By Bert Ehrmann
June 17, 2011
While films have never shied away from dealing with the apocalypse and what comes after, that hasn't always been the case for TV series. Call it an aversion to negativity or not knowing how to keep a story about the end of the world rolling for 24 episodes a year over six or seven years, very few TV series have dealt with the apocalypse in any meaningful way. Lately though, this has started to change.
To be sure, there were a few apocalyptic series from the past but not many. Survivors, which premiered on BBC back in 1975, dealt with the survivors of a world-wide plague that kills almost everyone on the planet. This series ran for 38 episodes and was remade in 2008.
The animated series Thundarr the Barbarian (1980) dealt with a post-apocalyptic planet ruled by weird mutants and wizards with only the hero Thundarr, his side-kick Ookla and Princess Ariel to stand in their way of total domination. Interestingly enough, in a time when pop-culture was obsessed with nuclear war leading to the end of all things, In Thundarr the Barbarian the end comes via a runaway rogue planet.
The series Star Trek (1966) is actually built upon a post-apocalypse foundation. In the mythos of Star Trek, the world was wracked by a third world war in the 1990s that left millions dead and entire parts of the planet destroyed. Out of these ashes a more peaceful society would be built which would lead to all the events of Star Trek.
Recently though, and especially after the events of 9/11, post-apocalyptic TV series have become more popular. In the last few years these types of series have become almost common.
Pre-9/11 mini-series like The Stand (1994) where a worldwide plague decimates the population of the planet and The Last Train (1999) where a meteor destroys civilization leaving people who awaken from a cryogenic sleep to pick up the pieces aired. The series Dark Angel (2000) dealt with a sort of mini-apocalypse, where a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere wipes the computers and destroys the electrical grid of most of the western US making it a pseudo third world country.
In the years after 9/11 more and more post-apocalyptic series have debuted.
The Battlestar Galactica (2003) remake dealt with a civilization destroyed in a sneak attack that leaves the survivors in search of a new home. Jericho (2006) on CBS focused on a nuclear war that devastates major cities around the country but leaves the small town of Jericho, Kansas virtually unscathed. This moderately successful series followed the people of Jericho as they tried to survive in a lawless, shattered America.
The entire Terminator franchise and more specifically the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008) deals with humanity trying to avert a future apocalypse present-day, and in the future the computer/robotic overlord Skynet sends robotic Terminator machines back in time to make sure the apocalypse still arrives on schedule.
The interesting mini-series Dead Set (2008) featured a group of reality TV stars trapped inside the Big Brother house as a zombie outbreak burns through the outside world. This leaves the reality stars who are used to being the ones watched as the lone, and moderately safe, observers of the ongoing apocalypse.
The most successful post-apocalyptic series in memory has to be another series focused on zombies; The Walking Dead (2010). Beginning around a month after a zombie outbreak has decimated the population of the planet, the focus of The Walking Dead is on a group of survivors left to alternatively scrounge for supplies and avoid the undead who have a taste for human flesh. The Walking Dead premiered on the cable channel AMC to a huge audience and a second season is set to premiere next Halloween.
Now TNT is jumping on the post-apocalyptic fray with the new mini-series Falling Skies. Starring Noah Wyle (ER) and Will Patton (The Mothman Prophecies), Falling Skies takes place six months after an alien invasion has devastated the Earth and it's up to the survivors to fight back and reclaim the planet from the alien menace. With good-ole' Dr. Carter leading the resistance, do the aliens stand a chance? Falling Skies is set to premiere June 19.