Commentary: The Tired Genre Behind ‘Station Eleven’

by Frank Martin

Storytelling is tough. It’s even tougher to be original the more stories are told. So it stands to reason that one hundred years from now storytellers are going to have it even rougher than we do now. There’s only so many different plots and characters writers can come up with. So to stand out from the crowd — to be more unique and original — is becoming harder all the time. This becomes even more apparent as stories drift into certain niches and genres. And nowhere is this clearer than in the realm of the post-apocalyptic story.

Stories that come to mind are The Book of Eli, The Road, The Last of Us, and even zombie tales such as The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Zombieland. Although they are all different in their own right, there is a similar thread that’s weaved between them. Certain tropes and cliches and even themes that are explored. It’s one thing when the post-apocalyptic genre was new. Then all of these avenues were fresh and interesting. But as time goes on, the ways in which storytellers can put new spins and twists onto things already explored becomes difficult. And this is the setting to which I was exposed to Station Eleven.

On its own, the story of Station Eleven is nothing new. There is no high concept twist to the post-apocalyptic genre or some deep premise that needs to be explored. Basically, the world ends, and people need to try to survive and deal with that fact. That doesn’t mean the show itself is tired. There are things to set it apart. It has a non-chronological narrative that jumps back and forth in time, exploring how our characters became the way they are and how the world shaped them. It also focuses heavily on the technical art of filmmaking. The direction, design, cinematography, and acting are all top notch. But the story still faces an uphill battle as it tackles standard post-apocalyptic tropes that audiences have seen time and time again. Is it a well made piece of television? Absolutely. It’s certainly enjoyable and entertaining. But it’s a prime example of how stories will only get more difficult in the future as genres need to become more nuanced and unique.

Station Eleven is streaming now on HBOMax.

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