It’s the start of the 2012 Fall TV season, and Monday night, NBC aired the premiere of their new post-apocalyptic series, Revolution. I’ll be getting to my thoughts on the show in just a moment, but first a word on the new “First Impressions” category on the site. What it is should be fairly self-explanatory. Why I’ve added this new category is nearly as straightforward. I still feel that, as a rule, I prefer to take television series on a season-by-season basis when it comes to reviews; the post-mortems work better for me than having a review for each individual episode. But I noticed last year that this leaves me with a bit of a problem when I decide to abandon a series well before the season finale. Certainly I had some thoughts on Grimm, for example, but as I had only watched three episodes, it didn’t quite fit into the full-season reviews I was doing with other shows. Adding a category for my thoughts on the first one to three episodes of a show (and conceivably a season, though I don’t anticipate that) allows me to jot down those early impressions and share them. Yes, those impressions will often be premature and superficial, but that’s going to be the case whether I share them or not, and whether they are good or bad. But this way I can at least say what they are, and why I am or am not following a show.
So with that out of the way, on to Revolution.
Revolution is another slightly-sci-fi concept from executive producer J.J. Abrams (among others). Jon Favreau (of Iron Man fame) directed the pilot episode, and with that pedigree it’s not unreasonable to expect a certain degree of quality from the show. Eric Kripke is listed as the series creator on IMDb, and is credited with writing the first six episodes (which is all that, so far, NBC has guaranteed.)
The premise for the show is a fairly straightforward high concept. Some global event wipes out all electricity, small and large, disabling any high tech device. 15 years later, it’s still impossible to use electricity, and people have reverted to more primitive technologies, riding on horseback and relying on candles and lanterns for night time lighting. Society is governed by feudal lords who stockpile firearms and make them illegal to own by private citizens; normal people get by with bows and swords. When her father is killed and her brother kidnapped by the militia, a young woman named Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) travels to Chicago to meet her uncle (Billy Burke), who she has been told can help her. The local lord is after her uncle (and was after her father) out of the belief that they know something about the blackout, and may be able to undo the effects. It’s strongly hinted this is true.
It’s a decent premise… for a movie. I have trouble seeing it holding up longer than 120 minutes. Maybe I’m wrong, and I hope I am. But I suspect we’re in for some transparent plot stretching as things go on, with contrived calamities slowing things down. And then there are the questions of just what caused the blackout, did Charlie’s father really have something to do with it, and can it be fixed. It seems like it’s impossible for a series to not have a mystery at its core nowadays, and that’s a risky thing to have as the central premise. Resolve it too fast, and the intrigue is gone; resolve it too slowly, and people lose interest. It has to be resolved in a reasonable amount of time, and if you want to continue on beyond that, you need a new mystery, and continuing to swap those in and out carries its own risks. Hopefully Revolution pulls this off more like Fringe than like Lost (which I didn’t watch, but I’ve heard and seen the gradual disillusionment among the fans.) I’ll also admit to being just a bit puzzled as to what could keep all those electrical items from working for so long.
Aside from the premise, I had some problems with the pilot itself. Part of this was the acting… most of it seemed a bit on the flat side to me, and the interactions Charlie and her father’s girlfriend (Daniella Alonso) felt unnatural, like they were reading off a script. Which, granted, they were, but it’s not supposed to feel that way when I’m watching it. Most of the characters didn’t seem to have any particular depth to them… in fairness, this is only the first episode, most of them will presumably be developed further as time goes on. But if the 44 minutes of this show (factoring in usual commercial breaks) were in a movie, a lot of that development would have taken place by now. I know, it’s not a movie, I shouldn’t judge it by those standards. But a TV series arguably needs to take care of this issue even faster — after all, a movie doesn’t have to convince me to come back next week. And right now, I’m having trouble caring very much about these characters. I will say that they’ve found a suitably intimidating villain in Giancarlo Esposito; even if he isn’t the big bad, hopefully he is in the series enough to keep it interesting.
There’s another issue with the writing in the pilot episode, and that’s the wham moments. A wham moment is just what it sounds like: a highly dramatic moment, one that feels like it hits you with physical force (or at least, that’s the intent.) Sometimes it’s a twist, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be; but it’s always a surprise, and it always changes the apparent direction of the show. A wham moment is not a bad thing; it’s often a good thing, it’s usually a necessary thing, and these moments can become favorites. Decades and multiple viewings later, Vader’s “I am your father” is still a great wham moment. A wham moment or two would be perfectly appropriate in the pilot episode of a show, but Kripke seems to be overly fond of them. I felt like there were more wham moments than normal moments… this guy gets shot, the travelers are beset by bandits and rescued by this guy, this guy turns out to be a traitor, but no wait he turns around and helps after all… wham, wham, wham, wham, wham. I don’t mind an exciting show with a fast pace — far from it — but this barely had enough continuity to string it all together. Before the show was even half over I felt like I was watching a highlight reel trailer instead of a tightly-scripted television show.
I might continue to give Revolution a chance. It’s on a night when I’m usually watching TV anyway, and it’s in a slot that doesn’t compete with anything. But it’s not looking likely that I’m going to wind up becoming a devoted follower of this show.