The Tribe is a television series created as a joint venture between a New Zealand television studio, Cloud 9 and Britain's Channel 51. The premise is a simple one: the adults have been wiped out by a virus, leaving the children to fend for themselves, form a new society, and find an antidote before they grow old enough to be susceptible themselves. Cue children running around with silly clothes and sillier face paint, finding time in-between moaning about the usual teenage (or pre-teen) traumas to carve out a new world.
The action centres around one particular tribe - as the new, family-like gangs of children have taken to labelling themselves - the Mall Rats, so called because they inhabit the city's shopping mall.
The brainchild of Raymond Thompson, The Tribe aims to portray a rich world, where children struggle to get along in an environment that is dark, dangerous, but ultimately filled with people just trying to survive the best they can. While the epidemic has occurred recently enough that the children still remember how the world was before, and have not totally abandoned the lessons learnt from that time, the way it is constructed obviously places the children in situations in which they would not otherwise find themselves. The struggles they face range from the contemporary (puberty, bulimia, sex), to the stone-age (finding food and shelter), to the futuristic (discovering just what caused the virus that killed their parents), to the just plain weird (what to do when a strange cult worshipping your baby takes over the world). While the difficulties they face may often be recognisable, The Tribe never preaches, and the responses they have to problems often have more to do with human nature and a survival instinct than any deep sense of morality.
The series begins soon (though we never know just how soon) after the arrival of the virus. It appears that the virus took over very quickly, taking the government of the time by surprise, and by the time the action starts the adults have all (we must assume) died. The only glimpses of the adults we get are in a brief flashback of Trudy's, and the evacuation message read by the newsreader in the opening credits. We soon discover a world of fear, violence, incomprehension and savagery.
The first series deals principally with the struggle to create a new society - first at the tribal level, with the formation of the Mall Rats, and next at a city-wide level, with the first tribal gathering at which the different tribes that have arisen share their new cultures, skills and needs, and attempt to stake out their brave new world. Babies are born; people grow ill, and sometimes get better; tribes are formed, and destroyed; wars are declared; and, just occasionally, peace breaks out. By the end of the series, however, the biggest enemy of the children - the virus that killed their parents - takes centre stage, and the race is on to find a cure before they all grow old enough to be susceptible.
In the second series, it seems to be looking up for all the tribes, and slowly a new society seems to be taking shape. Trade is happening between the tribes, with a new currency established (led, of course, by our intrepid Mall Rats). There is a (mostly) unbiased newspaper established, and even a fair court is created: on the whole things seem to be settling down.
However, just when everything seems to be going swell (especially for the Mall Rats who appear to have fallen on their feet), a new threat arrives in the form of the sinister, religious Chosen. Following the Guardian, the Chosen seem to have an unstoppable army of brainwashed followers, and soon they have taken over the whole city.
Series three sees the struggle to overthrow the Chosen continue, and the kids trying to come to terms with what is happening. The lure of a regimented, comprehensive system seems attractive to many, and the question of whether the Chosen have the right idea, just the wrong way of doing things plays an important part in the series. Justice, too, and how one treats one's oppressors if the tables ever turn, and how to continue living and let go of the past are central themes of this series.
If you weren't already convinced of the makers' insanity, the fourth series is sure to leave you with no doubts. It brings a new tribe, the Technos, who (literally) fly in armed with an impressive technological capability, including medicine, wristband mounted zappers, and advanced virtual reality gear. Seemingly intent upon enslaving the whole city, the Technos quickly assert their indisputable upper hand, and it soon becomes clear that overcoming the latest threat won't be an easy task for our band of merry children.
The makers of The Tribe have gone out of the way not to specify where the action of the series takes place. Often this fails horribly - the cast often either end up sounding like they are trying to put on American accents but just can't manage it, or fail completely to hide their New Zealand accents - but it's all part of the rough-around-the-edges fun that is the show. Sometimes, this ends up being simply muddled - in the first series notes in Pounds Sterling are seen, though later they get around this by inventing and forging their own new currency, conveniently forgetting that the coinage that had been around before the disaster probably hasn't been destroyed quite yet.
While they never refer to places by name (or only by tribe-names like 'Eagle Mountain'), often the stunning scenery that forms the backdrop to the show reminds you of where it is filmed, and makes it hard to allow your imagination fully to take hold.
The action occurs in and around an unnamed city (it is, in fact, filmed in Wellington). The city is fairly desolate, empty, and dirty. There are seemingly everlasting trash-can fires, and stray cats that suspiciously never seem to wander far from a particular kerb. It isn't clear how large the city is supposed to be, but it is small enough to leave fairly swiftly on foot, and large enough that it fills the view looking back from the hills around.
The set for the Phoenix Mall, created specifically for the show, was (perhaps still is) the biggest in the southern hemisphere. Early in the first series the majority of the central characters take refuge in the mall, and, well, never leave. Decked out with a number of security devices to protect its entrance by its previously sole occupant, Jack, the mall seems to be one of the safest places to be in the city, even for our (largely) peace-loving heroes.
