send down their troubled youth, which will likely ease the strain on the Ark's resources and also allow them to serve as guinea pigs to see if the planet is hospitable.
Eliza Taylor stars as Clarke Griffin, the teenage daughter of Abby (Paige Turco), the Ark's Chief Medical Officer. Among the teens exiled, Clarke's at the center of the story, though she's on the outskirts of the society of teens that forms on Earth not long after they arrive. Bellamy Blake (Bobby Morley) assumes leadership, while his sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) lingers among the group and shares her brother's rebellious nature, which makes them click at times and clash at others. Thomas McDonell plays Finn, a guy who forms a connection with Clarke. Also among the hundred is Jasper (Devon Bostick), a lighthearted guy who befriends Clarke. Isaiah Washington plays Chancellor Jaha, leader aboard the Ark. And Henry Ian Cusick plays Kane, Jaha's second in command.
The plot of the first few episodes is split between the people on the Ark managing their diminishing resources while Abby attempts to monitor the health status of the kids sent to Earth. Without direct communications with the kids, their wrist bracelets, which transmit their health status to the Ark, are the only way they can tell if the kids are surviving. While Abby focuses much of her attention on that Jaha has to made decision regarding law and order and the diminishing resources on the Ark.. Meanwhile, on Earth, the kids attempt to survive on a planet that proves to be more or less hospitable but somewhat unpredictable and dangerous. The nuclear armageddon has left its mark in more ways than one. There are new dangers around every corner, some of which are introduced in surprising and disturbing fashion early on in the series.
Had you asked me around Episode 3 of this drama if I thought you should watch it, I might've shrugged and said that it's ok, a bit cluttered but there's potential for it to get better. Fortunately, the CW sent more than the usual amount of episodes for us to screen and my opinion of the drama shifted drastically at some point after the third episode. That may be less to do with how those first few episodes play as it is my level of investment in the characters from one episode to the next. With its attention split between Earth and Space, and then split again between different plots going on within both locations, it takes longer to develop an attachment with the characters and an investment with the plot than what would be the case with your standard drama. But given time to get to know the characters, the series really begins to find its way, changing my answer from a shrug to a much more optimistic 4 out of 5 star rating by Episode 5.
There are Lord of the Flies elements to the Earth story, particularly as it relates to how these kids are attempting to survive and govern -- or not govern -- themselves, with shades of Terra Nova and other futuristic and/or post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories worked in. And I felt a hint or two of Battlestar Galactica on the space ship side of this series, not only as it relates to the setting but also the emphasis on humanity's survival. Hard decisions have to be made, both on Earth and on the Ark, and it's through those conflicts that we begin to get a better idea of who these characters are.
Yes, there is some romantic drama worked into the plot, as you might expect from a series centering largely on young adults, but the series doesn't rely solely on that for interest. The 100 aims to make the most out of its premise, with kids left to fend for themselves on an unstable planet, there's more to do than date. There's enough action, thrills and challenges for the characters to overcome to keep this series from becoming overwhelmed with angsty teen drama. In that respect, so far, so good. The casting is solid, though performances are a bit inconsistent from one character to the next. That's something that will hopefully smooth out in time as these young actors settle into their roles.
The CW continues to branch out into genre programming and while The 100 may not look like any other series on the network, it fits in well as one of the worth-watching ones. We've seen sci-fi dramas try and fail time and again on network TV. The 100 is trying, and with its developing story and arcs, it gets more thrilling and more unpredictable with each episode, delivering some truly excellent nail-biting moments at times. The promising premise is reason enough to give The 100 a chance when it premieres this week, but the building momentum, suspense and character development that emerges later is why it's worth sticking with beyond those first few episodes.
The 100 premieres Wednesday, March 19 at 9:00 p.m. ET on The CW.