The dialogue in NBC’s less than revolutionary new adventure series Revolution is filled with pointless obfuscations. “It’s all going to turn off,” warns Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), a frazzled family man who knows…something. “It’s going to turn off and it will never, ever turn back on.”
Technology is the “it” being discussed in this vague statement that simultaneously establishes the show’s gratuitously theatrical tone and sets up the central conflict – lights, computers, cars, planes, iPhones (!), and all of the other essential, electronic thingamajigs that we take for granted, abruptly, stop functioning. The premise is provocative enough (albeit in an ordinary “What If?” game sort of way) but Revolution’s series opener is tepid – made up of recycled bits and pieces from other overblown post-apocalyptic dramas – and, at times, unintentionally hilarious.
Created by Supernatural’s Eric Kripke, Revolution is supposed to be this year’s epic – the event show that sucks everyone in with its mythology and intrigue. Post-Lost, we’ve been given at least one of these Abrams-esque dramas every season. Sometimes, like this one, J.J. Abrams is actually involved with the production (Abrams and Jon Favreau are executive producing), which only fuels the hype. Revolution has all of the standard features of this class of show – the large ensemble, the misdirection, the sci-fi. The most lamentable flaw, then, is that it never rises above its role as the requisite Abrams show.
From the opening minutes of the first episode, it’s clear that Kripke wants Revolution to be a puzzler with the kinds of juicy, unexpected twists and turns that fuel water cooler conversations and message board speculation. When Ben Matheson, the character who apparently knows the cause of the blackout, is introduced, he’s bursting into his family home with a box, presumably, of apocalypse survival supplies. “We need more water, fill the sinks and tubs,” he says to his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell (yet another Lost connection)) without explanation. “We don’t have much time.” To which Rachel says, “It’s happening. Isn’t it?” Starting off in media res works fine but the dialogue is just so unnecessarily cagey. Does this family always speak with this sort of lack of specificity? Is there a limit on how many nouns they’re allowed to use?
While I get the reasoning behind Ben’s intensity and refusal to clarify anything that he says (“it’s” all going to turn off!), this is such a ham-fisted approach to creating mystery. The melodrama isn’t limited to the dialogue, though. In time, we’re also given one of those over-the-top death scenes in which the guy on his way out has just enough time to impart a final important message.
Fifteen years after the cataclysmic technological blackout depicted in the premiere’s enigmatic prologue, the government has broken down, cities are lawless, militias rule over the people, and everyone seems to have a crossbow. When Ben’s son Danny (Graham Rogers) is kidnapped by the militia, Charlie (Tracy Spiradakos) Ben’s headstrong daughter, goes to rescue him. First, though, she has to find her estranged uncle Miles (Billy Burke) because – as she explains to Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lisa Phillips), the other two members of her traveling party – he’s “good at killing.”
Miles, a former U.S. Marine, also turns out to be good at not getting killed – in the most inexplicable and funniest moment of the episode, members of the militia start shooting at him and instead of running for cover, he just nonchalantly walks behind a beam with the coolness of a young Steven Segal. He also single-handedly takes down twenty guys – which is actually more believable than his ability to dodge bullets.
Even with laughable scenes like this, Revolution isn’t a terrible show – powerhouse character actor Giancarlo Esposito, who plays a slick villain working for the militia, is a definite highlight – it’s just disappointingly mediocre, never veering very far from post-apocalyptic clichés. Ragtag group of survivors? Check. Collapse of morality? Check. Large-scale drama? Check.
The loss of technology is the element that’s supposed to distinguish the show from other stories about Dystopian futures but isn’t that just another trope?