Imagine the ultimate CW drama, set on an Earth inhabited solely by telegenic young-adult brats celebrating their complete lack of adult supervision. It's a Tribe Without a Cause! Toss in post-apocalyptic echoes of The Hunger Games, forbidden desires out of The Blue Lagoon and the jungle mysteries of Lost — with a toxic cloud of acid fog instead of a mystical Smoke Monster — and you've got the YA formula for The 100, a high-concept guilty pleasure that comes as a bit of a creative relief after a dreary season of derivative spin-offs, reboots and retreads (reaching a nadir in Star-Crossed and The Tomorrow People).
First you have to get past what seems an eon of exposition in the pilot episode (Wednesday, 9/8c). We open 97 years after a nuclear holocaust wiped out human life on Earth, sending survivors fleeing aboard "The Arc," an international space station complex (although we only seem to see Americans, or possibly Canadians). Population control and crime are seriously monitored, with offenders "floated" into the vacuum of space via airlock. Even so, the days are numbered for viable existence aboard The Arc, so 100 juvenile delinquents, rebels and assorted miscreants are hastily shuttled to "ground" (aka Earth) as guinea pigs to see if the home planet is habitable again.
Is it ever! Survival concerns take a back seat to a party mentality as the liberated youth get their first look and taste of hot momma nature in all of its glory and dangers. "Whatever the hell we want!" is their unruly mantra, for all but an earnest few, led by Clarke (Eliza Taylor), daughter of the mothership's doctor (Paige Turco) and a father who was executed as a traitor when he tried to expose The Arc's limitations. While the adults debate the future of the human race from above, with Lost's Henry Ian Cusick a most despicable villain, The 100 becomes a tale of survival of the foxiest down below, where mutant monsters and other menaces lurk in the verdant woods (which turn iridescent blue at night). "I guess we're going to have to get used to people dying down here, aren't we?" laments one of the kid quasi-heroes as the body count rises, sometimes shockingly, befitting a genre where even the good, and good-looking, can die young. This is the most promising genre escapism The CW has produced since Arrow, so how fitting for them to share a Wednesday block for the rest of the season.
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FRENEMIES: The marginalization of HBO comedy continues with the twee buddy misadventures of the British import Doll & Em (10/9c), airing over three weeks in back-to-back doses of droll satire starring Emily Mortimer (in what can only be interpreted as payback for her thankless role in The Newsroom) and Dolly Wells as childhood chums whose relationship becomes complicated when movie star Emily hires down-and-out BFF Dolly to come to Hollywood to be her personal assistant.
Just who's caring for whom isn't always clear as the balance of power in their weirdly competitive relationship is tested in a variety of passive-aggressive situations that occasionally invite star cameos — including, in the second half-hour, Susan Sarandon in an exaggerated self-parody as a mercurial tiger mama. While sporadically and quietly amusing, the entire enterprise has the whiff of an in-joke vanity production. There's a reason it's not airing on Sundays when Veep returns in a few weeks, paired with Mike Judge's highly touted Silicon Valley.
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: Alec Baldwin may have retired from public life — a decision he made, curiously enough, on a magazine cover (talk about mixed media messages) — but he's not giving up acting, which is probably a good thing. He returns to NBC for Mariska Hargitay's directorial debut on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c), playing (oh the irony) a newspaper columnist shadowing the SVU squad and exposing what he contends is a hate-crime hoax. ... That didn't take long. Three tribes become two as the castaways drop their buffs on another eventful episode of CBS's Survivor (8/7c). ... While Arrow (8/7c, The CW) prepares for battle against his former island buddy Slade, Diggle is recruited by Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. to join a team that comics fans will recognize as the Suicide Squad, comprised of previously-on Big Bads including Deadshot, Bronze Tiger and Shrapnel. How soon before Diggle acquires a cool nickname? Too bad G.I. Joe is already taken.
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