Tuned In

A Second Look At: Revolution

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Brownie Harris/NBC

The lights will be staying on at the set of Revolution for at least a full year. Yesterday, NBC announced it was picking up a full season of the postapocalyptic drama, which has been getting strong (or at least NBC-strong) ratings so far, along with Go On and The New Normal. I didn’t love the pilot, but given the glimmer of potential in the premise, and the fact that it will be around with us for a while, I’ve stuck with it.

And after three episodes, it’s… not bad.

I still have some of the same core problems that I did with the pilot: I want to see more spark of life in the non-Giancarlo Esposito characters and in the dialogue generally. And I wanted a greater sense that a decade and a half without electricity, and without most forms of civilization generally, has truly changed people–not just the facts of their lives, but their psychology and emotional outlook.

I’ve snarked a little, here and on Twitter, about the general prettiness of this apocalypse: the Gap clothing, fine dentistry and picturesque CGI weeds covering every structure. It’s all in good fun, but there’s a point to it; a generation without civil society should change people, deeply. It’s been fifteen years; in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the world has been blighted for a mere decade. Now, I don’t expect The Road on network TV–and a power outage is not the same as nuclear winter. But there should be a sense that kids who grew up knowing nothing else are different, and that there were real costs in a global change that most were not equipped to survive.

And to its credit, the third episode got at that better than anything the show has done so far. In particular–once you got past the siege and the quickest-dug escape tunnel of all time–the last half of the episode did some important work fleshing out characters and how their experience in the post-blackout world has changed them.

The flashbacks (featuring Lost’s Mark Pelligrino) gave us a sense of how quickly things went south after the power failure. In some ways, in fact, the world a few weeks after the catastrophe seems darker and more anarchic than the one we were introduced to–which may be quite the point. It may go to the question of how Miles became involved in the founding of the militia in the first place, and introduces the complicating question of whether the Monroe Republic is an entirely bad thing. The militia is brutal and bullying, but it also (it seems) brought some kind of order, without which freelance bullies would have their way everywhere.

And the little taste of electricity we got made similar emotional points. As Aaron puts it, this is a world where his high school bullies rule: “The Billy Underwoods are in charge, and I am weak and afraid.” (Unspoken but clear is that many, many people did not survive the transition.) Electricity–and more than that, the society that technology enabled–shifted the balance of human power and the laws of relations; it gave status and protection to the physically weak. (If they were smart or fortunate enough, indeed, it made them giants themselves, another idea Revolution could do interesting things with: are there people who welcomed the fall of computers, white-collar society, banks?) That moment of reconnection–a Marvin Gaye song, family pictures on an iPhone–was a teasing visit to that lost time.

See, the thing is: I don’t really need Revolution to be a show about technology or physics. I don’t much care if it credibly explains how the power went out. I’m not even that concerned if the power ever comes back on. What would make this a really good show–as opposed to one just decent enough for me to check on–is if it becomes a vibrant story of what real-seeming people do when they lose the structures they depended on. No one asked for a TV show about electricity. But we can always use a good TV show about power.