Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pilot Review: Revolution

Revolution (Mondays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres September 17)

For the love of God, please don't let it be aliens or mercury. My fragile psyche cannot handle another The Event or Alcatraz-like disappointment. Each of those shows had strong pilots with gripping, mysterious plots and lots of action. But each of them ultimately faltered and presented groan-inducing explanations for their respective phenomena. I'm sincerely hoping that Revolution (also produced by Alcatraz's JJ Abrams) does not go that route.

The logline of Revolution is fairly straightforward: One day, all the power goes out. Cars, phones, electricity... all of it gone. Fifteen years later, people have reverted to a sort-of post-modern Robinson Crusoe way of life, building colonies like survivalists. They raise chickens, defend themselves with crossbows and use herbal remedies in lieu of medical treatments. A militia has taken over for the failed government, led by Monroe, a mysterious figure who sends his troops out on horseback to find Ben (Tim Guinee, Lie to Me) and Miles Mattheson (Billy Burke, Twilight), who may have information on why the lights went out and how to turn them back on. In the meantime, Ben's son Danny (Graham Rogers) is taken hostage by the Militia in their pursuit of the elusive Miles, so his sister Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos, Being Human); town doctor Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips); and Ben's best friend Aaron (Zak Orth, Music and Lyrics) set out to find Miles and bring him out of hiding.

Revolution really is just another in a long line of post-apocaplytic/dystopian shows and movies with familiar elements from many that came before it; you'll be able to spot similarities to Terra Nova, Lost, The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, etc. It even has a lot in common with old Westerns: horseback as the means of travel, vigilante justice, lawlessness. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) presents a lot of striking images in this barren future: a crashed plane's tail peeking through a river's surface, Wrigley Field covered in overgrowth, cities turned into motley campgrounds. It's a visually stunning episode full of sweeping pans of a harsh but beautiful landscape of absence. Favreau's direction almost makes up for an ultimately nonsensical and often melodramatic script by Eric Kripke (Supernatural).

I don't like to be "that guy" who overthinks things, but one can't help but do that with a show like Revolution. For example, how did all the power sources go out at one time? Ok, fine... I can accept that all the electricity vanished. But why won't cars start? If these people have been living without any sort of power source for fifteen years, how can Aaron walk around in a new-looking AC/DC shirt? I can accept that they probably make their own clothes by hand, but a screen-printed AC/DC shirt would have to be 15+ years old... yet it's not falling apart or tattered. And where did Miles get that sword training from? He's practically a ninja in the episode's final fight sequence. Speaking of which, despite the logic issues, the action sequences are awesome. The final battle between Miles and the Militia is epic thanks to a lack of gunfire and a concentration on hand-to-hand combat. The episode's teaser, where we see the protagonists as the power goes out, is gutsy. But there's an underlying sense of bloated self-importance about the whole thing, likely due to Kripke's awkward dialogue, a barrage of melodramatic monologues, and the fact that everything is taken deathly serious. In the first fifteen minutes, two characters who we believe to be protagonists are killed off and another is kidnapped. A lot happens in those first minutes, and it establishes a world where there's no room for lightheartedness... just death, destruction, and the instinct to survive. It doesn't make for a wholly pleasant viewing experience, and it's kind of ironic given how ridiculous the whole plot is to begin with.

To go along with the script, most of the performances are tear-stained, wide-eyed, face-twisted melodrama. And then there's Billy Burke as Miles, who's just having a good time and playing it cool. Zak Orth is also keeping it lowkey as Aaron, one of the subtlest but most interesting mysteries. He was once an executive at Google ("That was a computer thing, right?"), with a wife whom he married at a now-gutted hotel in Chicago, but now he's one of the trusted keepers of a secret file which comes into play in the pilot's last minute. How he factors into the whole plot, for now primarily focused on Miles and his return to his estranged family, is one of Revolution's more intriguing threads.

Having written all of this, it may surprise you that I actually do recommend checking Revolution out. It doesn't really make much sense, and it's nothing we haven't seen before. But it never takes the easy way out in the first episode, introducing conflict at every turn. It has a few likeable characters, and it introduces some unexpected plot threads late in the pilot. The action scenes are entertaining, the visuals are great. But in the end, the entertainment factor on Revolution is high, and that's really what TV should come down to: was I entertained? And the answer here is: yes, very much.

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