First Impressions: Revolution

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.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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15 Responses to First Impressions: Revolution

  1. Jaina says:

    Interesting reading your thoughts. I share many of the same. I just find it a little frustrating that networks are still looking for the next Lost. As if TV viewers habits haven’t changed since then. When they have.

    Revolution is trying to be some big concept show. But, like you pointed out, it’s massive failings are the characters. Fine, it’s unfair to judge on the first episode. But none of them gave me any reason to keep watching. I just couldn’t care. Same with the acting. It’s shocking. Giancarlo Esposito was one of the best things to happen to Breaking Bad, and here he’s just so bland. Good actors are good when they’re given decent material.

    I’m going to give this show another couple of episodes. Like you, don’t know how long this can be drawn out. Sometimes find myself wishing for more self contained mini-series than TV shows that NEED to be 20+ episodes per season.

    • Oh, absolutely. There are a lot of shows that I would be more willing to give a chance if they were written with the intent that they only be 6 episodes, or that they only be a single season of 13. Something where the ending is already figured out before they even shoot the first episode.

      And yes, it really does feel like the networks keep trying to find the next Lost. It’s especially pathetic in NBC’s case, since Lost wasn’t even their show. I could understand it if it were ABC trying to recapture lost glory, but NBC is trying to capture a glory that they haven’t had since before Lost was even on anybody’s radar.

      • Jaina says:

        Hasn’t every single wannabe Lost follow up failed? Flashforward. That one last year with the big plane crash. And another similar one whose name escapes me.

        I used to think that UK TV shows had it all wrong with their short seasons and almost one off TV shows. Now I’m thinking they’ve got it very right.

        It’s sad really. I think the last TV show that gripped me from the first episode was probably Breaking Bad. I can’t remember the last new show to have that effect on me.

        • Yeah, I think all the neo-Losts have crashed and burned fairly quickly. The Event, a big one that NBC hyped up a few years back was supposed to be a blockbuster-level series and bombed right from the get-go.

  2. Alexander Ryan Rhoades says:

    I was confused that combustion engines didn’t work, but firearms did. I realize there are a lot of electrical components in modern cars, but a smart mechanic should certainly have developed a workaround in 15 years.

    Other than that, yeah, not great, not terrible. I’ll give it a couple more Mondays.

    • I think what’s preventing cars is that even batteries aren’t operating. But yes, even then, you’d think a move to steam or even just a hand-cranked engine would be around. Of course, that might still require some manufacturing capabilities that most people aren’t equipped for.

      • spikor says:

        I haven’t watched the show, so I don’t know the circumstances behind the blackout, or the continuation of it… but knowing that they didn’t overlook the fact that engines require electric spark plugs, and have since the creation of the gas powered ICE, is a huge nod in its favour for me.

        I missed it when it aired, and didn’t care. It’s back on my radar again, now.

        • It’s a very small nod, trust me. That awareness may be the only point in the show’s favor so far.

        • spikor says:

          The more I think of it, (again, not knowing the lore of the show) that point could hurt more than it could help. I mean, what would stop plugs from firing and alternators from generating current? Anything that did that would certainly keep our own synapses from firing, I’d imagine.

          Well, I had already re-decided to give the show one episode, so I will. My hopes and expectations are pretty low again, though.

        • Yeah, the synapse problem (as well as even more basic laws of physics and biology) was something I was thinking about as well.

          But yeah, go ahead and give the pilot a watch. At the very least, you’ll know for yourself.

  3. ray brayne says:

    The initial premise leaves a lot of questions. It wasn’t that long ago that no one had electricity and people survived. If few people died at first plenty of intelligent people with 20th century know how could repurpose steam and hydro. I guess a world post nuclear war or virus was out of the question.
    In the early 70’s BBC ran a show called “Survivors”. It was “slightly sci-fi” concept in a world ravaged by deadly virus. Week after week it asked the simple question, how do you survive? It was simply made but relied on complex problems arising from a world with 90% less population. For example, in “Revolution” their village is seen as a thriving farm. In reality not easy, not easy at all. They would need old style farming methods and know-how. In Survivor they solve this with a book. A famous book( it actually exists) giving 19th century farming methods in detail. Use of the plow, irrigation, drainage, crop rotation etc. It might sound dull but it wasn’t at all. I was involved as if I was there and how would I deal with this problem. There was lots of conflict and drama but the main aim was “survival”. There was a remake in 2010 but didn’t catch on. I don’t see “Revolution” being as interesting.

    • Yes… and at least early on, it doesn’t look as though Revolution is really interested in the question of how the people actually survive and adapt. It just wants to have a romp through the wreckage. Which would be fine, if it were a more interesting romp….

  4. Being over in the UK, my knowledge of said show isn’t very much, but I had heard of it and kind of wanted to see it, so its good to hear your views. I’ll still have to check it out when I can…

    If anyone cares, check out this youtube video: RUIN by oddball animations, a scene from it appears in Revolution. It’s this animation that made me look at Revolution in the first place.

  5. Interesting review, Morgan! 🙂

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