The Desolate Wasteland of Post-Apocalyptic Television

Many TV critics and commentators like to say that you can judge the way this nation is feeling about itself and its times by looking at the sort of shows that are playing on television. They say that our mood and our outlook about our present and our future can be understood through the collective programming on the TV.

Well, a look at some of the popular shows now playing or those about to debut on the boob tube might make you wonder if TV has noticed that the country ain’t feeling so great? In fact, it’s downright post-apocalyptic.

That’s right, we’ve gone from 2008 and hope-n-chngiesness to the depths of post-apocalyptic cynicism.

Don’t take my word for it, check out the TV shows that are either in production or are about to be launched in the next season or so.

“Fringe” (Fox): This is the fourth season of a show that has gone from an scf fi, X-Files-like investigative series to a show about a post-apocalyptic world taken over by evil humans from the future. This season the Fringe team is desperately trying to defeat the evil men from the future and return earth to normal. Last season started turning apocalyptic, too, as the Fringe team raced to stop their dimension from being destroyed by a mirror dimension Earth interfering in the interim between the two worlds.

“The Walking Dead” (AMC): This year’s is the third season of a show that portrays a post-apocalyptic world after a zombie outbreak. Humanity is fighting back trying to eliminate the zombie hordes.

“Falling Skies” (TNT): This year is the second season of a show about a post-apocalyptic world after an alien race attacked earth destroying human civilization. Humans are hunted and killed by the technically advanced alien monsters that can control our very thoughts with a “harness” that steals our children and forces them to love the aliens and turn away from humanity. Humans desperately try to fight back against the invading alien hordes bent on annihilating them.

“Revolution” (NBC): A first season series about a post-apocalyptic world after an EMP-like device takes out all electronic devices rendering them totally inoperable. Humanity struggles to adjust to a second dark age that has plunged them back into subsistence farming and drudgery even as they are beset by marauding “militias” that kill indiscriminately and impress their young men to service.

“Last Resort” (ABC): Another new show, this one is about a world on the verge of nuclear war, one threatening to become a post-apocalyptic world. A new world war is being foisted on the country unawares by nefarious forces inside the U.S. Government that go rogue by trying to force a U.S. submarine to fire nuclear missiles on Pakistan. The good guys in the boat refuse these improper orders and are branded outlaws and traitors. As the rest of the world races toward nuclear Armageddon, the crew of the nuclear-armed sub tries to make sense of all the chaos of a world gone mad.

That isn’t all. There are at least two more shows in production that will debut next year.

“The Hundred” (CW): This one will be about a post-apocalyptic world of kids forced to repopulate a dead earth.

“Defiance” (SyFy): This is another show about a post-apocalyptic world after an alien attack.

Do you sense a post-apocalyptic theme? How’s that hope-n-change going for you?

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  • AndrewX

    You know what show I find genuinely interesting but deeply unsettling? ‘Life After People’. I mean, I’m sure any of its producers would correctly say ‘Oh, we don’t WANT this scenario… we’re just kinda hypothesizing”, etc etc. But y’know….

    The entire show is about decay – and about the reversal of literally everything… EVERYTHING… the human race has worked toward for, oh, 20,000 years or so.

    It is an interesting show. But I always felt there was something deeper to it philosophically that unnerved me big time. Your post here, I think, really puts a finger on it.

    • herddog505

      Agree on “Life After Humans”. I found the concept itself to be creepy.

      Perhaps Hollywood can make other series:

      “Life After Mom and Dad Die”

      “Life After Being Diagnosed With Incurable Disease”

      “Life After Being Stranded in the Desert and Running Out of Water”

      • Commander_Chico_Cognoscente

        I love that show, it’s a good reminder that all things pass. Memento mori. People were once more forthright about death. The skulls on colonial tombstones are a blunt statement. Humans will be extinct one day. It might be a long time from now, but still . . .

        I like “Falling Skies,” too.

        Warner, good post!

        • herddog505

          If I want to be reminded that all things come to an end, I’ll look at photos of myself when I was younger, thinner, and had more hair and less gray!

  • Sky__Captain

    I think this is just the latest fad of programming by the unimaginative Hollywood producers.

    IIRC, the big thing in 2001 was the reality programs. After 9/11, game shows such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was a huge hit, largely because everyone realized that sometimes reality bites.

