Did you ever notice how when science fiction depicts the future, people always have weird clothes and cool gadgets? You know, robotic assistants and silver jumpsuits? CBS's new drama, Century City, isn't quite science fiction but the show is set in 2032 and has more than its share of weird clothes and cool gadgets.
I say that Century City isn't exactly sci-fi because it's not about the clothes or the gadgets. The near-future setting is a technique that allows the writers to explore the legal and ethical questions raised by the steady march of technology. In the second episode, the two main plots deal with the legal and ethical questions that arise from genetic testing on fetuses and the "downloading" of someone's personality into "smart" appliances and clothing. Both situations that seem entirely plausible in the next 30 years.
Billed, sometimes, as Law & Order of the future the show actually feels a bit more like L.A. Law of the future. Besides the Los Angeles setting there's the fact the show deals almost exclusively with the lawyers in their office and courtroom settings. And of course hints that the show will explore romantic liaisons in and out of the office.
As for the future setting, the writers do a good job in using the setting to allow them to explore the types of questions that society seems to want to ignore today. Unlike the mostly dystopian views of the future that sci-fi seems to prefer, Century City shows a rather rosy picture. Ethnic and gender inequality seem to have diminished, technology is largely used for good and (most unrealistically) L.A. has an effective (if crowded) mass transit system.
The show suffers however when it trots out the obligatory weird clothes and cool gadgets just for the sake of reminding us that it's the future. Ok, the holographic teleconference is a good idea but the artificial intelligence assistant and all the odd suit jackets without collars just tend to get in the way of the story. Sure the a.i. secretary is supposed to teach a lesson about how technology can't replace human relationships but it's heavy handed and unnecessary.
Perhaps most telling about Century City's future as a television program is its debut date – in March – and short 9-episode order. It would likely take a ratings miracle to bring this one back. Century City raises interesting questions and brings them to the appropriate – if predictable – conclusions. If you're interested in this kind of thing, give it a look. But don't get too attached.
Century City debuts on Tuesday March 16 at 9pm on CBS.