Why is Hollywood so obsessed with the destruction of the world? Maybe it's because post-apocalyptic societies are fun for the special effects crew. Think about it: They get to engineer over-the-top explosions and large-scale disasters, and the makeup artists get to have a field day. Or maybe it's because end-of-the-world scenarios allow the actors to explore uncharted emotional territory. After all, no one knows what would really happen in a global emergency. But we've already dealt with nearly every known natural disaster on either the big- or small-screen, and recent films like Children of Men and Wall-E have addressed human extinction and pollution, respectively. So where does that leave us? What has Hollywood forgotten? Oh, right. A reality show.
The Colony is Discovery Channel's newest reality show, or "social experiment," as they like to call it. Cameras observe 10 people as they settle into a simulated post-apocalyptic world (created by "experts in homeland security!") near the Los Angeles River. Said "world" -- which has been devastated by a viral outbreak -- is pretty much a huge warehouse that conveniently contains a fixed amount of semi-dilapidated supplies and canned food.
The colonists begin their stay with no drinking water, no running water, no light, no electricity, no heat, no security, no nothing. Good thing they happen to know some really useful skills! One is an electrical engineer, one is an ER nurse, one is a contractor, one is an aerospace engineer, and so on. They're all completely capable of making the world sanitary, comfortable, and livable -- though they do have to deal with the occasional "marauder," sent in to bully them and steal their supplies. But the marauders have been told not to harm any of the colonists, so it's cool. Oh, and if anyone's health or safety is actually threatened, the show can intervene.
And one more thing: The point of the show is to create a working society. That's it. There isn't a prize for the winner or an opponent to beat.
Really, Discovery Channel? Really? Cameras? Food rations? Staged break-ins? A time limit of 10 weeks? Knowledge of the outside world? I'm no scientist, but I thought that too many controls in an experiment was a bad thing. This isn't a lesson in survival -- it's a lesson in acting.
Of course, an acting lesson might prove educational for some people, so it's not -- pardon the pun -- the end of the world for Discovery Channel. Not only will viewers see real survival skills in action, but they'll also get to watch humans interact under stress, which usually makes for good reality TV.
But the premise of the show is simply too hard to abandon. How can the experiment possibly yield accurate results if the colonists know it's not really a global catastrophe? Or if they know they're in L.A., mere miles from urban development? Or if they know they're being filmed? Or if they know they'll be rescued eventually? The real lesson of the show is this: Keep an engineer or a doctor handy at all times. You never know when you might need one.
With this absurdity in mind, the show is actually fairly entertaining. Some of the colonists really submerge themselves in the challenge, and one colonist in particular, Mike, stands out as the self-appointed leader, complainer, and sexist pig. He delegates work to fellow colonists, whines about having to give up cigarettes, and smirks when the women take on laundry duty. He's disgusting, but he's fascinating to watch -- especially among nine other people who don't seem to care as much as he does.
It's been said that in survival mode, people abandon their morals. I'd argue that the same thing happens when you watch a show like The Colony, but sometimes morals must be sacrificed for entertaining television.