  • retired.military

    Fringe was good the first 2 seasons or so. When they they put Peter in the Alternate universe and it became the real one it sucked and has continued to go downhill. I am glad it is ending.

    Walking dead – I happen to like zombie fiction and think it is very good.

    Last resort – Will last 2 seasons at the most. Decent concept for a season but not much more.

    Watching revolution but the main precept is so far fetched that it wont last more than a season or 2.

    Falling skies – LIke the show and hope it sticks around a while.

    Havent heard of the hundred or defiance. Will give them a watch.

    Couldnt stand to watch life after people. Acting sucked LOL.

  • JWH

    And in 1979, Stephen King wrote The Stand. Evil, yet sexy, robots wiped out humanity in 2003 in Battlestar Galactica. The entire world except a small town was nuked in 2006 in Jericho.

    Apocalyptic fiction has been with us in every generation. I think WTH is leaping at anecdotal straws here.

    • herddog505

      You have a point, but I think that it’s a question of volume. The ’70s – a damned depressing era – brought us “Logan’s Run”, “The Omega Man”, “The Stand”, etc. Compare this to the ’60s and the ’50s: it seems to me that those decades were pretty short on apocalyptic fiction. Yes, the ’50s featured lots of monster / alien invasion movies, but the Earthmen almost triumphed.

      It would be of some interest from a pop psychology standpoint to try to track / correlate popular fiction by decade; I suspect that one would find a correlation between popular fiction and the events / mood.

      • retired.military

        Actually the 50s and 60s you had things like forbidden planet, the day the world ended, it came from a million miles from earth, and a whole host of other shows as well. Plenty of apocalyptic stuff during those decades.

        • herddog505

          I think that those are not apocalyptic as, despite the destruction and carnage wrought by the monster or the UFO’s, mankind triumphed and the viewer was left with the idea that life would go on (more or less) as it had before. To my mind, the overarching themes of pop fiction in the ’50s were cautionary and escapist. The “cautionary” tales such as warned of the problems presented by The Bomb, either due to its awesome power and potential to kill us all (“Forbidden Planet”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “On the Beach”) or the Red Menace and the need to be watchful for threats – perhaps internal – to our way of life (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “It Came From Another World”).

          The escapist, of course, were all the westerns that harked back to a simpler time when the Good Guys wore white hats, the Bad Guys wore black hats, and the Good Guys always won due to their physical courage and moral superiority.

      • JWH

        Perhaps some popular-culture PhD. candidate is working on a dissertation on this very thing.

      • Commander_Chico_Cognoscente

        Soylent Green (1973) took place in 2022. Seemed like a long time away when I saw the movie in a theater.

        For real-world scary The Day After (1983) is pretty good.

    • JWH

      And lest I forget, the literally apocalyptic Left Behind novels, which began publication in 1995.

  • GarandFan

    The lemmings need something to keep them amused.

  • jim_m
  • Haven’t watched any episodes of ‘Revolution’ yet – looks like an interesting premise. Makes me wonder, however, how long it’d take to get BACK to about an 1880s level of tech, if everything we had fell apart…

  • lasveraneras

    Yeah, we no longer live in an Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver world. Since we are approaching the estimated $80+ trillion total global debt cliff and a shrinking developed world fertility rate – from what is already below replacement levels – the future does not look rosy. And most people sense, even if they don’t know the details, that things may very well get worse long before they get better.

    If you want an actual – not SciFi-ed up – sense of what is bubbling under the surface these days take a look at this youtube video

    Declaration of War by French youth against their Baby Boomer overlords. Powerful stuff. Is it really indicative of coming civil, if not international, conflict or just a one-off rant? We shall see.

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  • WadeWWilson87

    I find this very interesting, but I think that this list is
    a very small sample size. I think a lot of people have always been intrigued by
    post-apocalyptic stories; we just live in a world where they are brought to
    life much easier than, say, twenty years ago. I’ve always been a sucker for
    sci-fi; most of my friends that work with me at DISH have a lot of these shows
    on their watch-lists, too. Personally, I’ll have to catch most of these shows during
    my sweatpants and DVR days. I’m just glad that I have a Hopper, and it has
    enough memory to hold every show I currently watch. Do you think that Abrams
    will deploy too many mysteries with Revolution? I’m excited for the final
    season of Fringe; they are closing it up before it becomes too watered down—a very
    smart move that most shows of today aren’t capable of.