Marley Shelton stars in the new drama series "The Lottery,"...

Marley Shelton stars in the new drama series "The Lottery," premiering Sunday, July 20, at 10 p.m. EST on Lifetime. Credit: Lifetime / James Dittiger

THE SHOW "The Lottery"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on Lifetime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Any minute now, the world's women stop having babies. Reasons unknown. By 10 years in, it's a full-blown crisis. An all-encompassing U.S. Fertility Commission winks at "bar beds" for conception attempts, compels mandatory fertility testing, and keeps a scary-close eye on those precious "last six" kids birthed in 2019.

If this dystopian future echoes the 2006 film "Children of Men," that's because Timothy J. Sexton wrote them both. But "The Lottery" is a TV series, affording more space to explore the crisis' human impact and its political gameplay.

Lifetime knows how to deliver the former. What about the latter? Politics fuels the conflict that keeps the drama tense. Government officials play both villain (Martin Donovan's wide-reaching fertility czar) and, seemingly, heroine. It's the president's chief of staff (Athena Karkanis, "Low Winter Sun") who envisions a lottery after a research lab finds a way to create 100 viable embryos: "Let every woman out there feel like she has the chance to hit the jackpot . . . a shot at something great."

That shot seems to elude the research lab chief (Marley Shelton, CBS' "Eleventh Hour"), when she's summarily dismissed by Mr. Fertility Despot, but of course Lifetime women don't play that. The canny doctor connives around his game, even as it proves lethal. A kindred rebel arises in an everyday-dude single father (Michael Graziadei, "The Young and the Restless"), after his one-of-the-last-six son draws disturbing government interest.

MY SAY Protect the kids, and make some more. Is that a Lifetime bull's-eye or what? "The Lottery" adds power trips, market forces, espionage and sheer human desperation on an end-of-world scale. The pilot hour directed by ace show-starter Danny Cannon ("CSI," "Alcatraz," "Gotham") is not your auntie's Lifetime show. Which means it might be yours and your brother's -- a broad attraction for a channel with its own desperate desire to shed that women-in-jeopardy tag.

Just so it doesn't pick up other labels. Like, say, conspiracy yarn. How many dramas get lost in their own mysteries of overarching malevolence? "The Lottery," with otherwise sage setup and promising performances, merits its own shot at something great.

BOTTOM LINE It could just beat the odds.


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