REVIEW: Revolution (“Pilot”)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A mysterious event knocks out the planet’s technology: no more cars, electricity or conventional society. Fifteen years after the blackout, a small band of adventurers venture out of their home community after a death at the hands of the local militia.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A show with plenty of potential and room for growth.
CONS: Bland characters leave this pilot with room for improvement.

NBC’s latest speculative fiction outing aired last night, Eric Kripke’s Revolution, produced by J.J. Abrams, and with a ridiculous sounding plot: a global catastrophe knocks out the world’s technology – mostly. Cars shut down, the lights go out, and planes fall out of the sky. Fifteen years later, the society and government of 2012 has collapsed, with much of the population moving out of the cities and into rural America, where regional warlords have taken over. When militia soldiers kill Ben Matheson and capture his son, Danny, his daughter Charlie Matheson travels to the ruins of Chicago along with Ben’s girlfriend Maggie and friend Aaron, to find her uncle, who might know the key to the blackout.

On the whole, I enjoyed the pilot, although it doesn’t reach the same level of quality story as other, similar properties that are currently out on cable. Krikpe’s other blockbuster show, the CW’s Supernatural, has waged an almost perfect balance between the monster of the day episodes and the overarching stories that defined each season. Should such a model be taken up with Revolution, I’ve little doubt that the show will enjoy a decent run on network television. I certainly hope so: recent speculative fiction shows such as Terra Nova and Awake have died early deaths due to lack of ratings, and Revolution seems to steer clear of the ‘high concept’ show model à la Lost, Awake and others. It’s a bit dumbed down, but a still a bit of fun.

There’s a number of post-apocalyptic shows that have popped up over the past couple of years: AMC’s The Walking Dead and TNT’s Falling Skies depict the death spasm of society as a crisis is ongoing, both with Zombies and Aliens, and other shows in the recent past, such as Jericho, Jeremiah or Dark Angel have covered somewhat similar ground, but none quite as polished as NBC’s new show. Someone pointed out that there’s also a hefty dose of S. M. Stirling’s Dies a Fire here in addition to the number of other post-apocalyptic novels that have come out recently. What I found most interesting wasn’t that I thought of those shows first off while watching this, but rather, Lord of the Rings: characters on a journey to find a solution to a major problem, caught in the remains of a hostile, ruined civilization. Indeed, the premise of the show seems to be more fantasy than science.

That being said, this future world seems to have been fairly well mapped out, with some major storylines laid down early on in the pilot: the nature of the blackout, as well as the ongoing political struggle that seems to be going on between the militia and the people over which it rules. Moreover, the show feels like it’s very open-ended, with plenty of issue of the day problems to keep the characters occupied, with some mythology episodes coming along side it. So long as the show isn’t bogged down in exposition, I think it’ll do okay.

That said, there are some major problems with the show, most of which Revolution can outgrow. While the creators seem to have perfected the post-apocalyptic world, we’re presented with characters that are too clean, almost too healthy (except for Ben, who’s asthmatic, but who seems to have only now figured out that it’s a bad thing) and have a source of clothing that’s both stylish and un-faded fifteen years after all industrial production would have been halted in its tracks. The show also seems to have completely ignored the sheer horror of what happens to a civilization once it crashes down: billions of people would have likely died worldwide and fifteen years after the fact, there seems to be a happy, utopic vision of a simpler, back to basics life with some Bad Things brewing on the horizon. The result is a show with a vision of a post-apocalyptic world that’s too evenly distributed and predictable. What bothers me the most, however, is that all of the characters are essentially blank slates: hardly memorable, they’re just … there.

Given that this is a pilot for an ongoing story, there’s room for improvement across the board, and I expect that the characters will be a bit more fleshed out by the time Revolution reaches its 13 episode initial order and hopefully we’ll be able to delve into more of the back story of the characters and the world that they inhabit. Kripke has created a broad canvas from which to draw from, and despite the problems I had with the pilot, I was intrigued at the possibilities to which the show can go to. There’s plenty of swashbuckling action and several major story roots planted to keep the main characters occupied for at least a season or two. Whether it will turn into a good or even great show from what it is now remains to be seen, but I’ll be interested in seeing what happens next.

