The Tribe: Series One, Part Two (DVD)

Look into the future…

One of the hottest genres (or subgenres, or sub-subgenres, or whatever) in young adult entertainment these days is the dystopia—as seen in the exhaustingly popular The Hunger Games and other movies/books like it. Dystopia for young adults is all about trying to grow up in a future where everything’s gone to crap. One reason for this popularity is that it’s the zeitgeist. Young folks are growing up amid constant news of terrorism, a collapsed economy, and the various other horrors of daily life. It’s easy to make the case that the world really is ending. The second reason is metaphor. When Lil’ Suzy likes a boy, but that boy starts dating a junior varsity cheerleader instead, it sure as hell feels like the end of the world for Lil’ Suzy.

With that latter reason in mind, it’s clear that connecting the dots from adolescence to dystopia is nothing new. This is the best evidenced The Tribe, an oddball 1999 New Zealand/British TV series that somehow found its way onto American cable TV in the early 2000s. The combo of “foreign,” “weird,” and “obscure” means of course it has a cult following today.

In the future, a virus has killed off all the adults, and only children and adolescents are immune. The young survivors have split off into various tribes. Our heroes are the Mall Rats, so named because they’ve taken refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. They worry about the dwindling food supply, threats of violence from other tribes, and whether the virus will return. They also have to deal with hormonal romantic entanglements, eating disorders, and other typical teen crises.

For first-time viewers, the first thing they’ll notice is not the sci-fi or the metaphorical aspects of the show, but the clothes, hair, and makeup, which are beyond absurd: Garish fashion, ridiculous face painting, and enough hair dye mishaps to shock even the most ardent anime fans. The idea is that with no adults around, the kids are free to wear whatever they want. I’m not sure “no adults” immediately translates to “let’s all look like clowns,” but that’s part of the style of the series, and why it’s a cult show today.

If you can somehow get your mind around the laughable fashions, you’ll see that The Tribe occasionally does some interesting things. The show is at its best when its being weird. The villains are the Locos, led by Ebony (Meryl Cassie), who resort to violence and slavery to survive. Anyone not part of a tribe, it seems, is in jeopardy of being abducted and turned into a slave. Pretty harsh stuff for a kids show, and yet the Mall Rats’ encounters with the Locos are when the show gets really crazy, which is good. The second half of this volume goes farther into sci-fi territory, with fears that the virus will return, as our heroes trek to a secret lab in search of a cure. Also, sex. In this volume, resident tough guy Lex (Caleb Ross) marries his girlfriend Zandra (Amy Morrison). That’s right, two underage kids get married. It almost gets to the point where it might be considered edgy. The show’s creators very carefully dance around the question of whether they’re screwing like crazy. It’s certainly hinted at, but nothing is shown on screen other than the occasional kiss. (To be fair, my research shows that teen pregnancy is an issue in other seasons, but as far as this volume goes, it sticks to the chaste-but-not-really-chaste thing.)

That leads us into the weaker half of the series, the teen melodrama. A lot of the drama has to do with the many romantic entanglements among the characters. There are a few concurrent cases where Character-A and Character-B are in love, but Character-C is in love with Character-B as well. And…drama! This leads to rivalries, heartbreak, and agonizing over whether to leave the tribe or stick together. A huge amount of screen time is devoted to Salene (Victoria Spence) and her struggles with bulimia. Sure, it’s an important issue and all, but it’s dealt with in such a heavy-handed way that you’ll long for the subtle deftness of those old ABC After School Specials. Worse, the eating disorder is Salene’s only character trait. The audience knows nothing about her except that she’s “the bulimia girl” and that’s pretty much horrible.

This volume two release contains the second half of the first season, episodes 27 through 52, spread out over four discs. Video quality is good, considering the age, low budget and obscurity of the series. Colors are bright and vivid, and flesh tones are natural. The sound is merely adequate, but it does the job. (Side note: I guess the music budget wasn’t much, because the only score is the instrumental version of the horrifyingly bland theme song repeated over and over.) The only extra is a “vintage” featurette, made during the show’s production.

The packaging dares compare The Tribe to Mad Max. This is not Mad Max. It’s not even Hell Comes to Frogtown. It has some interesting moments, but 26 episodes will be a long haul for casual viewers. If you loved watching the show way back when, then by all means pick it up. If not, it’s not worth a purchase. Put it in your rental queue if curious.

The Verdict

For fans only.

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