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'The 100' Scoop From The Addictive Drama's Mastermind

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THE 100
Eliza Taylor on 'The 100.' | The CW

One reason to like mid-season offerings: Once in a while, you come across a show like "The 100," which crept on to the TV schedule back in March and quietly set about fulfilling (and sometimes exceeding) the modest but worthy goals it set for itself. The show, which airs its solidly crafted finale Wednesday, certainly didn't rewrite the rules of television, but it executed a number of things surprisingly well. Suffice it to say that back in March, I was intrigued, but I ended up becoming addicted to the saga of Clarke, Finn, Abby, Bellamy and the rest.

The drama, which tells the story of 100 teens sent down from a dying space station called the Ark to a post-nuclear Earth, fits neatly into a few recognizable genres (sci-fi adventure story, post-apocalyptic survivor's tale, YA quest narrative, etc.). And it doesn't seem out of place on the CW, where the budgets aren't high but there's never a shortage of perfectly sculpted cheekbones. But dismissing the show based on superficial factors would be a mistake.

The thing is, if your assessment of "The 100" was based only on early posters and promos or its first episode, you missed out on an efficient and often entertaining show that went to some surprisingly dark places. Was the first season perfect? Nope: A predictable character named Murphy nearly always gave me a headache, and once the leaders of the kids' foes, the "Grounders," were revealed as leather-clad "Mad Max" extras, the derivative vibe almost neutered them as a threat.

But those are the kind of quibbles that any freshman series will encounter as it works out the kinks of its premise. Overall, there was a lot to like: The show's pace was crisp and energetic, and to its credit, "The 100" kept on surprising me in its willingness to take risks and flout the usual customs of teen-oriented dramas. The Earth and the Ark were both depicted as dangerous places, and other humans were often the most dangerous threats of all. All things considered, most of those one-word-name, big-budget, lumbering dramas that the networks have been foisting on us for the last year or two could have used bracing doses of "The 100's" scrappy energy.

The second half of the show's two-part finale, which airs Wednesday, cements my view that this is definitely a show to keep on your radar when it returns in the fall. In the finale, the stakes are high, the confrontations are brutal and there are are some game-changing twists and turns. Executive producer Jason Rothenberg will address many of those twists in an interview that will be posted after the finale; check back with HuffPost TV at 10 p.m. ET for that interview.

As Rothenberg noted in our conversation, his show doesn't have the resources of TV's most high-profile science-fiction and fantasy fare, but in its own persistent way, "The 100" is trying to tell stories about survival in which no one is demonized and everyone makes mistakes. So it wasn't surprising that, at the start of our chat, he took me to task -- very nicely! -- for calling the show "'90210' with airlocks" on Twitter.

He had a point. I explained that I was just trying to frame the show in a way that those who hadn't seen "The 100" would recognize (I also tweeted this). The show does touch on relationships a fair bit -- at least it did early in Season 1 -- but I explained that the word "airlocks" was the more important half of the phrase. On that we agreed.

He also agreed that early on, the show had a little more of a "soap opera" element -- and that's a term he doesn't disavow or shy away from, by the way. But Rothenberg said that the goal for the first season was to slowly slide the love triangles into the background and bring the more challenging moral dilemmas to the fore.

"We bent over backwards, all of us here, to steer the ship away from that as much as possible. We started out in that [relationship-oriented] place," Rothenberg said. "You know that metaphor of the frog in the pot -- if you put it in a pot of boiling water, it jumps right out, but if you put it in a pot of lukewarm water and turn the heat up slowly it'll stay in that pot until it cooks. That's sort of my metaphor for the season -- we slowly turned up the heat on the darkness and moved away from love triangles as much as possible, and I think that continues into Season 2 for sure."

He wasn't kidding about turning up the heat, or rather, increasing the darkness as Season 1 wore on. It contained scenes of torture, a major character died, many more had near-misses, hundreds of men and women on the Ark died due to political conflicts over a lack of resources, and on the ground, the kids almost hung and then exiled one of their own. So it was creepy but not necessarily incongruent when the show recently introduced antagonists, Reapers, who appear to practice cannibalism. (You could say that the Reapers are derivative of "Firefly's" Reavers, but the fact is, there are a lot of things on this show that will remind you of elements on other shows -- yet the sincerity of "The 100's" homages and the momentum of the whole enterprise generally allows me to be OK with that.)

Rothenberg is a huge "Battlestar Galactica" fan -- as witnessed by the show's casting of supporting actors from that show -- and he knows that his show isn't in that territory yet, but he said he hopes for that kind of comparison down the road someday. I spoke to "BSG" executive producer Ron Moore recently about the distressing lack of sci-fi shows that are willing to use the genre to explore moral and political dilemmas, and it's early days yet, but it's heartening to see that "The 100" doesn't shy away from those kinds of knotty problems and the difficult consequences of its' characters actions.

"The 100" deserves credit not just for sticking to its guns, thematically speaking but also for discovering the show's two leads. Eliza Taylor brought earnest, compelling seriousness to the role of Clarke, and Bob Morley, who plays her co-leader and sometimes rival Bellamy, is one of the most charismatic and promising young actors on TV. On the Ark, there was also especially fine work from Paige Turco as Clarke's mom, Abby, and the good news about the finale is that all these characters look like they'll be getting meaty new story lines in Season 2.

I asked Rothenberg if he thought turning the show in a more challenging direction -- especially given the conventions of most broadcast network shows about young people -- was "The 100's" biggest accomplishment in Season 1.

"I definitely feel like that's an accomplishment. If I had to say what the main accomplishment was, I feel like we're telling a really good story," Rothenberg said. "But yeah, we are handcuffed a little bit by Standards and Practices, as any network show is. I think we have the good fortune of being on the CW when they're trying to do some things differently and they're taking some chances. [CW president] Mark Pedowitz is probably our biggest fan, and he's a good biggest fan to have. And he and I see creatively eye to eye.

"We're both big 'Game of Thrones' fans, 'Walking Dead' fans, 'Orphan Black' fans. Those are the shows that I love, and that I am trying to hold myself up against," Rothenberg continued. "We have disadvantages [compared to] all those shows, because of broadcast Standards and Practices and because we don't have as much money as a 'Game of Thrones' or a 'Walking Dead.' But we're like the little engine that could. I see tweets that bring a smile to my face, where people [mention] #GameofThrones #WalkingDead #The100 [all in one tweet]. I still feel like we're not worthy -- we're trying to live up to that. But in terms of hard-edged, surprising choices, no one being safe, real violence that has real ramifications and stakes and that causes people real psychic scars -- I think that's what we do well."

The Season 1 finale of "The 100" airs Wednesday, June 11, at 9:00 p.m. ET on the CW.

For the rest of the interview with Rothenberg on the events of the finale and much more, check back with HuffPost TVTV 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

 

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