MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

September 17, 2009

MasterPo Reviews "The Colony"

Normally I would not think of doing an article about reviewing a TV show. MasterPo is NOT a television show critic. Look on other blogs for that. But in this case I feel it is worthy of an exception.

If you haven't seen "The Colony" and intend to be forewarned there are spoilers in here.

You've been warned…

"The Colony" is a quasi-reality/docu-simulation/study/experiment TV show on the Discovery channel.

The basic plot is simple and timely:

A virus plague has struck and wiped out more than 90% of the world's population. What kind of virus, where it came from, was it natural or a WMD attack is not stated. I suppose that's part of the point, to keep it general as all these could be scenarios. Now, a small group of uninfected people have found each other, been able to acquire a few basic materials by scavenging an already looted department store, and have found what appears to be a recently abandoned factory facility to call home.

Along with the group of people there is a catastrophe historian/survival expert and a psychologist from the Discovery channel that make periodic commentary about the events simulated on the show.

The story takes place in Los Angeles but could easily be any other city in the country (if not the world). The building itself is real. The property is owned by the Department of Homeland Security and is used to train for urban disasters.

Supposedly the people are real everyday Joe's and Jane's, not actors (although I suspect at least one is acting a role). Though each one very conveniently has specific hands-on technical skills and knowledge that would be crucial to survival in such a situation (more on that shortly). Also very conveniently the abandoned factory has just enough working hand tools, supplies, components, even a bit of food that can be used by the group to start building at least some basic structures and devices such as water filtration and some electricity.

Throughout this series spanning several weeks the group is challenged with a number of tasks and obstacles that it is believed would be real problems in the event of such a catastrophe. Problems like making drinkable water, personal hygiene and sanitary needs (i.e. the bathroom), good, generating electricity, and securing their sanctuary from raiders (portrayed by other people I believe are actors but the participants may or may not know that).

As of writing this review only the first episode has aired and I like it. Sure it's TV and as such there will be holes in the events as well as some very contrived situations.

For example, I already mentioned that everyone in the group has some specific skill or ability that is a crucial contribution to the overall group survival. There is a mechanic, an electrical engineer, a construction contractors, a handyman, even a doctor and an ER nurse. In reality there is no way to cherry pick people with such great skills. In reality there would be someone who works at Wendy's or The Gap; There would be a lawyer or a CPA; There would be an art teacher; There would be a mailman, etc. None of which have professional skills or knowledge (perhaps personal/hobby but not professional) that I can see in any way contributes to the groups survival, other than being a physical body that can be instructed to perform a task or labor.

There too the plot falls short. There are no babies or children. Surely some would have survived and they don't have any skills to contribute nor can do any real labor to help the group. Obviously the show can't put babies and children at risk but it is a hole in the reality concept. Same with someone who is handicapped or injured and unable to work productively in the group. Such a person may have knowledge or skills crucial to the groups' survival and therefore makes them of value to the group. But they might not.

And there are no panic stricken, hysterical people either. Perhaps the intent of the show is to take place several days or weeks after the totality of the disaster such that anyone panicking or hysterical has gotten over it or simple fallen victim to their own breakdown. But in a real disaster people who are in an uncontrollable hysteria are a real likelihood and danger to your own survival. Also, people who have not been able to accept and adapt to the reality of the situation but instead have gone literally insane from the reality will also be a real danger.

It's likely the producers just didn't want to tackle these issues on the show: What do you do in a survival situations where food, water, medicine, even secure shelter is so scares yet you have people who can not provide any productive contribution to the groups' survival? Do you still keep them in the group, consuming valuable food/water etc while not contributing anything helpful in return? Or do you turn them away from the group? It's a deep moral question but when day by day life hangs in the balance of one more or less mouth to feed it becomes a razor sharp issue.
I do find the show thus far creative and, with the items above taken into consideration, a real attempt at some thing like a true simulation of a major collapse of modern civilization. It certainly does not (yet) appear to have been designed for drama and personal conflict the way other reality TV shows are, such as "Survivor".

However, there remains one point that I do feel needs special addressing:


It seems throughout the show the survivors' refuge will be periodically assaulted by others outside their group. In this pilot episode along the compound was first visited by a lone stranger during the night who was looking for a way in but was unsuccessful and appears to have left discouraged. Then two large men on motorcycles buzzed around the back door of the factory during the night. Is suspect they are really scouts for a much larger raider force yet to be seen. And the original group as joined by an additional smaller group of survivors but some don't trust the new arrivals. One of the new arrivals admits to having served time in prison for drug smuggling (whether this is true or he is just playing a role is unclear at this time).

This part is probably the most realistic aspect of the show. And the most frightening to me.

Raiders (aka looters, bandits, thugs etc) will be a fact of life in any disaster survival situation. Remember the images of the locals in New Orleans after Katrina? And that was just a big rain storm! Police, National Guard and Federal forces responded very soon after the event (I'm not going to debate the government's response to Katrina in this article so don't email me about it, the fact is Federal and State forces were there quickly).

But what if the disaster had been much more wide spread and total?
What if the government itself, at least in part, was gone?
What if the emergency relief and security forces counted on just aren't there anymore?
And, no insult intended, what if some of the very people you count on to help you (police and soldiers) themselves have gone "rogue"? (i.e. have taken matters into their own hands for their own survival).

I regret that in this day and age raiders will be as great a threat as starvation, cold, and disease – maybe even more!

Along similar lines, so far the raiders have not been shown as being armed. Again it could be Discovery Channel just doesn't want to deal with the issue of guns. It's their show and they can set the limitations they want. But that isn't reality.

I fear in a real disaster where there is a partial or total government collapse heavily armed raiders will be everywhere. Some may even steal the uniforms of police, security and soldiers to try to pass themselves as such in order to gain confidence before attacking.

I don't know if future episodes of "The Colony" will address these concerns. Probably not. They probably don't want to be that controversial and in the day and age I can't blame them too much.
But I do believe these are very real concerns that anyone watching "The Colony" should keep in mind since they may not be addressed on the show.

Two-thumbs up from MasterPo!

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