"The Lottery," a new series premiering Sunday on Lifetime, takes place in the near future — 2025, if you're counting — six years into a global sterility pandemic. (It's more of an omnidemic, actually — no one can get pregnant.)
As in HBO's "The Leftovers," in which 2% of the population vanishes without explanation, the process by which this has occurred is fundamentally (for the moment, at least) uncanny and irrelevant: No one knows why this has happened, though suggestions of pollution and chemical agents float by in an establishing montage of news reports.
It's an interesting idea. Margaret Atwood made it an element in her novel "The Handmaid's Tale," and series creator Timothy J. Sexton helped adapt P.D. James' similarly themed "The Children of Men" for Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film. And it's not unrelated to the world we actually, currently live in: We know that the industrial junk humans release into the air, earth and water for their own comfort and convenience can play havoc with the reproductive processes of all manner of living things.
The science is mush, of course; the point is to get right to the dystopia, a fertility-based fascism. Except for a few sidelong nods — rooms for sex in ordinary cocktail bars, donating sperm a patriotic duty, fertility tests mandatory —- what the world would look like when getting pregnant becomes the highest possible good is not seriously addressed. (How, for instance, would it affect attitudes about adolescent sexuality? Would child kidnapping become common?)
Indeed, the story is less about people without parenthood, facing their slow extinction — that is still way off in the future, like the rising sea levels and desertification we are so good at ignoring — than about what happens when parenthood suddenly becomes a possibility again: 100 embryos have been successfully created in a lab, spawning the titular contest for women to carry them and setting into play the conspiracy thriller that "The Lottery" was actually engineered to carry.
The pilot is smack dab in the middle of all right. The action is active, the suspense tense, the actors game. It seems a little silly at times, but meet it halfway and the hour passes painlessly.
The main characters are all Important People: The independent (and beautiful) scientist who fertilized the eggs (Marley Shelton); the president of the United States (Yul Vazquez), convinced to use them to bolster his low numbers in a looming election; the ambitious chief of staff (Athena Karkanis) who convinces him to do it; the fertility czar (Martin Donovan, smooth and creepy) pursuing his own agenda.
Even the designated Regular Joe (Michael Graziadei) is the single (and handsome) father of one of the last six 6-year-olds on Earth. You'd think this fact alone would make him famous, well off and eligible, but he's too much of a renegade for that. It seems a fair bet that his renegade and Shelton's will team up eventually. Any takers?
When: 10 p.m. Sundays (also airs 11 p.m. Monday)
Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)