The Beginning of the End

tumblr_n7p86uAIIo1qm8jfmo1_1280The 100 – which recently returned to our screens for its sophomore outing – is a very good post-apocalyptic show from the CW, the channel that brought us Gossip Girl. Which is quite amusing really, considering The 100 felt at times like someone had dumped the cast of a teen drama into the plot of Lord of the Flies, set in some cross between Canticle for Leibowitz and the lands Beyond The Wall from Game of Thrones.

Post-apocalyptic fiction in TV, film, novel and video game form has always pushed a lot of deep-set buttons in its audiences in a way which seems to make us collectively obsessed with it as a society and culture. The 100 was for me interesting because it focused almost entirely on young people, and therefore hit home in a way which was infinitely more visceral than a post-apocalypse narrative based around battle hardened super hunks or hillbilly survivalists.

The beauty of the post-apocalypse is that it both feels eminently plausible – playing off fears about our own society which could lead to the world in question – and encourages us to place ourselves within the story and question how we would act, how we would respond to the situation we found ourselves in. In this The 100 is perhaps the first attempt at 18-25 apocalypse TV which seeks to answer a question which has always at very least intrigued me, that of how my mates and I would fare were we forced to build a tribal society in a hostile environment from scratch.

In other words, we enjoy these things because whilst the rational part of the brain assures us they almost definitely won’t happen, we recognize the profundity of the notion that it’s eminently feasible that they could, and then similarly, we are perhaps understandably obsessed with how we would personally fare under these circumstances. Hence the bizarre number of people who have seriously thought out “zombie plans” in the event the dead decide to rise up unilaterally in search of our brains.

TV has actually been a bit slow on the uptake in this genre – which is what interests me because I’m the damn TV editor – presumably for reasons of budget constraints when building the kind of stark, grandiose worlds these shows are normally set in. Bombed out ruined city-scapes and the like don’t exactly come cheap.

Recently though there’s been an explosion of the bloody things, although very few that you or I would have really heard much about, so I’m going to take you through a few of the current offerings and, using the criteria established above, tell you how they stack up.

Dominion was a show from this year with an entertainingly novel premise. Based on a 2010 film starring Paul Bettany I’ve never seen, the series is about a war between humanity and the forces of the Archangel Gabriel, who together with the lower ranks of heaven exploit the disappearance of God by trying to wipe out mankind. Helped by the Archangel Michael, humanity lives on through a series of fortified city states and awaits the arrival of a chosen child who will lead them to salvation.

It’s a rather interesting cross between Fallout and the 5th season of Supernatural, and it has Anthony Head playing some sort of gung-ho, crooked politician with a strong western American accent, which is a little bizarre. Dominion focuses on a very different school of apocalyptic fiction to The 100, the biblical kind, of which the key theme is usually “is this what we deserve?” and featuring a special guest outing of the pseudo-lovecraftian “we met the gods and they weren’t very fond of us” trope.

It’s all superficially very interesting but in reality Dominion is actually a lot duller than it theoretically should be, the dialogue is uninspired, the plot tends to plod along and the characters aren’t instantly particularly engaging. It’s worth watching for the premise in the hope it picks up in the second series but if Dominion is anything to go on then the claims that TV has some issue with the post-apocalyptic genre seem to have some weight behind them.

However, it’s not all decidedly mixed news, as evidenced by another dystopian offering from the past few years, Falling Skies, which opts for the extra-terrestrial school of post apocalypse to mirror The 100’s nuclear war and Dominion’s biblical retribution angles. Alien invasion is rarely done well for my mind, drawing far too many comparisons to risible ‘70s B movies. However, with Spielberg on the team and clearly some decent money behind it Falling Skies manages to be an engaging story about a hastily assembled militia resistance regiment and their fight against the devastating alien menace.

The show works because it has a strong post-apocalyptic background setting, but is in reality a show about people. People who are forced to react and respond to their new found environment and companions. Which is what TV is about – and why in theory it should be a perfect medium for this genre, because it’s also what good post apocalypse fiction is about: the way people respond to adversity, and ultimately, to each other.