The Lottery


I once read an article by Hank Stuever, the Washington Post’s television critic, in which he said he typically gives shows three episodes before writing a review. According to him, that gives the actors, writers, and directors some time to settle into the story, and gives viewers some sense of where everything is going. It’s a rule that definitely makes sense – especially considering how much backstory creators are trying to cram into pilot episodes these days – so when I found out about The Lottery, a new show on Lifetime, I decided to give it a few weeks. Though I am still not entirely sure how I feel about the show, I am glad that I waited to share my thoughts on it.

If you aren’t familiar with Lifetime’s latest offering, The Lottery is set in 2025 – five years after the last human birth. No one really knows why women have stopped bearing children, but an American doctor trying to figure it out is able to fertilize 100 human embryos. Once her breakthrough is discovered, the U.S. government gets involved and decides to hold a national lottery to determine who will carry the embryos to term. And, as the show’s site says, the battle for control begins. 

Billed as a “conspiracy thriller,” I was pretty skeptical about the show at first, though that may be due more to the way I found out about it. I was listening to Pandora at work one day and was prompted to either do a sponsor activity – and have no ads for four hours – or go right back to my station. Since I knew the music was going to be needed, I decided to do the activity. While I can’t remember exactly what kinds of questions were asked, I do know that many of them had to do with childbirth and childrearing, and that, ultimately, the whole thing ended up being an ad for the show. In that format, The Lottery came across more like it was pushing an “All women should have babies” agenda, and as someone who is a strong proponent of free will, it rankled my sensibilities.

Having watched three episodes of the show now though, I can say that The Lottery is more a general social commentary with a unique spin. Instead of having the military and intelligence communities working closely together on national security, for example, it’s the military and the Department of Humanity, which has a ridiculous amount of clout and autonomy under U.S. law. To be sure, it is not a perfect analogy, but one can’t help thinking about all of the debates we’ve been having lately about security, privacy, and data collection.

The Lottery has also done a pretty good job of showing the different dynamics that exist within the Beltway, as people at the White House, Department of Humanity, and military all try to out-maneuver each other. Though I like to think Washington isn’t nearly as scandal-plagued as all of today’s hit shows suggest, people have always talked and written about who is and isn’t getting along in the administration. So the animosity is accurate… to an extent.

Though I am still waiting to be hooked on The Lottery, I will admit that there is enough of a “whodunit” factor to keep me coming back to the episodes on my DVR. Since the evil-government-entity-that’s-trying-to-take-over-the-world storyline has been done before, it’s more the scientific part of the plot that I’m intrigued in. Why do women stop bearing children just six years from now? And is it really anything that can be fixed with a medical “cure”?

Who knows, but there are seven episodes to go, and with one character now having the bubonic plague, clearly anything can happen.

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