Turn off the Lights

Revolution – Pilot Review

The recent series premiere of Revolution belongs to the category that makes viewers wonder why some pilots make it to series and others don’t. It took us along on a 15-year ride and introduced us to many characters with mostly tepid lasting effects. What's more, despite being marketed as an ambitious project, the series is using little-league methods to unveil its overarching story.

Let's start with the latter, which touches on the premise of the show. Revolution is about what would happen if the "lights" went out and our civilization could no longer rely on electricity. If asked to define what electricity is, most of us would probably fail to come up will an all-encompassing definition, but we are well aware of the importance of its production in our daily lives. History tells us that it allowed industrial mass production and a sharp increase of the world population among other things. However, just by virtue of living on the planet, we know it doesn't "power" everything.

Nate, Charlie, Aaron, Maggie
Fifteen years after the blackout, the episode depicts a world that feels like a western movie with more chaos (it's post-apocalyptic after all) in and around abandoned or neglected 20th century facilities. Just by watching western movies, we know that steam engines powering locomotives and other machines of the initial industrial revolution didn't use electricity at all. Considering that libraries didn't burn during the blackout, we have a problem with the series setting. My issue with the show at this point is not that it has exaggerated the consequences of losing electricity, but rather that it left such a fundamental question for the show essentially unaddressed or tackled poorly. The viewer is left with the nagging feeling — for various reasons — that things don't make sense, which should have been avoided at all cost. And I should add that as viewers, we are not very demanding. We have no problem with ghosts falling in love and with the undead roaming the earth, so selling us some sort of technology apocalypse and its fallout should be possible, it's been done before.

Showing us towards the end that some electrical capabilities still subsisted not only raised additional questions with the setting, but also underlined another issue with the story. TV series that choose to dabble with an overarching mystery generally fall into two categories, those that are straightforward with the revelations and those that retain as much information as they can. The pilot seems to firmly place Revelation into the second category, which either means the showrunners have decided to choose this rather inelegant way of forcing viewers to come back, or that they want to give themselves the possibility to pull anything they want from the mystery, which is insulting to the audience.

Now, you can understand why Ben Matheson, when threatened with his life, gave the "device" to the former Google executive without saying what it was and what to do with it. You see, that would have been some information for the viewers and that of course would have been unacceptable. The one thing that was neat about the story was the connection between General Monroe and the Matheson brothers. By virtue of his presence in Miles' car on the night of the blackout (and hopefully through some later conversation with his friend), Monroe knew the brothers might possess some information on the blackout. That connection was well made, and elsewhere, the episode equally used flashbacks pretty well. As I eluded to above, it is a pity that the post-apocalyptic world was rendered in such an amateurish way. In fact, the whole story needed the touch of a more seasoned or capable writer.

Miles doing what he's good at
I have painted a bleak portrait of the maiden episode so far, but my biggest disappointment is yet to come. At the heart of every story lie some characters that are our emotional connections to the events. Charlie Matheson quickly emerged as such a character, but a combination of an average performance by Tracy Spiridakos and of badly-written material has created a heroine that, to me at least, is unreachable so far. The brother, Danny Matheson, besides being uncommonly lucky (asthma sequence) is downright unlikable, and uncle Miles still has some work to do to impress us as an antihero. The villains on the other hand were more interesting, but didn't have enough screentime to make it worthwhile. Giancarlo Esposito's Capt. Neville was excellent, but my favorite is JD Pardo's Nate. The actor didn't do as good a job as Esposito, but the character is the only one of the premiere that I would like to know more about. How could someone not like his exit from the Chicago building when he was unmasked, or not be intrigued by his defending Charlie before fleeing? In fact, he is the one thing about Charlie that was done well.

The season premiere of Revolution was far from being as grand as it was expected to be. We were sold an epic post-apocalyptic TV show, but so far we have a story plagued by core issues in its main storyline and characters that are either aloof or uninteresting. Things can certainly improve, but this wasn't encouraging.



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