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: Revolution (“Pilot”)”

    1. I’m thinking no – I didn’t see his name anywhere in the credits. I’ll be interested to see if anything comes of it, or if the series will take a turn away from the obvious similarities.

        1. Steve better get on top of it because it’s going to get cancelled ASAP.

          I couldn’t take it, because the premise is stupid and the writing terrible. I’m not alone either because the IMDB boards were filled with nothing but disgust.

  1. It feels almost exactly like it, but no, it has nothing to do with the Emberverse. I wouldn’t be shocked if Stirling sued, frankly.

    I enjoyed it alright too, as pilots go. I just dread investing my time and emotions into it to find it canceled in a season. Hopefully it doesn’t go that way.

    I’m willing to forgive little things like clothes still looking nice… For one thing, they should certainly be clean (you can do laundry in a river with rocks and pumice), and I’m sure there has been/still is regular raiding parties into shopping malls and places where one could find such clothing.

    1. The acting was unmemorable – there’s a couple of interesting characters, but nobody really stands out all that much. As a pilot, I’m willing to let it slide a bit more, given that shows sometimes need some time to sink in a bit – hopefully, it’ll improve.

  2. For a bunch of people who survived 10 years of probably the most horrible apocalyptic events imaginable (6 billion people suddenly without live giving technology) I find the characters far too well adjusted then what I would expect.

    Of course it is only a pilot. Maybe it will get more into the Hobbesian war of all against all; the-life-of-man-solitary-poor-nasty-brutish-and-short, elements later on….but I doubt it.

    1. “The show also seems to have completely ignored the sheer horror of what happens to a civilization once it crashes down: billions of people would have likely died worldwide and fifteen years after the fact”

      Never mind you already caught that. Surprised you gave it 3 and a half stars. I guess that happy go lucky everyone died element bothered me more.

  3. The main problem I had was with the premise, that is, loss of electricity leading to a post-industrial society. The English industrial revolution had no problem starting up without the benefit of electricity, so why should lack of electricity lead to a world in which, as you said, “all industrial production would have been halted in its tracks.” (Perhaps industrial production has continued after all. This would explain the clean, stylish clothes.)

    The world of this series, with its war lords and militias and fragmented communities, reminds me of the post-war world of Things to Come (1936). But Wells’ film makes much more sense because it is post-war, not just post electricity.

    1. Any society isn’t going to revert right away: there’s going to be significant growing (reverting?) pains from a civilization used to doing things one way, and then being forced to do something the same way, but in a much more difficult manner. For my money, I haven’t a clue as how to grow my own food in a way that I can feed myself and my family year round. it’s going to take far longer than 15 years.

  4. When I first saw ads for this, I thought “Oh, cool: they’re doing DIES THE FIRE for TV!” and bounced off to IMDB to learn more. Astonishingly, S.M. Stirling’s name appears NOWHERE in the credits for this. The improbable “electricity stops working” premise is swiped DIRECTLY from his books, but since he’s writing good stories and (more importantly to me) immediately-engaging characters, readers are swept along for the ride, and allow their Suspension-Of-Disbelief Bungees to twang and stretch mostly unnoticed in the background. As with many of my other favorite characters and story-‘verses, if you LIKE (or are intrigued by) the characters and CARE what happens to them, you won’t require the full physics textbook explanation of *how* their spaceships fly through hyper-space, or *why* the electricity stopped working to buy into their universe. (Of course, it helps if you’re not actually a physics grad student…)

    A friend who’s a retired high-school teacher (when stopping in to pick up her special-ordered copy of Stirling’s latest hardcover) described the characters as disappointing, saying she’d had enough of whiny adolescents in her life, especially when they do Stupid Things because the plot requires it… and (even though her academic background was literature rather than science) she found the “electricity stops working” premise on the show totally unbelievable, meaning the STORY hadn’t been good enough for her to mentally “gloss over” it the way she’s doing with Stirling’s post-apocalypse. (As for my partner, who was at CalTech getting his degree in Physics when we met over 20 years back… he just rolls his eyes the way he did at the math in “Numb3rs”…)

    I’ll probably give it 3-4 episodes to convince me, but unless the characters improve I’d rather spend the time reading…

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