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Musings on Lifetime’s The Lottery

Maybe you hadn't even heard of the new series, or simply decided to pass because you didn't have high hopes for a sci-fi offering from a network like Lifetime. Well I finally noticed The Lottery up on Hulu and watched Sunday's pilot episode, and I'd say it's about as good as the average sci-fi you can get from any other network. Which isn't saying much, of course, but so far it certainly has more promise than some of the dreck that gets cranked out by the likes of SyFy.

What it sets out to be

The premise is interesting enough: birth rates begin to quickly plummet in 2016 until, in 2019, the last 6 children are born. Our main story picks up in 2025, when our protagonist's lab manages to experimentally fertilize a batch of 100 eggs. A decision is quickly made by the government to take things over and hold a lottery to make these embryos available to the American public. Major and minor twists and turns abound in the pilot, and probably the rest of the season, too.

A world without children

As a world-building exercise, I can't say I find what is presented in The Lottery to be particularly believable. The continuity between today and their 2025, as presented, left a lot to be desired. The writers, as is so often the case, really failed to capture the true scope of such a world-changing event.

One thing you'll notice immediately is that 2025 looks a lot more like 2015 than you might expect. There are some very minor tech tweaks, but everything from cars to clothes screams today. That's not necessarily a bad thing (after all, today does actually look a lot like 2005), except for the fact, you know, that not having kids anymore is a pretty fucking big deal that is going to lead to more changes over a decade than seems to be even hinted at in the show!

Oh, sure, you'll see a billboard in the background for a futuristic looking car or a throwaway scene of people protesting mandatory fertility testing, but the rush to make the show about a baby lottery really does a disservice to the whole world the series inhabits. Extra things I stumbled across online depict the end of social networks:

facebook collapse

and a faltering economy:

economic disaster

But absolutely none of that follows from the premise of global infertility. Not having kids as a long-term expense would mean more money would be flowing into many areas of the economy. And the radical social changes, both positive and negative, that would be the result of 100% effective birth control would make the sexual revolution of the 1960s pale by comparison. The backdrop given to us in The Lottery just misses in so many ways.

A world without science

It probably goes without saying that The Lottery goes light on the science. In truth, it should have gone a bit lighter, because 90% of where sci-fi shows go off the rails, especially those set in the near future, is when they throw out some technobabble to serve as an easy explanation of a complex problem. It's all over the place in this show.

For example, there are more than a few scenes where people are shown to be getting all sexed up with the suggestion that the aim is procreation. But the fundamental science/reality of the world is that nobody is getting pregnant no matter what they do. I think we're also left to assume that this problem is somehow also caused by a mechanism that only affects humans; all other primates or mammals or animals or life remains apparently unaffected.

The only hope this show has is to abandon the desire to explain the details of the 2025 they've created. If it sticks to depicting strong characters in (vaguely) a time of crisis, it could continue as a passable show. Otherwise, I can't see watching it beyond the next episode or two.