The CW Pilots: Reign, Star-Crossed and The 100

cwThe CW has always pitched itself at the young adult market, with programming generally looking at the trials and tribulations teenagers and twenty-somethings have to go through, often while dealing with various science fiction or comic book traumas on top of that. I’m a big fan of young adult television and books, it often gives a better blend of various dramas and produces shows that are both engaging and entertaining to watch. The CW and its predecessors The WB and UPN have given some of my favourite shows of all time – Veronica Mars, Supernatural, Buffy and Angel. There’s also Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Charmed, Roswell and Star Treks Voyager and Enterprise.

But in recent years the quality of their offerings has fallen far from these lofty heights. More and more of their programming just feels like they’re following a simple equation to make their shows: young adults + THING = Show. So you have Young adults + Batman = Arrow, Young adults + Sex and the City = The Carrie Diaries, young adult + Grey’s Anatomy = Emily Owens MD. Formulaic is ok if your characters or style or direction have some spark (many of the shows in the first paragraph follow the same pattern after all), but recently it feels like The CW just can’t be bothered with that.

Fair enough, I often only watch the pilot so maybe I’m not giving things a fair chance to develop, but the pilots of Veronica Mars, Supernatural and Gossip Girl grabbed me from the very first scenes. Of the four pilots from The CW this year (I skipped The Originals as it’s a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries which I haven’t watched), I was only even vaguely tempted to watch one of them, the other four (including The Tomorrow People – reviewed separately), fell somewhere between dull and painful.

reignMary Queen of Scots is 15 when she and her ladies-in-waiting arrive in the French Court to become acquainted with her future husband and King of France, Francis. But not everyone is happy to see her and she finds herself in the middle of love triangles and intrigue.

It has a very weird and unstable tone to it. For the most part it’s very much what you’d expect from The CW – pretty teenagers, lip gloss, pouting, hair, giggling and love triangles, with popular music over montages of putting on makeup and dancing in clouds of feathers. But then it lurches to serious talk of the fate of countries, responsibilities of monarchs, attempted rape and execution. While the frivolous stuff is bright and entertaining though, the darker elements are clumsy and amateur.

There has clearly been some enthusiasm put towards the production. The detail of sets, costume and scale are very impressive, although they’re more about what an American teenager’s idea of 16th century French royal court than any type of reality. Most of the characters and actors are solid enough as well, the ‘grown ups’ hamming it up quite spectacularly while the ‘teenagers’ (all over 21 in reality and not a Scottish accent between them) pout and flounce as required. There are way too many people in the episode, the four ladies in waiting being particularly hard to keep track of, but that can of course be fleshed out in later episodes. The pilot covers a ridiculous amount of ground, and the first 15 minutes is almost hilarious as it bustles through exposition, but it does just about all hang together and fill in both the backstory and some possible stories for the future.

The episode as a whole felt very much like children playing dress up, both the actors themselves and The CW. But it’s just a game and it simply didn’t work. They should have steered clear of the more serious subject matter, using an entirely fictional history if necessary, take out all the pesky realities of history and just make it Gossip Girl in the 16th Century and it could have been rather fun.

Reign aired 22 episodes in its first season and was renewed for a second, it does not seem to have been picked up by any UK channels.

starcrossedIt’s 2024 and ten years ago aliens landed in America. Now as part of a move towards integration, seven of the teenage aliens join a local high school and all its usual social maneuvering. Then one of the alien boys makes a connection with a human girl…

The old Romeo and Juliet chestnut is dusted off again, I guess it’s so popular because it works, but it does immediately make me roll my eyes, particularly when it’s combined with so many painfully obvious tropes and references. It’s not a complete no-no to make metaphors for the civil rights movement, but they need to be done with care so they’re neither thumpingly obvious, nor painfully dull. Star-crossed does not manage this.

I just couldn’t be bothered with any of it. About 2/3 of the way through my (cough) watching method flaked out and I had to really force myself to go back and watch the rest of the episode. For the most part I needn’t have bothered because it all played out exactly as expected. The whole episode was really paint by numbers kind of stuff, with all the character and story cliches well broadcast and predictable.

Even that would be forgivable with some spark from the actors, but with the exception of Aimee Teegarden (unrecognisable from her Julie Taylor days on Friday Night Lights) they’re a bland bunch. Again, I struggled to tell characters apart and struggled to care. If you think of something like Gossip Girl, there was no original story there either, but the dialogue and characters shone. Star-crossed just sits there like a lump.

Star-Crossed aired 13 episodes in its first season and was not picked up for a second.

The 100
the10097 years after a nuclear apocalypse, the various space stations have bonded together and established a pretty large population. 100 teenage criminals are sent back to Earth to see if it’s safe and to reduce the population on the struggling space station.

This is actually the strongest of the new shows, although that’s not saying a great deal. What I liked most about this was that the pilot focussed on the story with only a spattering of teenage issues. The setup is actually quite interesting and solid; yes it’s all got the potential to turn into Lord of the Flies, but the sci-fi elements, and the political story carried by the adults on the space station are a very strong foundation to build on.
As with all these series, everyone is improbably pretty, hair is impeccable and mascara and lip gloss are the only thing that appears to be in abundance post apocalypse. A quick check of imdb reveals that the actors playing ‘teenagers’ are all at least 22, but they generally seem to be able to deliver more depth than those in the other series.

The 100 isn’t Battlestar Galactica or anything, but it’s not as predictable as the other series and I can see potential for both interesting storylines and entertainment. It wasn’t exactly a show that I’d rate as a “must watch”, I haven’t got beyond the first episode, although I also haven’t cancelled the series link.

The 100 had 13 episodes in its first season and was broadcast in the UK on E4. It has been picked up for a second season.


2 thoughts on “The CW Pilots: Reign, Star-Crossed and The 100

  1. Pingback: 2013-14 – New Shows | Narrative Devices

  2. Pingback: Upfronts 2015: The CW | Narrative Devices

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