It's on the CW, there are a lot of young actors in the cast and it's a survival tale that draws freely from any number of post-apocalyptic and YA tropes. If any of those factors cause you to dismiss it, I laugh in your general direction.
"The 100" is awesome.
The show's first season (which is currently on Netflix) was surprisingly good, and as I've written, as soon as it got past various bits of setup, the drama went to some shocking places -- and those shocks did not smell of desperation or exploitation. They were smartly deployed.
The show's darkest developments, as bloody or calculating as they might be, merely capitalize on the show's survivalist premise. When "The 100" allows bad things to happen to its characters, who have arrived on Earth 100 years after a nuclear apocalypse, it makes it clear that it isn't going to shy away from the moral conundrums baked into its premise. The show's working philosophy might as well be: "Not everyone's going to survive -- get over it. But we are going to try like hell to interest you in the fate of these people."
Is the show perfect? Nope, but as I noted in this piece on the frenetic efforts of "State of Affairs" and "Gotham," a big factor my enjoyment of any show is the overall sense that the people in charge know what they want to do with it. If they have solid ideas regarding what the show is capable of and where it can go, and that confidence comes across on screen, I can forgive a lot. Will this show end up on my annual Top 10 list? No, but that is an insanely high bar to clear. Perhaps this is a more useful barometer of my interest: I watch episodes of "The 100" as soon as they hit my DVR. If I happened to be available when a new episode aired, I would try to watch it in real time, i.e., I would temporarily return to our collective pre-DVR apocalypse.
The thing is, the people making "The 100" know exactly what this show is and every week, it becomes more clear that they know what they want to do with it. The second season of "The 100," visually, morally and thematically, quietly builds on the strengths of Season 1.
(Sidebar: The CW has been incredibly smart in its hiring of directors. Its shows have among the lowest budgets of any broadcast network dramas, but these directors work goddamn miracles with what they've got, and that's in part because the crews are clearly very creative. Part of the reason I enjoy "Jane the Virgin," "The 100," "Supernatural," "Arrow" and "The Flash" is because they all have skilled and inventive directors. There are much, much more expensive dramas that aren't directed with the intelligence, economy and visual verve of these shows.)
In any event, you can tell a lot about a show by paying close attention to one of its "average" episodes -- an episode that isn't near the start or of the end of a season, one that doesn't function as a mid-season finale or a mythology-intensive installment. What does a drama do with one of its workaday installments? Does it get me more interested in the characters? What does it look like? Does it taper off or end strongly? Who gets screen time and why?
With those questions in mind, I want to mention a few things I really, really liked about last week's episode of "The 100." It was a treat, in large part because it wasn't a "special" episode of the show -- it just did a number of things well. It connected different elements of various stories in an efficient way, but it tied almost every one of those moments to fruitful character development. A lot of people were injured or died, but that only made me more intrigued to see what happens to the ones who lived. The episode simply worked well -- visually, ethically and dramatically, I enjoyed it.
Before I get to a list of five things I liked about last week's episode, I'll answer a question you may not have asked: Why do I spend so much time writing about and watching genre TV? Well, because, done right, genre shows are enjoyable and help illuminate the human condition, duh.
But here's another reason: My beloved "B-movie TV shows" can be forthright and progressive in ways that other shows aren't.
"The 100" does not dwell much on the ethnicity (nor the gender) of its characters, but it is a quite diverse cast. Lindsey Morgan, who plays the recently injured engineer Raven, is partly of Hispanic descent. And so, as it stands now, one of the core characters on "The 100" is a partially paralyzed woman of color who happens to be a gifted and respected mechanic-engineer. And "The 100" treats this development as no big deal, which is as it should be.
Your move, titans of cable drama.
All right, from this point on, I'm going to talk specifics about the episode, so be aware of that if you have not seen it. Here are five things I really liked about "Many Happy Returns":
- The desert scenes were beautiful. The Jaha story line had a very "Mad Max" look, but those scenes showed a fantastic level of detail in both the design of the tent and the costumes of its occupants. This location and those characters instantly felt like real people, in part because their world had such tactile, textural detail. Director P.J. Pesce did a fine job with the whole episode, but I especially loved the silhouettes of Jaha and Zoran against the sand. That busted umbrella was just perfect.
"The 100" airs Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. ET on the CW.