Monday, May 11, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Post-Apocalypse

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) premieres this weekend, and the longevity of that film franchise is just one indication of our continuing fascination with the end of the world...or more specifically, what comes AFTER the end of the world.

What happens when our civilization falls?  When our society goes down for the count?

Regarding the possibility of future civilizations sprouting up in the ruins of our own, cult-television has explored quite a few possibilities across the decades.

The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964) featured at least two close-up looks at post-apocalyptic worlds. 

In "Time Enough at Last," book-worm Burgess Meredith survived nuclear disaster in a bank vault, and found a ruined, empty world when he came out.  

Another episode, "The Old Man in the Cave" involved a group of nuclear war survivors who were tended to by a kindly machine, a computer, until a band of roving savages, led by James Coburn, overturned the apple cart.

On The Outer Limits (1962 - 1964), an episode titled "The Man Who Was Never Born" starred Martin Landau as Andro, a disfigured creature who was one of the last survivors of the human race. 

In this tale, our civilization had been destroyed by the experiments of an ambitious scientist, Bertram Cabot. Andro told his sad story to an out-of-time astronaut who, by traveling through time to the future, could change the past and save our civilization from destruction.

In the early 1970s, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry attempted to depict a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world in a trio of TV-movies: Genesis II, Planet Earth, and Strange New World.

One of the most famous cinematic post-apocalyptic worlds came to television in 1974. The TV adaptation of Planet of the Apes featured a future world, circa 3085 A.D. in which humans had become primitive slaves to a race of intelligent, talking apes.  Ruins of our civilization still existed (and were seen in episodes such as "The Trap,") but the apes assured that none of man's knowledge could come back into the society's common knowledge.

The only post-apocalyptic, live-action Saturday morning series of the 1970s, meanwhile, was Filmation's Ark II (1976). The series involved altruistic scientists driving impressive roving vehicle, as it attempted to re-connect various survivors of an environmental apocalypse.

Across the pond, the British series, Survivors (1975 - 1977) depicted a post-apocalyptic world of another sort.. A plague (again caused by an irresponsible scientist) wiped out most of the civilized world, sending the survivors back to a Dark Age with no electricity, no running water, and no law.

In 1977, Logan's Run -- a TV series based on the film -- was set in the 23rd century.  Survivors of a war now inhabited a City of Domes, and had to face mandatory death at age 30 or flee the city for the wilds outside, in hopes of finding the mythical Sanctuary.

In the mid-1980s, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (1987) was set after the Metal Wars, in 2147 AD, and pit a handful of mankind's survivors against the forces of the A.I., and Lord Dread (David Hemblen).

The X-Files (1993 - 2002) episode "Amor Fati," in the seventh season, featured a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic, post-colonization world, in which the human race was wiped out by aliens.

In 2006, Jericho ran for two seasons on CBS, and involved a town in Kansas that had survived a limited nuclear war, one in which 23 American cities were hit.

The most popular post-apocalyptic series in history, perhaps, is The Walking Dead (2010 - ). In this program, of course, a zombie apocalypse burns through the world, destroying modern civilization, and leaving behind a handful of rag-tag survivors to start anew.

Revolution (2012 - 2014), meanwhile, was a series from Eric Kripke set fifteen years after the electrical grid permanently went down, and post-apocalypse America was separated into several warring states.

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