TV First Impression: “Revolution”
When you see J.J. Abrams’ name attached to a project, there’s often a mystery box premise that hooks the viewer. With LOST, it was a plane crash on a remote island that pulled the viewer into a journey to understand the characters’ past, the mysteries of the island, and why the hell they were all stranded there.
Revolution is less ambitious in scope, but starts with similar intentions. An event renders any and all things that rely on electricity powerless. Faced with this world-altering event, the makers of Revolution show us how humankind adapts to a world without technology by setting the show 15 years after the event. NBC describes this show as a “dystopian, post-apocalyptic” drama, and while there is a certain dystopian quality to it, a world without technology isn’t quite an end to the world that once was. After all, the humans in this world have adapted and figured out how to farm, make swords, single shot muskets, and even booze without the help of a Google search. They still cling to various elements of the old world and there’s a possibility that they may be able to bring that world back.
What drives the plot is when Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos) is there at the death of her father (Tim Guinee) after an altercation with militia heavy, Tom Neville (played by Giancarlo Esposito – who was last seen as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad). Tom arrests Charlie’s brother, Danny ( Graham Rogers) for starting the melee, and takes him to the leader of the Monroe Republic militia (David Lyons).
Before he dies, it’s revealed that Charlie’s father knows the cause of the blackout and, before he completely expired, gave one of the trusted townsfolk (played by Zak Orth) a device that holds the key as to why nothing works anymore. Charlie, Maggie (the town doctor, played by Anna Lise Phillips), and Aaron, set off to find Charlie’s uncle Miles (Billy Burke) who will presumably help them understand why there’s no electricity and possibly how to reverse the cause of the blackout.
There’s a personal connection between Charlie, Miles (Charlie’s uncle), and the Big Bad of the republic where they live, and it’s all leading to some big showdown (or maybe an alliance).
The set up was somewhat intriguing, and setting the story 15 years after the blackout event has the benefit of showing how humans have adapted to their new found reality. However, what’s missing is a kind of gritty quality that LOST had. Those castaways often looked like they were marooned on a desert island. The humans in Revolution look a little too scrubbed and polished to be living in a society where technology is absent and they have to live off the land. The same goes for some of the settings. Chicago is shown to be pretty beat up, but certain interior shots of a hotel and street scenes look too clean for the world they are supposed to live in. Or to put finer point on it, I quote from the sacred text of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Mortician: Must be a king.
Mortician: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
Yes, there’s a fine line TV producers must draw between grit and glamorous in a series like Revolution — lest they turn off their viewers with ugly looking actors that the audience doesn’t want to look at week after week. However, if you’re going to posit what 15 years of having no electricity or technology will do to people, you better make sure their hair and clothes look sufficiently crappy.
Will this show last beyond the first season? The mysteries introduced and the impending “Big Conflict” between the lead characters may have some payoff, but a good deal in the initial episode felt really forced. Charlie’s character seems to derive her essence from Katniss in The Hunger Games — complete with her use of a bow and arrow. The mysterious device the holds the key to why the world is without electric power is a little too boilerplate, and the show’s cliff hanger fell flat to me.
It will be interesting to see how this series progresses because it has the potential to keep pulling rabbits out of its hat, but the pilot episode made me feel as if I’d seen this trick before.