'The Lottery': TV Review

The dystopian series has a promising premise, despite the premiere's muddled logic and lack of world-building.

With its dystopian future setting, "The Lottery" shows a new, more sci-fi side to Lifetime's lineup of original series.

Timothy Sexton, who helped adapt the P.D. James novel The Children of Men for Alfonso Cuaron's 2006 film, is apparently not finished with the subject of a future global fertility crisis. In his series The Lottery, premiering on Lifetime, the subject is again explored, although through a slightly different perspective. The world is not falling apart, only confused. And it's not one woman who provides a miracle birth, but 100.

The Lottery's world is very different from that of Children of Men. Governments have not fallen, people are not at war, and (unlike in HBO's current dystopian series The Leftovers), there are no cults that have formed in the wake of disaster, and no consideration yet of faith. Women are just trying to get pregnant any way they can, be it from carefully chosen one-night stands (with men who are profiled for testosterone), unproven fertility drugs, or sex with men like Kyle Walker (Michael Graziadei), the father of one of the last six children ever to be born.

But in 2025, six years after those last children were conceived, Dr. Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton) and her team at the Embryogenesis lab have finally been able to successfully and miraculously engineer 100 fertilized embryos. Naturally, the U.S. government storms in (in the form of Fertility Commission Chairman Darius Hayes, played by Martin Donovan) and wants to take over.

The main struggles set up in the series' premiere center on control and fear. When Hayes tells Dr. Lennon that the embryos will not be returned to the women who donated those eggs (because they signed away their rights), her resistance gets her fired, and her desperate attempt to warn one of the donors ends in violence. The same is true for Kyle, who moonlights as a sperm donor, then misses a call from his sick son, who is subsequently taken away from him by the state under the guise of child protection. 

The government is most certainly the Big Bad of The Lottery, as it would rather make successful donors enemies of the state than focus on the fate of humanity. Hayes, for instance, suggests that the embryos be controlled by the military, and their success kept a secret. But a quietly developing story regarding the White House chief of staff, Vanessa Keller (Athena Karkanis), shows that not everyone there agrees with Hayes' authoritarian ideals. Her idea to share the news with the nation also leads to the lottery of the title, where women will be chosen at random to act as surrogates for the developing embryos.

The Lottery, whose first season will run for 10 episodes, is a very different kind of series for Lifetime. Though it features a female lead, and focuses on a women's issue, it doesn't feel particularly like a show geared toward women. It's too early to tell how The Lottery will play out as the many stories begin to connect (though there are already a few teasers in the first hour about how some will intersect), and whether it will go deeper with its world-building. Its pilot was a solid start, although, despite the intriguing premise, the episode also raised a greater number of questions — more about logic than the show's mythology — than it answered. The Lottery has promise, and is a striking change of pace for Lifetime. But until more is known, it remains a gamble.