Set 97 years after a global nuclear war wiped out the majority of Earth’s population, man has taken to the stars on a large space station known as The Ark, which is made up of the recycled satellites and space stations left in orbit from the past. How we were able to collect all of that debris and actually build this gigantic home in zero gravity is never addressed, but it’s nice that the show’s creators took the time to at least address the origins of the Ark in the initial episode. Immediately, we are introduced to Clarke (Eliza Taylor), a young woman who has been imprisoned before she is old enough for the corporal punishment that is customary on The Ark, which is to be “floated”, sent out of the airlocks into the cold vacuum of space in a brutal display of mankind’s worst tendencies.
Not long after her introduction, we learn that Clarke has been chosen, along with 99 other underage prisoners, to be test subjects in an attempt to return to Earth’s surface for the first time in nearly a century, even though it wasn’t supposed to be habitable for at least another century. The dubious reason behind this decision, one that isn’t made readily known to either The 100 or the populous on the Ark, is that the space station is dying, and will soon be unable to support the life that is currently aboard it. Naturally, when the kids arrive on the planet, they find that Earth is indeed more habitable than they originally thought. In fact, nearly nothing has changed aside from some overgrown forests in the absence of man’s intervention. In the pilot episode we see a two-faced deer and a few bio-luminous butterflies, and occasionally there’s a fog storm that rolls in and instantly kills anyone caught in it, but other than that, the show fails to accurately deal with what should be a radiation-soaked environment that would kill the 100 people that just returned to it’s surface. It’s the most glaring flaw in The 100’s otherwise fairly solid storytelling, I’m sure there’s a hidden reason as to why the planet can be survived, but to go the entire season without even addressing the concern is troublesome.
The biggest issue facing The 100, though, isn’t it’s storytelling, it’s the acting. Eliza Taylor, like most on The 100, isn’t the best when it comes to embracing her role. Much of Clarkes dialogue is dispassionately delivered, her acting stiff, which is a problem for a series lead to have. However she doesn’t stand out as particularly bad when matched up against the rest of the cast. Of the numerous actors on The 100, only a small handful perform their acting duties well in any sense of the word. After a rocky first few episodes, Lost alum Henry Ian Cusick, who plays Kane on The Ark, probably stands out as having the best run on the show, he plays both the manipulative self-serving jerk, and later, the compassionate redeemed hero well. Isaiah Washington, who plays Chancellor Jaha also does well in his dramatic moments, and he’s given plenty. As the leader of the last of mankind, he’s faced with many problems and disgruntled citizens, which allows Washington to show off his diplomatic and caring sides often. It’s unfortunate that the only examples of standout acting come from the adults left on the Ark and not of the main cast on the Earth’s surface, where the young actors almost universally struggle. There is a two episode run early in the season where a very young girl, Charlotte, is the central focus and the young actor Izabela Vidovic, simply cannot keep up with the work she’s been given. Most child actors struggle early in their career, but Vidovic turned in one of the worst performances I’ve seen outside of those student films we were forced to do back in high school.
The 100 face many struggles on the ground, and as stated, the storytelling ends up redeeming itself after the rocky start. The idea of these kids struggling to survive the elements alone and without much in the way of supplies is enticing enough for a series premise, but when you factor in the idea that they’re not alone at all, it becomes instantly more intriguing. Which is exactly the angle The 100 takes. Soon they run into who they term The Grounders, savage men who have survived on the planets surface for the past 100 years and who don’t take kindly to these kids crash landing in their territory. Much of The Grounders history remains clouded in mystery after season one, but they made for a very effective antagonist, and the war between the two factions gets brutal by the end. The problem is the show couldn’t leave it at that, and the deeper into the show we get, the more ridiculous the idea gets. Not only did these grounders survive what would have been impossible odds and elements for the past century, but two other factions did as well. Nearly nothing is known about the Reapers other than the fact that they seem to be even more savage versions of the Grounders, and The Mountain Men are only introduced in the season’s final episode, though it’s clear they’re going to be the major focus of Season 2 and represent the best chance at getting some answers to all of the questions posed.
The 100 has a difficult road ahead, catching up to all of those questions in the first season, but the show is solid enough to keep me interested for at least another year. The show runners need to learn a lesson from those who came before them, specifically shows like Lost, who became so wrapped up in the idea of mysteries that they couldn’t possibly answer all of them, and ended up getting copious amounts of backlash from fans by the end. However, coming from The CW, The 100 represents another step in the right direction for the network trying to expand their audience into a new demographic. The 100 has been renewed for a second season and returns this October, though the number of episodes remains undetermined.