TORONTO - Empty playgrounds and amusement parks foreshadow the eerie consequences of a future without children in the opening scenes of Lifetime's newest series "The Lottery." The dystopian thriller follows an unexplained infertility crisis in 2025 that has persisted for six years.
This isn't an inconceivable scenario given recent events such as bee colony collapses and massive starfish die-offs, says actor David Alpay, who plays scientist James Lynch on the show.
"Humans could be next," says the Toronto-born Alpay. "Ten years is a huge amount of time in terms of what can happen chemically or environmentally."
Earlier this week, Simon Fraser University biologist Mark Winston gave similar warnings in an op-ed for the New York Times.
"Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society," Winston wrote.
Alpay, 33, says there is an appetite, especially among younger audiences, to talk about issues like the impact of drastic environmental changes in a contemporary context. He hopes that the "The Lottery," which premieres Sunday on Lifetime, will provide a way into that conversation.
The 10-episode series was created and written by Timothy J. Sexton, who wrote the 2006 film — also about a fertility drought — "Children of Men."
Faced with the potential demise of the human species, a breakthrough by Alpay's character and his boss Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton) that successfully fertilizes 100 embryos grabs the attention of the U.S. government, who swoop in to take control of their lab.
As President Thomas Westwood (Yul Vazquez) grapples with how to manage this discovery, his chief of staff, played by Canadian Athena Karkanis, suggests the embryos be assigned through a countrywide lottery.
The result of this lottery is "dark and kind of crazy," says Alpay during an interview at the Lifetime offices.
The pilot hints at the chaos caused by competing interests and political fallout, and includes flashes of angry riots.
This also makes it a "visceral and understandable version of the future," says Alpay.
"All around us things are burning and falling apart," he says. "We are so privileged not to have to see that on our doorstep, but it exists. It's right outside basically at our neighbour's house."
The series also follows Kyle Walker (Michael Graziadei), a single father of one of the last children to be born, who gets by financially by making house calls to hopeful women seeking to get pregnant. Alison is also desperate to conceive, driving her to cross ethical lines — including putting her lab partner at risk.
Untangling the complex personal and professional relationship between Alison and James is part of what Alpay finds makes him a more interesting character to play.
"It's a great opportunity to portray these characters not as 'the lab tech' or 'the coroner' but as somebody with real desires, real hopes and real passions," says Alpay.
He particularly connects with his role as a scientist because he finally gets to put his University of Toronto biology degree to use.
"You know there is someone out there in his underwear watching the show saying, 'hey, that doesn't make sense,'" says Alpay. "I want to limit that as much as possible."
It was while he was at the University of Toronto that he landed a key role in Atom Egoyan's 2002 film "Ararat," for which he earned a Genie nomination.
Since then, Alpay has enjoyed success in both TV and film, including roles in popular series "The Tudors" and "The Vampire Diaries."
Although based in Toronto, Alpay often films abroad, which has made shooting "The Lottery" in Montreal a welcome change because it "feels like home."
The "culture of craft" in Quebec has made it especially enjoyable, says Alpay.
"I've never worked with more talented craftspeople," says Alpay. "It's been a dream — one of the best productions I've worked on."