Shades of Grey
One of the great strengths of the show is that, while some of the characters seem whiter-than-white, always seeking to do the morally right thing, the world of The Tribe is by no means inhabited by clearly defined heroes and villains, but confused, hormonal, and ultimately fickle kids. While allegiances change, friends become enemies, and we realise that those oppressing the Mall Rats may be doing so with the best of intentions, in the end we have to admit that is just what people are like.
The Main Tribes
It is never made clear just how many tribes (or, indeed, children) there are about, but presumably within the city itself there are at least dozens, maybe hundreds of different tribes. While there are many smaller parts for characters with no clear affiliation to a particular tribe, the majority of regular characters belong to a small number of named tribes. While children do leave tribes, or change their support from one to another, this is a rare enough occurrence to be notable and generally a very serious thing.
The Mall Rats
Pacifistic, democratic, and aggravatingly goody-goody, the Mall Rats formed as a reaction to the chaos on the streets of the city. Hoping to protect themselves from the other Tribes which had made many areas of the city unsafe for all but the meanest of children, they formed their own tribe in the hope of creating a new, better society, ruled by ethical principles, rather than might, for the benefit of all. In short, they were the fat and the nerdy kids who decided to stand up to the bullies!
Otherwise known as the Locos. Led by Zoot and Ebony, the Locusts are the book-burning anarchists that dominate the city in the first series. While the Mall Rats are busily trying to form a whole new world, the Locusts are busy chanting 'Power and Chaos!' and terrorising the streets. Getting around in style, driving around in a beaten-up car (with Zoot and Ebony sticking out through the sun-roof), escorted by their roller-blading wouldn't-fit-in-the-car excess of devotees, this Tribe strikes fear into the hearts of any kids that hear their sirens approaching.
Sworn enemies of the Locusts, when The Demon-Dogs aren't busy fighting Zoot, Ebony and their gang, they can most often be found lazing about in a warehouse, drunk. With far less organisation or direction than the Locos, The Demon-Dogs present slightly less of a threat to the city in general, but you still certainly wouldn't want to run into a member of this tribe in a dark alley late at night!
The Chosen, led by the charismatic, enigmatic, autocratic Guardian, are a fundamentalist religious tribe/cult, who worship Zoot whom they have elevated to the rank of god. As persuasive as the Scientologists, they soon count a substantial portion of the city as followers. Efficient, ambitious and with a narrow, unwavering focus, they soon establish detailed plans for how the city should be run. In a way, they too are after a peace, of sorts, but it is clear that the wishes of those benefitting from such a pax-electorum are not going to be of interest to the people supplying it.
The Mosquitoes is an all-female, almost feminist tribe. Led by Moz, their strong - in terms of brawn as well as will - leader, they wear lots of black and tea-strainers arranged as headwear intended to resemble bug-eyes. In the end, however, Moz is out for herself, and the tribe matters only so long as it is opening avenues of power for her: any other glimpses of influence, and she'll forget about them before you can say 'Bzz bzz'.
The Eco Tribe
Otherwise known as the Gaians. Hidden away, deep in the forest, the Eco Tribe have gone back to nature in response the collapse of civilisation. Experts in sneaking around undetected, it is said that nobody finds the Eco Tribe without them wanting to. Generally able to take care of themselves, through necessity, they are a force to be reckoned with, and a useful ally, if they can be persuaded that something needs fighting for, and is worth abandoning their security and secrecy for.
While the Technos vehemently deny that they are a tribe, disdaining what they see as a childish rabble's game, their structure, while perhaps more rigid, is very similar to that of a tribe. They wear skin-tight uniforms, and a face-paint 'T' insignia, that while more regulated than the war-paint worn by other tribes, is just as distinctive as those of other Tribes, and as clearly marks them out as a member of the tribe as, for example, the Mosquitoes' wire head-dresses.
An album of music from The Tribe has been released on CD. In fact, all the music featured (including the theme) were composed specially for the show, and sung by the cast. Hits range from the uplifting, ethnic tones of 'Abe Messiah' to the more poppy 'Beep Beep' to the sentimental, inspirational 'The Dream Must Stay Alive'.
The Tribe has a worldwide following, with a solid and largely loyal fanbase in many countries around the globe - particularly the UK, New Zealand, Germany and the US. Interestingly, the first series of 'that weird show with Australian children running around with silly make-up' began its first showing on Australian television in summer 2002, roughly three years after its first showing in the UK.
Tours and Gatherings
There have been a number of very successful 'Tribe Tours' to promote the series, with members of the cast visiting European countries and making appearances (and performing songs from the album) in shopping malls. There have also been 'Tribal Gatherings' where fans come dressed in the style of Tribe characters (roughly: anything goes), watch endless marathons of the show, and compare their Tribe knowledge with trivia quizzes.
The Tribe has an expansive and definitive fan-site with guides to the show, plot synopses, cast interviews, discussions of issues raised by the show, a fan club, store, and even fairly regular live chats with members of the cast. The site's bulletin boards are the meeting place for the shows many fans worldwide, and the fans that frequent it can answer just about any question a new devotee might have about the show. It represents a true community of disparate individuals, brought together by their love of an innovative, creative, thought-provoking and sublimely ridiculous television programme!
The Main Characters
The main characters of the show are numerous and ever-changing. Discussion and descriptions of them can be found in 'The Tribe' - the Main Characters entry.