What if Lord of the Flies was originally written as an ABC Afterschool Special and Lady Gaga was hired to do the makeup? It would have looked just like The Tribe.
Hailing from New Zealand, The Tribe is an unusual creation. It's a post-apocalyptic teen drama/ soap opera, two genres that I wouldn't think would meld together very well, and for the most part they don't. Since it's aiming for a younger, mainly female, audience a lot of the staples from end-of-the-world fiction are thrown out the window (there's almost no violence or even weapons for example) and that's replaced with love triangles and outlandish makeup. The program was on the air every week for five straight years starting in 1999 with no breaks. That's 260 episodes, which is pretty impressive. So it's obvious that the show has a following, and it does get some things right. Not widely seen in the US, Shout! Factory has now made the first half of the premier season available to viewers in North America.
The show starts roughly 9 to 12 months after a deadly disease has wiped out all of the adults in the world (and though it's not explicitly stated in the show, apparently all younger people who are halfway intelligent). Like in Lord of the Flies, the children are left to fend for themselves and soon turn feral. In at least one large (unnamed) city, they've divided into two warring tribes, the Locos and the Demon Dogs. Trapped in the middle is a pair of kids in their upper teens, Amber and the slightly younger Dal. They're trying to get out of the city and head for the countryside where Del has the excellent idea of starting a farm and trying to grown his own food.
They're hiding from the Locos, who drive around the city in a police car hunting for any stray survivors. They never seem to find many however, because they do this with the car's siren wailing (you'd think that'd get old after about 10 minutes) and that warns off loners like Amber and Dal. Cloe, one the other hand, an 8 or 9 year old girl, has managed to survive this long by totally ignoring the warning signs that the bad guys give, like loud police sirens, and stands in the middle of the street petting a cat she's found as the Locos get near. Lucky for her Amber sees her danger and pulls her under cover at the last moment. the three of them then scamper off to a playground where Cloe's friends, Patsy and her deaf brother Paul, along with the teen who has been watching them (though not very well, obviously), Salene, are playing.
The younger group is tired and hunger, and Amber offers to share what little food she and Dal have. Before they can feast though, wannabe thug Lex, his dim-witted side kick Ryan, and junior mol Zandra arrive and are going to steal all of the food, leaving the group to starve. Only the well-timed entrance of the Locos and the chaos/ amazing coincidences that follow, allows everyone to escape.
Amber and the kids end up in an abandoned shopping mall, and where they regroup and take stock of their situation. Just as they're about to break out the grub however, Lex and his two cohorts show up and once again (imagine the odds!) threaten the other group with bodily harm if they don't turn over all of their food. Luckily Lexx et al are standing in just the right spot so that Jack, the heretofore unseen kid who lives in the mall, can trap the nogoodniks between two sets of security gates with deus ex machina-like timing. (Jack could apparently secure all of the main entrances, but just chose not to. Maybe he wanted the other tribes to loot all of his stuff.)
Though there are no locks on the gates, Lex's trio doesn't think of trying to lift them and so they're stuck. Though he promises, repeatedly, to get even with Amber and the others they decide he's probably a decent chap deep down and not only let him out, but offer to let him join their group.
So, while Dal's idea of moving to the country and farming is practical, logical, and sensible, Amber decides that the little kids will never be able to make it out of the city (though that seems to be simplicity itself later in this season). She decides that everyone should move into the mall with Jack. Like I said earlier, all of the smart people have apparently died.
They form their own tribe, the Mall Rats, and it's soon joined by Bray, a hot, mysterious, guy and a pregnant girl he brings with him, Trudy. While Bray is confident and resourceful, Trudy is just the opposite. She's needy and whiny and the only reason she's allowed in the mall is because she is very pregnant. But is the baby Bray's?? Later the group is joined by Tai-san, a very spiritual young lady, and KC a talented thief.
