Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The 100

"The ground.
That's the dream."

This writer is likely to exhibit his age. In viewing The 100 (2014-present) part of me would tell you don't judge this book by its cover and yet the curmudgeon (of which I really don't consider myself) in me might say that's exactly what you can do.

I like kids enough, but teenagers are an entirely different animal. Selfish, self-absorbed teens are fairly distasteful. Are there any other? Isn't that what they are by definition? Well not always. Still, the bad ones are seemingly on full display here in The 100.

For every moment of The 100 Season One that sold me on its apocalyptic science fiction ideas and story it seemed there was an equally disappointing moment undone by the performances of a largely young, and unrefined cast.

Taking the concept of Logan's Run (1977-1978) and Lord Of The Flies (1954) and mixing it all up After Earth (2013) style, The 100, based on a book series by Kass Morgan, sometimes delivers on its B grade science fiction, but there are always those angst-ridden, damn teenagers.

Instead of Twilight's vampires, The Hunger Games or maze runners, we get ground-pounding grounders for serialized television in the form of The 100.

It's difficult to enjoy decent science fiction with troubled teens at every turn. I'm spoiled by quality performances in great science fiction, actors who have aged like a fine wine and deliver science fiction with credibility. Those series, The Expanse (2015-), Stargate Universe (2009-2011), Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), and others transport me and take me away. The 100 really should transport you, but sometimes the teens would literally make me realize I'm watching teens at play. Was I being a science fiction snob? Was there perhaps a built-in prejudice occurring with a bias toward teens?

For the young adult The 100 is likely a winner and as stories and performances go they really could do much worse, but for this aficionado of all things science fiction The 100 comes up a slightly short in its first season. Having said that, and appreciating the quality developments established for Season Two, The 100 is still a worthwhile sci-fi endeavor. You weren't expecting that reaction were you?

The 100 seems to crash land its post-apocalyptic tale squarely in young adult sci-fi complete with all of the shallow, empty-headed selfishness of teenage humanity in its prime and at its finest. Youth is always wasted on the youth.

Case in point, a teenager is moaning and writhing in pain and a fellow teen yells "would you just die already." That's pretty cold, but these are allegedly, to one degree or another, criminals. Do teenagers actually have consciences today? Of course most do. I think. I'm pretty sure. Though based on some of things seen in today's popular culture perhaps this future variant isn't really all that hard to swallow.

Strangely enough Canadian actor Richard Harmon appears to be in high demand and generally typecast as the villain. Having seen the actor play pretty much an asshole in everything from Continuum (2012-2015) to Caprica (2010) and The Killing (2011-2014) he comes off a little hard to stomach in The 100. He's a largely unlikeable and often overrated performer in my book. Though he appears to be a fan favorite becoming a regular in the main cast for The 100 in which he may have found the perfect role as the fairly deplorable John Murphy character. Does he exhibit any kind of redemptive quality at all? Well, actually, therein lies part of the attraction for the series. Good men and women can do bad things. And the bad can do good. These things can be complicated like real life even if The 100 takes things to the extreme.

The 100, though filled to the gills with teenage misfits and a sprinkling of adult actors, is all about decisions and consequences. It's about survival, but at what cost to our humanity and the series does a pretty effective job exploring these themes throughout its going on five season run.

The adult roster, too, is like a who's who from previous series. Paige Turco (Party Of Five, Damages, Person Of Interest), Isaiah Washington (Grey's Anatomy), and Henry Ian Cusick (LOST). All of these characters further emphasize equally troubling decisions of action and consequence. We all know that teenagers grow up or do they? The drama often follows. But The 100 illustrates that age has nothing to do with making effective good or ineffective bad decisions and explores the balance between the generations as it puts human behavior and cross-generational trust to the test.

In The 100 humans have escaped earth following a nuclear apocalypse and established lives on a space station known as The Ark (see here). The effects work on the station is exceptional and its design complex. As the series opens it's made abundantly clear The Ark has reached its sell by date, systems are overtaxed and overcrowding is forcing the hand of those in charge to essentially kill their own to ensure survival.

100 young adults, who have committed various crimes, have been chosen to be sent back to Earth to determine survivability. So at least one hundred nameless rabble, apart from its stars, will be left to harm, shoot, maim, kill, step on or step into the fold to be a hero over the course of a series. Remember Miles in the episode The Calm? Hardly. LOST did it with its airplane manifesto and The 100 through its titular premise of chosen wayward teens, though that number never really holds firm for long.

Upon landing, the group is immediately sized down to 98 (81 by the final episode of the season I believe). With wrist bands that communicate vital statistics back to the station those at the station will be able to determine if they should descend upon the Earth themselves.

The group is challenged and tested against the After Earth-like elements and animals. Instead of the Others, there are already established Grounders living on Earth and then there are the Reapers and if you recall the Reavers in Firefly (2002) you kind of get the idea.

