When Fox passed on a full series pick-up of the show Delirium, based on the YA dystopian trilogy by best-seller Lauren Oliver, it wasn’t exactly a shock. Many had commented from the offset that the project felt like an ill fit for the network and would probably be better suited to somewhere like the CW or ABC Family due to its appeal to the younger demographic. While most rejected pilots never see the light of day, leaving TV fans to forever wonder of the lost potential, Hulu decided to put this particular pilot on its website for all to see. While there’s still basically no chance of a series pick-up, despite some enthusiastic fan driven campaigns on social media, it’s nothing if not interesting to see the fruits of many people’s labour and decide if Fox made the right idea.
From the opening lines, Delirium makes no sense. High concepts are common on genre fiction and have proven popular in the recent post-Hunger Games splurge of dystopian YA. Here, the story focuses on a world where love has been declared a disease, one that all citizens must be cured of once they reach the age of 18. The concept of love being a plague upon our households is also not new and it has its romantic appeal, but to make it the foundation of the world-building is a mistake.
Immediately, as was also the case in the book, it falls apart. Why is love considered a disease? How did this scientific discovery happen? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to ‘cure’ people of love from birth or at least infancy instead of waiting until the age of 18? Wouldn’t raising children in loveless households create more problems than solutions? If boys and girls are segregated in order to prevent the deliria of love then are we to assume homosexuality has been banned, or has it just been casually omitted from this world as it has been from so many stories like this? What about platonic love or love for one’s occupation or the myriads of emotions connected to love? How about sex? Or religion, since one of the key parts of Christianity is God is love? It would be foolish to expect all such questions to be answered in a pilot, but it would also be silly for the writer and director to assume the audience will just roll with this.
Even in a society with no grounding in realism would have trouble pulling this off, yet the world of Lena Holloway (played by Emma Roberts with the charisma and skill of Styrofoam) is essentially identical to our own. The only things that make it seem in any way different are a few banners around the Capitol Building with lazy slogans and the black and white clothing of the characters, not the subtlest of metaphors. A lack of budget may have been the problem here but when shows like Hannibal and Orphan Black are creating visual miracles on shoe-string budgets, it’s hard to feel any sympathy.
Bad science-fiction can easily be distinguished by its habit of making its characters deliberately stupid in order to compensate for weak world building. Everyone from the police to the elected officials in charge of these policies utterly fails to fix the simplest of problems, while each character who spouts lazily written exposition only creates more questions than they actually answer.
The central concept is one that begs for some kind of romantic melodrama, or at least something to give the audience a reason to root for love beyond it being a basic human emotion. Lena, separate of a turgid performance by Roberts, is a bland protagonist with the standard tragic back-story who has no distinguishing characteristics beyond wanting more from her life. Indeed, the only scene where she exhibits a modicum of personality is when she sneers over her allotted choice for life partner, because he’s nerdy in appearance and likes maths. The supporting cast are essentially indecipherable from one another, verging from bland love interest (totally void of chemistry with Roberts, yet we’re expected to believe their passionate love after less than a month is one for the ages), to bland politician’s son to bland other politician’s son. Despite the fact that this 43 minute pilot is the entire first book in the series, there’s still not enough plot to go round and many scenes drag, a disappointing contrast from the book’s tight structure (one of its few saving graces).
Apparently Fox decided to pick up Sleepy Hollow instead of Delirium and it’s not hard to see why. This pilot was devoid of anything gripping or emotionally resonant, made in a pedestrian manner with actors who seem to think turning up is all that was expected of them, an utterly nonsensical central concept and ultimately exemplifies mediocrity. If Delirium had been picked up, it’s hard to imagine it lasting a full season.
Now, if only we could get our hands on the ditched pilots of The Selection…