Ever since Lost, network television has struggled with the post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, mystery-centric, big budget, ensemble drama … with decreasing returns on its investments. Jericho got a short, second chance at life after cancellation. Flash Forward got a full season. The Event got a hash tag. Terra Nova got… a rumor that Netflix was interested in it. And Day One never even made it to air. NBC’s Revolution is the latest to wave the banner, and one has to wonder if it will be the last of this sub-genre for awhile if it does not succeed.
From producer JJ Abrams (Lost, Fringe, Alcatraz), writer/showrunner Erik Kripke (Supernatural), and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Made), Revolution is set 15 years after all electricity ceases to work, which renders cars and non-musket firearms completely useless. (I should note here that I am not going to question the science of the show, I’m just going to accept what I see on screen unless it’s egregiously contradictory to what’s been established in previous episodes.)
Following the prologue where we see the blackout occurring, we open on a commune in the Monroe Republic, named after General Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) who runs the territory. Living there is Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), who had some connection to the outage, and his family. A militia led by Captain Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito, Gus from Breaking Bad) arrives to bring Ben to their leader when a shootout happens, Ben dies, and Tom kidnaps his son Danny. Ben’s daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), his new girlfriend Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), and commune teacher/former Google exec Aaron (Zak Orth) head off to avenge Ben’s death and find his brother Miles (Billy Burke, Bella’s dad from The Twilight Saga and Gary Matheson in Day 2 of 24), who also holds part of the secret behind the night the lights went out in the cities and towns and hamlets of the world.
By the end of the episode, the gang hooks up with the morose Miles and inadvertently reveals his location to the militia since they stupidly picked up a spy along the way. This leads to a pretty decent sword/musket/archery fight sequence, and Miles decides to join his family as they go off to save Danny. Meanwhile, Danny briefly escapes from his captors and ends up at the house of a woman named Grace (Maria Howell) who has a locket (the same type Ben gave to Aaron before he died) that can turn on electricity. Not only that, she has a functioning computer that she uses to talk to someone whose identity remains a mystery.
As a pilot, Revolution was moderately decent. It didn’t overextend itself and blow its load like Terra Nova did last year. But, on the flip side, a show like this should have something that grabs you on first impression, especially if it wants to become appointment television, and I don’t think it managed that. The scene with the blackout was well-done, but too short to really qualify as an attention getting. The fight sequence was fine, but not the type of thing you can build a show around.
With the exception of Neville, and a good part of that has to do with Esposito’s presence, none of the characters stood out either. I don’t expect them to build a set of truly rich characters in the first episode, but I would have liked to have seen something that would push these individuals beyond the one sentence description with which they came. Or at least have a character on the show that wasn’t so obvious; someone we wouldn’t necessarily expect to be there. And no, “funny, nervous fat guy” does not count.
This leads to a problem that Revolution might have long term- it doesn’t seem to offer anything new. There are several plot twists (Miles knew evil warlord Monroe way back when! There’s a working computer somewhere! Betrayal!) that, even if you didn’t see them coming, you’re not all that surprised when they happen either. The show has too many elements we’ve seen before (Family is important! Broody drinker WITH A SECRET!) and too few to set it apart.
Yet despite these complaints, I did not dislike the first episode of Revolution. While it couldn’t achieve the epic scope that I think it wanted to, it nevertheless had a low-key approach that I think might help it overall. Instead of trying to live up to the excesses of the premiere, this show has a greater opportunity to grow and possibly evolve into its own unique entity. The actors are at least passable even if they aren’t mostly memorable, and Kripke has proven himself with Supernatural. I found a surefootedness to the first episode that allowed me to believe that just because it didn’t wow out of the gate doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a path or an untapped reserve of strength.
While I can’t say that I’m anxiously awaiting the second episode of Revolution, I am interested to see what the series proprer will look like. Oddly enough, the final message sent by the computer to Gloria at the end seems to be my best response to the episode- “So what now?” Not some exciting “what’s going to happen next?!?” or a cryptic warning, but more of a detached curiosity. I’ve already gotten involved, might as well stick around.
• I’ll try not to make the recaps so intensive every week, but because this is the first episode of a big show, I thought giving a flat summary was proper.
• My previous recap history of Terra Nova, Alcatraz, The Killing, and The Office does not bode well for Revolution‘s chances of survival.
• Danny and Charlie’s mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell of V. and Lost) only being presumed dead probably means she’s not really dead. Come to think of it, I don’t think we saw Ben get buried either.
• Finding Miles by the middle of the first episode is part of the reason why I’m unsure what this show will be like on a week-to-week basis. That journey could have easily been a half season itself. I hope Revolution‘s not flashback heavy.
• Can asthma medication last for 15 years? I know Gloria had electricity, but I doubt she’d use the most valuable and sought after thing on Earth to keep an inhaler fresh in the off chance she’d find someone who needed it. (And yes, I caught the line about her son.)
• Did anyone else think that everyone looked too clean? I know there’s a suspension of disbelief one must have in a show like this, but on the commune, everyone looked freshly bathed. Even when Charlie, Maggie, and Aaron arrived in Chicago following their long, perilous journey, none of them appeared even slightly dirty. Not even their clothing.