tl;dr – No seriously, The 100 is a good show.
Okay, longer version, it’s not a great show. I mean, it is on the CW after all, but when it started last year (by that I mean last TV “year”), I had cut out a show that had become a bit of a chore to watch for the few good moments it provided, so I had space available if the right show came along (read: a Science Fiction show). I liked the premise of The 100 (even though the idea that somehow a bunch of space stations could be launched just in time to avoid a nuclear war is a bit of shaky leg to stand on). As soon as I saw that it was based on a book, I checked on Goodreads and almost decided to stop watching the show because the book sounded pretty awful. A lot of the things that people complained about in their reviews, though, were things that were clearly hard to pull off in a book, but could actually translate well to a TV show.
Now even though the CW was the only major network to win a Golden Globe this year, I still have a hard time taking any of their shows too seriously. Not that I don’t watch them – I’ll give anything a try if it looks interesting. I just know going in that if it’s on the CW, it’s more likely to be an adult equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon: It’s great if you’re given permission to indulge once a week, but if you get the chance to watch a show that’s on past your bedtime you’ll take that over the cartoons in a second.
So with expectations low and grains of salt at the ready, I dove in to the 100 like the ship that took the titular group of juvenile delinquents back to the surface of the Earth.
It would be easy to nitpick the show and point out all the stuff that is dumb or poorly done, but as I was brainstorming, I realized that most of the missteps were things that a lot of scifi shows and movies have gotten wrong or done badly, so I’m going to skip to the parts that this show does well and rises above the mistakes it makes or stuff it has to gloss over to make it work…
And with that, I’d like to start with the YA tropes that the show manages to avoid (while sometimes only very narrowly), because, well, that’s a lot of what makes it good.
- Love Triangle Centered on Main Heroine (and subsequent vacillation between two preternaturally hunky dude men – yes, there is an element of this, but Clarke’s choices are not exactly Stud and Studlier)
- The Kids Do Everything (and adults are treated either as wise mentors or annoyances)
- (The corollary:) Where Are The Parents? Obviously they’re not doing a lot of parenting in the first season because that’s the point…
- No matter what your ‘soul mate’ does, you should forgive them (okay, they fall into this trope a bit with one of the relationships, but avoid it in others)
- The Mary Sue (I mean, would you really want to be any of the characters on this show?)
- Everyone Is A Beautiful White Person (yes, there are lots of attractive white people, see the picture at the top with 5/6 main characters being white; but when you add in a lot of the almost-main characters, it gets a lot better; I mean it’s not like this shot…)
So, bravo for that. But wait – there’s more!
Besides just not being a stereotypical YA show, there are things that The 100 does well for a TV show of any genre.
- Relatively realistic cast size. It’s not just six people constantly trying to fight every battle. It’s clear that the people in the picture at the top of the post are the main characters that we need to care about, and they do take part in most of the conflicts, but I can think of at least five other major characters who play an important role in the first and second seasons (though they’re not necessarily the same five major characters, which also expands/improves on this idea). You can tell (if you over analyze things like I do) that the show runners are really trying to keep the NPCs involved and also trying to add some new characters and giving the newbs conflicts that we can actually care about (even the antagonists).
- Realistic leadership conflicts. Especially in the first season, there’s a lot of realistic (for TV) internal and external conflict surrounding the leaders of the kids on the ground and the adults in space. Bonus points for avoiding a lot of the angsty YA type of conflict that could have easily taken over the whole show.
- Dealing with the science, at least a little bit… They do explain why the people from space are able to survive the radiation on the surface (solar radiation from being in space! I doubt that’s realistic, but it sounds somewhat plausible and not too hand-wavy).
- References to past episodes, settings, and conflicts. It’s a small and minor thing, but I like that the kids eventually revisit the ship they came down in. Also, when Abby jabs at Kane about her electroshock punishment. People have memories and it’s nice to see that the writers do too.
- Foreshadowing. While a lot of the show seems to be progressing a lot faster than necessary, they do a good job of hinting at things in the first season and seem to have laid some groundwork during the second season for things the characters could do in the future.
- The new Game of Thrones style intro for the second season. It is quite clearly a total ripoff, but it’s also very nicely done and demonstrates that someone is actually thinking and caring about the show. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that at the start of the season.
- I’m going to try to not even really spoil this by being vague about it, but I have to mention it because it’s one of the best things about the show so far: the plot/character arc that takes place in episodes 5-8 of the second season is one of the braver things I’ve seen on network television recently. (And perhaps spurred the intro mimicking GoT? I can totally see someone in the writer’s room saying: “Well, if we’re going to do this, we might as well have a Game of Thrones intro for the show” and then they were all like “That’s actually a great idea!”)
**** Spoiler Alert ****
**** End Not Really A Spoiler ****
So there you go. If you haven’t seen it, the first season is on Netflix, and I’d imagine the second season will be up in time to get caught up for the third season. (Also, according to Netflix, The 100 is “recommended based on my interest in Snowpiercer”, so that’s a good sign, right?)