Review: The Colony

The Colony

Discovery Channel

“Reality TV”

From the network that gave us Mythbusters comes a show that seems to be a fusion of Junkyard Wars and Survivor. The show takes 10 people of varied backgrounds – a physician, a nurse, a handyman, a marine biologist, a couple of engineers – and sets them in a world where most humans have perished from a global virus.   Each episode has started with a head shot of Adam Montella, a “Homeland Security Advisor,”  telling us “We are on the edge of a global catastrophic disaster.”  The background shows a grim picture of Century City in ruins.

The “world” where these 10 survivors spend the next 10 weeks is located in an abandoned warehouse park on the edge of the Los Angeles River.  They are cut off from communication, electricity, and running water.  They must solve the problems of shelter, food and water and even the occasional “marauder” in the archetypal form of a motorcycle gang.

If you read the credits carefully, there is a disclaimer reading, “The participants in ‘The Colony’ experiment are presented with situations that were created by the producers.  They receive support from off-camera experts when their health and safety may be in danger. Viewers should not attempt to engage in the activities depicted in the experiment.”  So, they aren’t really cut off from the world.

I don’t believe this show was envisioned to be an actual show about people surviving.  You know they are going to survive for ten weeks, or they wouldn’t have a show.  There are experts on hand to advise and help the cast with their projects.  However, it does provide a vehicle for inspiring discussion about how people react in extreme conditions.

There are ethical questions to consider:  Is it really okay to steal food from somebody else, knowing that you may have condemned them to death by starvation, just so that you can have another day’s worth of food?  Would it have been better to invite the guys who owned the goats to join them in the Sanctuary?  (Not in the script, though.)  In order to survive for long, they are going to have to reinvent agriculture, a very labor-intensive activity without 21st Century technology to help.  They’re going to need every hand they can get come the harvest.

Questions of desperation: How hungry do you have to be to eat a carp caught in the Los Angeles River?

Questions of personality: Okay, the handyman is probably over-reacting in order to get more air time on the show.  Do you notice that the camera rarely focuses on the quieter, more rational types?  The handyman is an a-hole, but his skills are necessary for the survival of the group.  When does one side of this equation overrule the other?

The show offers a lot of instruction — I didn’t know about the wood gasifyer, but, day-um!  How kewl is that?  I suspect that the little two-stroke engine that they attached it to won’t last long on that fuel, but it’s still a good idea!

I don’t believe this show will offer a lot in the way of plot twists and surprises, but it’s still good fodder for discussion of human nature and survival.