When you combine transportation by horses, bows and arrows and swords, and small villages that farm produce and raise sheep, you would think that you’re stepping into a historical drama, possibly one from Medieval Europe. However, this is actually the setting of our future, according to one new TV show.
The much-anticipated pilot of J.J. Abrams’ Revolution (directed by Jon Favreau) was shown on NBC two days ago, and the response has been mixed. Some say that the concept of the show is fascinating, that instead of humanity being threatened by zombies or infection or alien invasion, we have to face the reality of living without electricity. Others say that everything else in the show falls well below expectations.
My thoughts? I think we have to wait and see.
I wholly agree with those who think the concept of Revolution is unique. After the scores of technological dystopias that have come our way the last several years, this idea of living off the land without electrical power is appealing. The only other time I remember seeing any idea similar to this in current popular culture was in The Hunger Games, and even then some of the Districts still had electricity.
Also, maybe it’s because I built scenery for plays during my college years, but I found the effort put into the set for Revolution to be splendid. While it’s a bit funny to see a cul-de-sac turned into a mini village with corn growing out of the ground and someone planting herbs in a broken-down Toyota, it’s also consistent and realistic with the situation in the show. It’s also terrifying to see famous American landmarks like Wrigley Field in Chicago being overcome with crawling vines. But I’m sure that’s what would happen in a world without electricity, so the image fits very well. Finally, any CGI used is not very noticeable, which can be difficult for some shows to achieve.
Small touches in Revolution really help to cement its presence into the brain as well, such as a “parking in rear” sign placed at the entrance to The Grand Hotel, now turned into a bar. A computer power symbol is cleverly tucked into the show’s logo. Charlie, the female protagonist played by Tracy Spiridakos, stores various items she has collected over the years, including an iPod, in a vintage Return of the Jedi tin lunch box. That’s pretty hard to forget, especially for all the science fiction fans bound to be watching.
Despite all of these production qualities, the script felt lacking in several points, especially in regards to exposition and background story. The pilot starts with a voice over describing very clearly the current state of affairs as we see images of the decrepit United States. I felt like I was being talked to like a child who didn’t understand what 2+2 was. Fortunately, the character voicing the lines was soon shown on screen, and he was indeed a teacher talking to a few students. Lead-ins to shows can be tricky for the writers, but this one definitely felt awkward. At another point, I was wondering why it mattered that we were watching Charlie and a few others sit around a campfire talking when the same exposition could have been revealed in a more creative manner. In addition, many of the lines are not that compelling.
My main concern was with the acting and character development. The “bad guy” did not feel intimidating to me, nor even the least bit creepy. The village doctor dating Charlie’s father felt overly grim , and Charlie herself did not seem to have the ability to show emotion other than grief or frustration. Spiridakos delivered her lines well for the most part, especially the ones where she started to cry, but otherwise I didn’t agree with her father’s character who called her “strong just like her mom.” Spiridakos may play Fallout, but despite her involvement in that digital wasteland, I did not get a vivid sense of who her character was in this current wasteland of Revolution. The only two character fates I was truly curious about were Charlie’s brother Danny, and an ex-Algebra teacher named Grace. Their stories made me care to want to see the next episode.
The Revolution pilot did end with a few twists that made me tilt my head a bit and say, “Well, that’s interesting.” The show does have promise, and I find it very difficult, if not hasty, to judge an entire series on just the first episode, especially when stories, characters, acting, and production tend to improve over the course of a show’s life. As it stands, Revolution may not actually start one on TV, but it could have a very good chance to do so with a little improvement.