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The Tribe Season One Part One

(Channel 5 [New Zealand]; US DVD: 13 Mar 2012)

Gawdalmighty, who would have thought the end of the world would be so bloody tedious? The Tribe is a teen-oriented soap opera from New Zealand that ran for five years beginning in 1999. One can only explain this by presuming that the last four and a half seasons were far superior to what’s on display here.


When a virus wipes out the entire human population over the age of 18, the world is left to the children. Aiming to be an edgy hybrid of The Lord of the Flies and Mad Max, the series stumbles badly under the weight of poor acting and often-clichéd dialogue.


Believably enough, the children in this post-apocalyptic world form themselves into a range of tribal gangs, each sporting their own bizarre fashions and moral codes. Most interesting are the Locos, the bad-boy (and girl) gang at the top of the food chain. Roving around in a commandeered police car, the Locos terrorize the local population at the behest of their droog-ish leader. Somewhat less charismatic is Lex, a sort of beta-male bad boy played by Caleb Ross, and the maternal Amber, played by Beth Allen.


Predictably, there are any number of small kids, hangers-on, unaffiliated nerds and wisecracking tots in the neighborhood, who gradually coalesce into a tribe of their own. The first few episodes focus on this gradual process of assimilation. Later, the series touches on such topics as gender roles, hoarding, and the inevitable teen pregnancy. There is also a calf, if that’s your thing (maybe all the adult cows were killed by the virus too).


All this is only the beginning. The Tribe Series One Part One contains the first 26 episodes of a series that would eventually run to 260 (!) and be syndicated in many parts of the world outside of New Zealand. It managed to gather a fan following, despite its flaws.


Those flaws are many and glaring, at least in these opening episodes. Perhaps the show would grow into something compelling at some point down the line, but these first few story arcs are mightily tough to sit through. Unlike, say, its obvious thematic ancestor The Lord of the Flies, this story is aimed squarely at children—and that means the meanness of the postapocalyptic world has been largely whitewashed. Although there is a visual sheen of chaos, with littered streets and garishly made-up tweens, there’s nothing like the brutality of behavior that any high school teacher copes with on a daily basis—no profanity, only the barest suggestion of sex, and little violence apart from some tough talk and the occasional fistfight.


I’m not advocating hardcore sex and violence in a kids’ TV program; but the disparity between this presentation and the likely reality is a huge chasm. Imagine a war film presented with minimal violence and swearing, and you get the idea.


Besides this, the producers make numerous errors in judgment, one of the most egregious being the treacly soundtrack that runs throughout the program. I’m not talking about the theme song (though that is bad enough: “Look into the future, what do you see? I really need to know now, is there a place for me?”). During the actual scenes taking place in a presumably terrifying, death-filled future, we are subjected to a lite-rock synthesizer noodling endlessly in the background. It’s enough to make you wish the end of the world would come, already, just to stop that noise.


Perhaps the biggest weakness in the series is the acting. I can only imagine how difficult it is to wrest convincing performances out of eight-, ten-, or 14-year-olds, but anyone planning an ongoing TV series devoid of adults knows going in that this will be required. Some of the kids do an adequate job, and some get better as they settle in to their roles, notably Caleb Ross as Lex and Meryl Cassie as Ebony, the leader of the Locos. Sad to say, though, the majority of performances start of weak and don’t improve in this first half-season.


The DVD set is a bare-bones affair, offering the first 26 episodes and an eight-page episode guide, which comes in handy for keeping track of names. There are no extras on the discs themselves, although that is ameliorated somewhat by the ten-hour total running time of the episodes included here. Anyone hankering for more of The Tribe after all that can take heart in the fact that even after these ten hours, there are still another 234 episodes coming up.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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