The plots tend to revolve around the characters than their situation, which is more of a backdrop. Yeah, they do face some problems like a water shortage and the ever present threat of being attacked by the Locos, but the main focus is on how the group gets along. It is a teen drama after all. At first the near constant conflict between Amber and Lex is the focus, but soon love triangles pop up all over and they take center stage. Trudy loves Bray, but while he wants to protect her, he doesn't love her. Salene falls for Bray too, and he might like her, but Trudy starts to hate Salene and accuses her of trying to steal her baby. Then Dal starts to like Trudy even though everyone's tired of her whining and drama. Of course Zandra won't sleep with Lex (since she's sure he'll loose interest once he gets what he wants) so he starts putting the moves on Tai-san who's more open and relaxed about sex but that just gets Zandra angry at both her and Lex while Ryan quietly pines for the girl that loves his best friend.
The show makes several missteps, most right at the beginning, and it's hard to get past some of those. It feels like the writers struggled with how to start things off, so they just started with everyone dead, the bodies all gone, civilization destroyed, and the main tribes already fighting for control. That may teleport the show to the point where the plot starts to develop, but it also raises a lot of questions. How did the youngest kids survive? Where have Amber and Dal been all this time? Why didn't they leave sooner? And why are there fires constantly burning in the streets through the entire season?
Okay, I can ignore that. A post-apocalyptic story should take some effort to think logically about the circumstances that the characters are in, and this show really doesn't. There are no weapons for instance. No guns. No knives. They show some people carrying walking sticks, but that's about it. (At one point someone points a plastic knife at a friend in a menacing manner, but that's about it.) You'd think in a dangerous society someone would think to pick up a baseball bat or a length of pipe, but apparently not. Food isn't really a big issue either. Everyone complains about being hungry, but the ration canned food and it never seems to run out. At one point someone scavenges a head of lettuce from the city too. After a year? Really?
A lot of this has to do with the intended audience. You can't have a show with gun battles and food riots and expect 11-15 year old girls to tune in. That's why there's so little violence in what should be a very violent place. All of the nasty stuff is implied, and even that is very slight. At the beginning of one episode a Demon Dog is captured by the Locos and they show him being tied to a post while his captors dance around him. He doesn't look scared, just bored.
Then there's the makeup. In order to bring in the target demographic someone decided that everyone should paint their faces with outlandish makeup, both the boys and girls. And wear funky hair styles. And change both of them frequently. Apparently after all the adults die canned food will be in short supply but Revlon products will be very plentiful. (So plentiful in fact they even put it on their dog.)
I'm being a bit too harsh on the show. It does have some good moments and generally improves as it goes on. The teen-drama aspect, taken by itself, is pretty good. The characters are developed fairly well with only a couple of notable exceptions (one of whom just disappears against all logic and is never heard from again), and I have to admit that some of the subplots are enjoyable.
I'll also admit that the show must have had a very grueling production schedule. With 52 episodes a year for 5 years, it's a wonder the plots stick together as well as they do. I can also forgive the writers for some clunky dialog and the actors for some less than stellar performances. They couldn't have had a lot of time to rehearse and learn their lines, and they are just kids after all.
The show also gets a lot of points for tackling some mature subjects and not talking down to their audience. Teen pregnancy, sex (and especially the need for birth control), depression, and suicide are all discussed in a responsible but not preachy manner. It's refreshing to see a show that treats teens with respect and realizes that they can appreciate and handle mature themes.
The first half of season one, 26 episodes, arrive on four DVDs housed in a single-width quad case.
The Dolby digital stereo soundtrack is clean, letting the absolutely horrid theme music (a soft rock love ballad that does not fit the mood or theme of the show at all) come though clearly. Why they decided to go with that song, and reuse that one song over and over, I have no idea. There were one or two dropouts, where the audio totally disappears for a split second in one episode, but I'd be willing to bet that it was a problem on the master tapes and in any case a second out of 10 hours worth of content I can live with.
The 1.78:1 widescreen image looks surprisingly good. The colors are solid and the level of detail is fine. There was some minor banding in a couple of places, but nothing major. Overall the show looked better than I was expecting.
Nothing. There are no extras at all. I was pretty disappointed in this. The show is supposed to have a cult following and I'm sure that there's some video extras that could have been included. I would have enjoyed seeing fans talk about the show, because I really don't see why it has a following.
Don't go into this show, as I did, expecting a post-apocalyptic tale of survival. You'll be disappointed. You have to be looking for a teen soap opera. If a cast of semi-interesting characters who don't have to worry about being hassled by their parents are what you're looking for, then this might be up your alley. Just look at the destruction of civilization as a bonus. Even so, best make it a rental.