Review: The Lottery 1×1 (Lifetime)

For people who like their conspiracy theories to be toothless

Lifetime's Lottery

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, Lifetime

Did you know the world’s fertility is slowly decreasing? No one’s exactly sure why, although chemicals, particularly those with oestrogen-like properties, that have been flushed into the ecosystem is among the more likely suggestions. Of course, with the world’s population heading for 7 billion and likely to hit 9.6 billion by 2050, it’s not exactly an immediate global issue, even if it does affect some people quite deeply.

But imagine what would happen if by 2020, suddenly everyone, everywhere stopped being able to have children and no more kids were born at all. What would that be like?

Well, lots of people have already had a go at answering this question. Margaret Attwood projected a similar future in The Handmaid’s Tale, which effectively imagined what would happen if Islamic law were implemented by a Christian US.

PD James’s The Children of Men, adapted by Alfonso Cuarón and Timothy J. Sexton as a movie starring Clive Owen, imagines a similar dystopian future for the UK in such circumstance, albeit one that’s more fascist than theocratic. 

All of which is bleak – way, way too bleak for basic cable, let alone Lifetime, home of very fluffy female-friendly fare such as Army Wives, Devious Maids, Drop Dead Diva, The Client List and Witches of East End. So I can’t imagine that when Sexton re-pitched Children of Men as a TV series, he did it without thinking it might need to be toned down a bit and made a bit more hopeful.

Certainly, given his co-producer partner is ‘practising friend of popular science’ Danny Cannon (CSI, Eleventh Hour), edginess was out of the question for Sexton’s The Lottery. Within the first 10 minutes of the future extinction of humanity being announced, scientist Marley Shelton (also Eleventh Hour) has already come up with a viable treatment that fertilises 100 embryos.

Now science being largely a collaborative subject and this being a highly urgent issue that the whole world needs solving within the next 70-100 years, you’d have thought the most obvious coda to all this is that Shelton would then have been working with other scientists around the US and the world to perfect her technique and get a new baby boom underway. Meanwhile, those embryos would be being implanted in the most genetically and physically hospitable environments: their egg donors.

Except that wouldn’t be very dramatically interesting, so instead, brace yourselves. First, US President Yul Vazquez (The Good Wife, Magic City) wants to keep the discovery secret and impregnate 100 female soldiers with the embryos. Just like that. Because women join the army to have babies.

But then chief of staff Athena Karkanis (The Border) is hatching a cunning plan to ‘give the nation hope’ – a lottery, with 100 lucky winners being given the chance to have a child. And then we add on a conspiracy theory to make it all just a little bit sillier.

Here’s a trailer.

Lifetime brings viewers to the year 2025 with the premiere of the provocative new conspiracy thriller, “The Lottery” on Sunday, July 20, at 10PM ET/PT. Currently filming in Montreal, the series stars Marley Shelton (“Eleventh Hour”), Michael Graziadei (“American Horror Story”), David Alpay (“The Vampire Diaries”), Athena Karkanis (“Low Winter Sun”), Yul Vasquez (“Magic City”), Shelley Conn (“Terra Nova”) and Martin Donovan (“Homeland”).

Set within a dystopian future driven by a global fertility crisis, The Lottery reveals a world staring down the barrel of impending extinction as women have mysteriously stopped bearing children. After years of research, Dr. Alison Lennon (Shelton) and her team remarkably fertilize 100 embryos. However, her victory is short-lived when the Director of the U.S. Fertility Commission, Darius Hayes (Donovan), takes government control of the lab and informs the President (Vasquez) of the monumental scientific breakthrough. To determine which women will carry the prized embryos to term, Chief of Staff Vanessa Keller (Karkanis) convinces the President to hold a national lottery and a battle over the control of the 100 embryos begins. Michael Graziadei stars as Kyle, a recovering alcoholic and single father of one of the last children born in the country, while David Alpay stars as James, Alison’s colleague and lab assistant. Shelley Conn portrays Gabrielle, the First Lady of the United States.

“The Lottery” is written by Timothy J. Sexton (“Children of Men”), who also serves as executive producer alongside Rick Eid (“Hostages”) and Dawn Olmstead (“Prison Break”). Danny Cannon (“CSI”) directed and executive produced the pilot, which is from Grady Girl Productions in association with Warner Horizon Television. Ten one-hour episodes have been ordered for this season.

