It Will Never Ever Come Back On
Revolution arrives riding a huge wave of promotion launched last month. Stylized ads for this new sci-fi show aired nonstop during NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics, emphasizing its action elements and occasionally even mentioning the premise, namely, a hardy band of humans survive a close-to-apocalyptic loss of electricity.
The first episode, premiering 17 September, showcases the action promised in August, while also establishing its dire-future world. Director Jon Favreau, best known at this point for the Iron Man franchise, deserves credit for finding an effective balance between these two demands: whenever the episode threatens to get bogged down in tedious exposition, an action sequence set against expansive, lovely shots of the ruins of civilization and verdant foliage, revivifies the pace.
These ruins are the events briefly noted in the first scenes. Ben (Tim Guinee) is introduced rushing home from work. Frantically, he tells his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) to start filling the sinks and tubs with water, then makes a quick call to his brother Miles (Billy Burke). “It’s all going to turn off,” he says, “And it will never, ever come back on!” Right on cue, the power goes out. Chicago goes dark, a transformer blows, a plane falls out of the sky, traffic shuts down.
After that harrowing, if rather familiar, introduction, the show picks up 15 years later. With no electricity, people are working in fields and driving wagons to markets. Ben lives with his children in a small village located in a reclaimed subdivision cul-de-sac. There’s no evidence of the rest of the subdivision or paved roads or anything, but folks appear to have found peace in their basic existence. Ben’s kids, the impulsive Charlie (Tracy Spridakos) and her cautious, asthmatic younger brother Danny (Graham Rogers), routinely venture outside the village. Though they’re ostensibly hunting for food, Charlie doesn’t make much of a secret of her desire to find remnants of the old world she’s heard about.
Though Charlie isn’t aware of this coming plot development, you can anticipate that Revolution—much like other recent post-apocalyptic (basic cable) shows like Falling Skies or The Walking Dead—involves a struggle for power over the newly configured landscape. On cue, Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) arrives on the scene, glaring, threatening, and essentially getting that power struggle rolling. Identifying himself as an officer of the Monroe Republic, a well-armed militia that’s taken control of a chunk of the Midwest, Neville says he has orders to track down Ben and his brother Miles. Ben isn’t particularly willing to cooperate and before you know it, the family is split up and Charlie is dragging her dad’s girlfriend Maggie (Anna Lise Philips) and a neighbor, Aaron (Zak Orth), along with her on a hike to Chicago in search of Miles. By the end of the episode, our heroes have made it to the Windy City—complete with a meaningful shot of a Wrigley Field overgrown with weeds and grasses—and left again.
While this is a lot of plot to deliver in one episode, Revolution manages it efficiently. But still, it doesn’t feel very special. Writer and creator Eric Kripke has conjured a framework that’s part sci-fi mystery and part wild-ride adventure, reminding us of a few other recent TV series, from Lost and Terra Nova to FlashForward and Jericho, not to mention NBC’s own The Event.
This familiarity might be offset by the casting of fresh faces. While Burke is coming off the Twilight movies and the respected veteran Esposito was rather famously blown up on Breaking Bad last year, Spiridakos and Rogers are newish to TV (she survived the American remake of Being Human). Both Charlie and Danny are types we’ve seen before, she the anointed girl full of sand, he the annoying teenager who caused problems in Terra Nova and V. But it’s early. In spreading its possible appeals to include young, even post-tween viewers, Revolution might be imagining new network territory.