REVOLUTION: Monday 10PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…
REVOLUTION is Falling Skies without aliens, The Walking Dead without zombies, Jericho… well, actually it pretty much is Jericho. We’ve all strolled down this post-apocalyptic road before (let’s not even try to count the number of movies set there), and based on its pilot, NBC hasn’t found much reason to make us visit the territory again.
The disaster in Revolution is nothing if not straightforward: 15 years ago, all electric and electronic power on earth abruptly stopped. Since then, there have been no lights, no cars, no planes, no computers, no phones–you get the idea. Ordinary people live simply in rural communities, but inevitably there are bandits roaming the roads, and even more inevitably in this kind of story, there are evil militias who terrorize the populace, collecting taxes and doing the bidding of their warlord “generals.”
Our band of hardy protagonists centers around the family Matheson. Father Ben (Tim Guinee) is a single dad raising his teen kids, headstrong Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) and asthmatic Danny (Graham Rogers). Ben’s girlfriend is the local doctor, Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), and his best friend is Aaron (Zak Orth). One day the militia rides into town, personified by Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), demanding to take Ben into custody and to know where his brother, former soldier Miles (Billy Burke) is. Things don’t go well, and before long Danny is in the militia’s clutches, and the rest of the group, minus Ben, is on the road to Chicago, where Miles can be found. Ben has passed on to Aaron a mysterious amulet that we know contains a flash drive Ben was in a big hurry to download in the seconds before the big blackout hit, so clearly it’ll be key to the show’s mythology. Neville pursues the fugitives, who along the way make the acquaintance of Nate (JD Pardo), a hunk of ambiguous sympathies. Once they get to Chicago, they find Miles (almost instantly), and after the usual “why should I help you?” show of apathy and a fight scene, he joins them to track down Danny.
That’s really all there is to Revolution until the last 2 minutes, when the show decides to spring a couple of supposed whammys. I’m going to invoke SPOILER ALERT here, because one of the twists was already revealed in NBC’s official trailer for the series, and the other is pretty damn obvious–but if you want to remain free of knowledge, stop reading here.
The already-revealed “shocker” is that actually some power does still exist in the world, and the ability to turn on lights and computers depends on amulets like the one Ben gave Aaron. The other: anyone who watches TV knows that a pilot doesn’t cast a prominent actor like
Andrea Roth Elizabeth Mitchell (recast from the original version of the pilot) to play Ben’s wife, and Charlie and Danny’s mother, only to have her disappear after the first 3 minutes of the show with the off-handed mention later on that she died years ago. So yeah, Mom is very much alive, and not necessarily one of the good guys.
Although Revolution is being marketed as being “from” JJ Abrams, he just serves as an Executive Producer on this project, which was written by Eric Kripke, from CW’s Supernatural. Kripke hasn’t yet found a way to make Revolution feel anything but generic. Charlie, with her crossbow, is a second-hand Katniss Everdeen, and Miles is every reluctant and yet incredibly skilled hero who’s ever aided civilians who’d be lost without him (we’ll undoubtedly learn about his dark past in episodes to come, things he’s done and seen that still haunt him). Lovely Maggie can easily be envisioned as Miles’ romantic interest, and while there are obstacles in their way, eventually Nate and Charlie will find common ground. Meanwhile, we’ll gradually learn about the causes of the blackout, which will involve some kind of complex conspiracy.
Familiarity alone doesn’t doom a TV show–if it did, procedurals would vanish, and USA Network would be broadcasting a 24-hour test pattern. But if the millionth version of an old story is going to be watchable, there has to be a new spin. That isn’t evident in Revolution‘s pilot, with its flat characters and stilted dialogue. The only actor to really make an impression in the pilot is the great Giancarlo Esposito, and yet it’s sort of embarrassing to watch him as such a cardboard villain after he just finished playing one of the great dark roles in TV history on Breaking Bad. Jon Favreau’s direction of the pilot is fine, and there are some marvelous CG shots of ruined cities, but this is more Cowboys and Aliens than Iron Man, and that doesn’t bring out his best.
NBC has given Revolution its prime Fall timeslot, airing after The Voice on Mondays. It won’t be facing the strongest competition in the world from Hawaii 5-0 and Castle, but both those shows have their constituencies, and 10PM feels late for a popcorn fantasy series like this. Unless Kripke and company can turn on their own lights and manufacture something compelling about Revolution, it could get off to a fast start in September and, like many revolutions before it, quickly implode.