Is it any good?
As you may have gathered by now, this is the least interesting of all dramatisations of a potentially very interesting idea, with a somewhat insipid cast of characters in a somewhat insipid conspiracy thriller.

Essentially, what we have to believe is that the US government is both very smart and very stupid. On the one hand, it can somehow stop every single fertility scientist in the country from communicating with any others, even in their own country, in order to solve this vital, vital problem.

But then, when one scientist develops a potential solution, they fire her, rather than promote her and massively increase the funding and staffing of her lab.

It gets even stupider when you realise that said scientist isn’t quite sure yet why one set of eggs is viable and another isn’t. And when she traces the original donor of one of the fertilised eggs, the government would rather kill the donor and make it look like a suicide than give one of the few egg-producing women in the world millions of dollars, set up her up in luxury and ask for some more eggs.

The show is full of these kinds of stupidities. Indeed, it’s not even very clear what the problem is. Is everyone infertile or just women? The show doesn’t make it clear and doesn’t really even seem that concerned about the sperm side of the equation. Indeed, the idea that men might want kids, not just women, appears not to have even floated into the writers’ consciousnesses.

The only real ‘sperm awareness’ comes from Michael Graziadei’s character, the father of one of the only six-year-olds around, and also the donor of the sperm that impregnated the murdered woman. But again, rather than being paid rather a lot not only to ensure as good a lifestyle as possible for his kid but also for his ‘swimmers’ (a future so obvious even Sliders could think of it), he’s slumming it as a regular joe, with the government doing its black-suited, dark-specced best to dick around with him, his kid, etc.

This is conspiracy for conspiracy’s sake, not because it makes any sense or is likely to happen.

Shelton is more comfortable here than when she was a bodyguard protecting a scientist in Eleventh Hour, but still has to do a lot of ridiculous stuff, ranging from seeking out one-night stands based on their likely fertility through to infiltrating the security of some of the most secure systems and bases the US government must have. All while being stalked by black-suited, dark-specced, but not especially threatening government agents.

Graziadei is about as bland and uninteresting as it’s possible to be in a hero, but then he’s got very little to do so far beyond complain about the terrible ordeal he’s going through: women he knows wanting to help him and his kid. How can he take it? He’s so stoic. Oh yes, he’s also knocking out guys twice his size with a single punch in order to liberate his vitally important son… from a zero-security hospital.

And the rest of the cast just has to trundle along, either running the ridiculous conspiracy (Martin Donovan from virtually every Hal Hartley film you care to mention and Boss) or being a dupe of a president, who’s willing to do a complete U-turn on one of the most important policies in the whole world after a five-minute chat with his chief of staff – who, being not white or rich, obviously has to have a drug-dealing brother. Because that’s the kind of person who gets made chief of staff at the White House. Oh yes.

Presumably, the game plan is that Donovan is aiming to obtain lots of power and/or money from lots of rich people if he’s willing to fix the Lottery for them, but that’s not a plan that stands up to more than a few seconds’ thought, if the world is truly so on the edge of violence and civil unrest. Like they wouldn’t all be clubbed to death as soon as their names were announced.

In all, this is a very silly TV show by some very silly men that stereotypically pins down women’s (and only women’s) interests as ‘having babies’ and tries to devise a way to make them watch a plucky heroine defeat a very silly conspiracy using this interest. There’s no real depth of characterisation and no real attempt to depict either a world that is suffering from this problem or even a plausible 2025 – because, you know, girls don’t like proper science fiction and that might put them off. Or something.


Immigration summary
A new and shiny feature of this blog that I’ll probably get bored of within a few weeks is an ‘immigration summary’ for the main cast of any new show. Just to prove my point that US actors probably can’t actually find jobs as leads on US TV shows any more, I’ll be looking at the nationalities of the main cast of every new show to expose the secret Brits, Aussies and anyone else who can’t get a job in their own country or fancied a much bigger salary in the US.

And in The Lottery, we have:
Marley Shelton: American
Michael Graziadei: German
David Alpay: Canadian
Athena Karkanis: Canadian
Yul Vazquez: Cuban-American
Shelley Conn: British-Sri Lankan
Martin Donovan: American

So that’s three Americans out of seven actors. Surprisingly, only one Brit, though. Danny Cannon’s British, too. Are you starting to see what I mean yet?