So while not entirely an original science fiction by any stretch, The 100 is however extremely adept at plumbing the depths of its human characters, digging into their psyches and spinning a wildly entertaining little science fiction yarn. Yes, The 100, as it progresses, inevitably wins the day and over the viewer.

There is a kind of building, disturbing, LOST-styled energy here for the juvenile delinquent set, but The 100 could be smarter for science fiction fans hungry for intelligent viewing. As it turns out by season's end the serialized format works to the benefit of the book series and its vast cast of characters that sells it.

After viewing the first season in its entirety I couldn't help but want to experience what would come next for these not-so nice kids. Apart from just a few they're a fairly unlikable lot. The adults back on the station aren't that impressive either.

Ultimately I hung in there with The 100. As the series reached Episode 4, Murphy's Law, there was a realization that there was a kind of disturbing intensity to these testosterone-driven youngsters. Moments were even at times violent and shocking. Performances, writing and the dramatic beats improved markedly as it progressed.

With His Sister's Keeper (Ep6) and Contents Under Pressure (Ep7) there was indeed a suspense and a growing sure-handedness in each installment's direction and writing.

The 100 lacked a certain dramatic sophistication thanks to its largely youthful cast, but as that cast digs in to its Earthbound realities the group achieves its footing. It's hard to turn away and The 100 on the whole captures the imagination with its story despite its shortcomings.

Some of the performances are forgiven and even improve quickly. Even Richard Harmon becomes tolerable and perhaps enjoys his greatest antagonist role yet.

Where Dark Matter (2015-) was less than this writer expected, The 100 was truly more than anticipated. It gradually becomes more surprising and interesting as the season progresses. The 100 easily placed itself in a category whereby one could dub it a series with potential. By all accounts The 100 is even better beyond this uneven, sometimes amateurish (those damn kids), but still overall impressive first season.

Highlights from the young cast wore me down and won me over. Eliza Taylor as lead Clarke Griffin, Bob Morley as Bellamy Blake, Thomas McDonell as Finn Collins, Devon Bostick as Jasper Jordan and even the sexy Marie Avgeropoulos as Octavia Blake all get under your skin in a good way. This is a young adult, sci-fi soap opera, but with a fairly engaging narrative and some very human themes that drives along at a hell of a pace.

Kenneth Brown of Blu-Ray.com was critical of the series and not nearly as optimistic as this writer by season's end. Brown wrote, "The 100 loves nothing more than to puff its chest, stand up tall and let out three sharp yawps: Bold! Original! Dazzling! Unfortunately, the sci-fi series' 13-episode introduction doesn't come close to living up to the more absorbing aspects of creator Jason Rothenberg's vision. A hasty but not quite haphazard assemblage of better shows---Battlestar Galactica and Lost chief among them---it features a cast of too-gorgeous-for-reality teens getting grimier and bloodier by the minute, as if grimier and bloodier will somehow immaculately conceive compelling character arcs and gripping storylines. The scripts are loaded with melodrama, cliffhangers and filler, irritating plot holes abound, daft decisions are out in force, exposition reigns with an iron fist, the series' dystopian future doesn't make nearly as much sense as said exposition insists, and only in its last stab at greatness does the first season make a sizeable impression."

Though it doesn't reach the heights of the best and smartest science fiction dramas like The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica there are signs it aspires to be there even with its young cast. There is a great deal of aspiration on screen and much of it works.

Blu-Ray.com noted the season appeared to work through its growing pains but even moving strength to strength by season's end was "a bitt too little too late." This writer adores that site but, a surprise to some perhaps, vehemently disagrees and felt more confident about the next season. The 100 indeed accelerates into a thoroughly engrossing post-apocalyptic survival tale of mankind against the unknown. Who needs outer space? It's here. Monsters within and without. With several season renewals it's a nice gig for a young actor and an often thrilling, energetic series all the more for it. Season One may not have a 100 score on Rotten Tomatoes for Season One but there's plenty of room for tomato-metric growth.

The closing minutes of The 100 (Ep13 We Are Grounders), a real whopper, are entirely unexpected, promise a new direction and add additional layers to the science fiction elements of the series proving the plan of developer Jason Rothenberg is far from complete and far more ambitious than one is originally inclined to believe. It proves to be a little smarter than anticipated.

The 100 earned its return for a second season and for me easily bests Dark Matter as a go to series that is much more intriguing. Both series surprised me. Dark Matter did not deliver on its promise for me in its first season, but, to the contrary, The 100 built itself into a formidable little series with a grand, epic vision. As problematic as it may have been in consistency or writing or performance it still became an ultimately addictive first season.

The 100, particularly as it moves along throughout Season One and Season Two, is able to play with conventions and debate questions of morality, perception and the idea that any one individual is not the sum of merely good or evil intent or action. The writers manipulate expectations about these people who are all infinitely human with differing degrees of good and evil, both gifted and cursed with sizable motivation to change.

Those damn kids! They do surprise you.

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