It's 2025, a world without strollers, preschool and Sesame Street. There's no need when the youngest child on Earth is 6 years old and every woman alive has become infertile. Humans are an endangered species.
That's the gut-wrenching premise of Lifetime's provocative new thriller The Lottery. You might call it a prequel to the 2006 movie Children of Men, a spiritual parable set in a violent, childless future. "While they have the same point of departure, it's a .different exploration," explains Timothy J. Sexton, the writer of both projects and an executive producer on the series. "Here, kids are still around and hope has not yet been abandoned."
A sense of anger and fear, however, is growing. "People are going on with their lives, but there's this massive loss hanging over every waking hour," says Martin Donovan, who plays Darius Hayes, a high-level bureaucrat at the powerful U.S. Department of Humanity, tasked with saving mankind.
And thanks to Dr. Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton), whose team has successfully fertilized 100 viable eggs, there just might be a way to restart the human clock. "This monumental breakthrough gives us the two engines of our show," Sexton says. "One is the medical thriller — what happened and can we reverse it? And the other is the political thriller — what do we do with these fertilized embryos? Who gets to play God?"
That third question is answered soon enough when Hayes quickly takes control of the lab and its precious contents. Although he advises President Thomas Westwood (Yul Vazquez) to keep under wraps what could be history's most coveted discovery, political exigency trumps caution. Westwood bites when ambitious chief of staff Vanessa Keller (Athena Karkanis) proposes an idea that will boost Westwood's popularity by offering the nation hope: A lottery to determine which 100 women get to become the mothers of a new generation.
"Everyone has their own agenda," says Shelton. "Alison's is, 'Wait up, guys, you're getting ahead of yourself with this lottery.' She keeps reminding those in power that she hasn't been able to replicate these results and isn't completely sure whether implantations would produce new life."
Still, women in the U.S. rejoice when the lottery is announced. The rest of the world isn't so thrilled with the idea that Americans could control the planet's future. "Some strong international blowback comes with that unilateral decision," says Sexton. Adds Donovan, "Every country wants a share of the embryos and the biotechnology that produced them. It could spark a war."
The Oval Office also begins to take a strong interest in a group of very special kids: the last six to be born naturally. To see if any clues can be found in the DNA of these children, the department seizes a diabetic tot named Elvis (Jesse Filkow) from his devoted single father, Kyle (Michael Graziadei), a recovering alcoholic not above selling his sexual services. "Since he has the youngest child in the world, he comes highly recommended by women's doctors to try to impregnate them," Graziadei says with a laugh.
When father and son escape the government's clutches and go on the run, Alison must track them down because of his potentially viable sperm. "Things get complicated," says Shelton. "Here's this guy who operates out of gut instinct, a protective father bear, while Alison is so different, so cerebral."
Much like the series, which Shelton hopes will leave viewers thinking. "These are very topical issues," she says. "Human rights, ownership of your own body, controlling governments. It's about our own interesting time in terms of the possibilities of science, fertility and evolution."
The Lottery premieres Sunday at 10/9c on Lifetime.
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