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'The 100' And Other Shows That Are Worth A Second Glance


We know you like to spend your weekend leisure time listening to the radio. And of course, we also know that newfangled picture box sometimes has something on you might enjoy. In fact, the sheer volume of television shows makes it hard to find the quality shows that are not part of HBO or the Shonda Rhimes juggernaut. So we've been chatting with a few TV critics to see what they think has flown under the radar this year. Maureen Ryan is a TV critic for Variety, and she joins me from her home in Chicago. Welcome to the program.

MAUREEN RYAN: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So the title of the show you're recommending is?

RYAN: It's called "The 100."

WERTHEIMER: And what's it about?

RYAN: It's a show on The CW, which I think in some people's minds will sort of give it a status that they might think it's sort of fluffy or sort of a teen soap, that kind of thing. And it's about 100 young people who are basically launched back down to Earth 100 years after a nuclear war. And they're sort of like the unwilling guinea pigs of civilization, of what's left of it, which is in a space station orbiting Earth. But it's really an interesting story. And of course, in our culture right now, we have many stories that are kind of derived from the young adult novels that are - sort of have an apocalyptic flavor, you know? So "The 100," I would say, grasps at several of those ideas that are in that realm and in that genre. But I think for me, it's been very surprising in terms of how committed it's willing to be to explore the morality of the choices that these people have to make.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I watched the first two just so that we could have this conversation (laughter).

RYAN: (Laughter) Yes.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I don't want to be a, you know, cranky old lady. But it's a very familiar - many very familiar elements here. You've got the - you know, you've got the teenagers with their undeveloped brains doing ridiculously risky and violent things. You've got their parents up on the space station who aren't much better. You've got, you know, the good people and the bad people. I'm not instantly drawn, you know, to a big show about teenagers, frankly.

RYAN: It's interesting because a good friend of mine who's another TV critic said the same thing, that he had watched two and should he keep going or what - you know, what should he do. You know, for me, it really drew me in further, especially after, say, like the fifth episode, where some really major things happen. I do think the show evolved quite a bit. And I've spoken to the creator and, you know, basically, you know, the show kind of found itself over time, which I think is a very common thing for TV shows. And I certainly don't think it was bad in the early going. I just think that it took a while to become as meaty as it was. And of course, it's not perfect. I mean, the thing is, what I sort of try to challenge a little bit when I talk about this show is the idea that because it's a show about attractive young people on The CW, I guess potential audience members might think that it's not willing to be challenging or dark, in certain ways.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah - the mean kids, the cool kids, the...

RYAN: Yeah, exactly. And I think that there's been a lot of TV in general - not just on The CW - that has sort of faked people out or not gone down that road of being truly interesting or truly complex. But for me, this show is a pleasant surprise in terms of, you know, where it was willing to take the lead characters. And I think that the cast stepped up to the plate in this show.

WERTHEIMER: So we now have two seasons of this program available to us. Why do you think it has not received the attention you think it ought to have received?

RYAN: One of the problems is the people who cover television are very, very busy. Over the last five years, the output of scripted primetime TV has doubled from around 200 shows in the year to around 400 or more. So people don't have a chance to go back and revisit something. And once people have dismissed something as a show about pretty people, they're very unlikely to revisit it. Whereas, you know, something that's on HBO will have a much bigger promotional campaign than something on The CW. But it's interesting to me to watch how the TV scene has evolved. And I think this is one of those shows that has had very much a word-of-mouth campaign. We're in an environment where, you know, fans spreading the word about a show can help keep it alive and, you know, get people to have it on their radar once again.

WERTHEIMER: Maureen Ryan is a TV critic for Variety. Thank you very much.

RYAN: My pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: We'll have more television picks for you next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.