Tuned In

A Second Look At: Revolution

  • Share
  • Read Later
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.

13 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Steven Palmer
Steven Palmer

One more comment, maybe the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku could write an article on why the show and premise both suck... I doubt he could watch more than 10 minutes without puking...

Steven Palmer
Steven Palmer

Kill Carlie off and you might have a show for a season,,, and others have said this as well, what a huge pain in the butt... I can't stand her. I usually never go as far as to say kill off a character,,, but this show sucks.. I really like the actors,,, well other actors... maybe Charlie is a good actor for others shows,, or maybe the writing for her sucks,, either way.. I cringe when I watch this show..

lucelucy
lucelucy

I've said before - maybe here - my favorite characters are the thumbdrives.  Parts of the show still interest me, but I think that could just be a touch of OCD - I started it, now I've got to finish it.  I was completely disenthralled with the disconnect between "we've got to get out of here now, how long have we got?" and "let's get this arm bandage on just right and have time to say thank you and have a little argument with the uncle and now let's just sit for a minute and talk about what we're going to do and then, well, okay, let's go - Whoops!"

The only parts I like are the ones with the (as I think of him now) Hurley character, since there's a slight chance something interesting might happen.  Dystopias are becoming a bore.  Apparently the first thing anyone is going to do is try to kill other people for food - not get organized in neighborhoods.  Not think of creative ways to live.  Not work on discovering skills - the libraries are still there.

But as my friend Lisa told me when I suggested that Survivor would be better if it showed people having to cooperate to create community, "where's the fun in that?"

I told her that the winner of Survivor should be dropped from a helicopter into a crocodile-infested swamp and told that if he wants his million bucks, he better make it back alone.  But then, I'm becoming a mean old lady.  And I worry sometimes that if push does come to shove, the only prototypes we will have for getting along will involve military grade weapons.

marmardouglas
marmardouglas

I would also like to see a spark from Giancarlo Esposito’s character as well, and I have a theory that this will come up in an attempted coup in the Monroe Republic by the end of the first season. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to see an opportunist like him to attempt a power. I just caught up with the show over the weekend since it was recorded through my Hopper’s Primetime Anytime feature. Once enabled, my DVR automatically records three hours of the big four networks during primetime. A coworker at DISH told me about this feature, and now I don’t need to set timers for my programs. Judging by the rebel threat, I don’t think things are that happy in that republic, and that will become more of an issue down the line in future episodes. 

olaf78
olaf78

On notice for product placement.

twocee
twocee

I'll keep watching but I have 2 big problems with the show.

Charlie.  While I have some issues with most of the characters, Charlie continues to be the black hole that sucks both the life and the believability out of the show.  How can a child who grew up in this world (she was what, 5 when the lights went out), who has witnessed first-hand some of the cold brutality of the militia (she said she watched them take people and food from their village by force), and who has watched her father die right in front of her be SO STUPID?  It is a flaw shared by a number of the characters, but Charlie and really Aaron just do not act like they've been living in a post-apocalypse for 15 years.  How can she be so stupid as to trust anyone who says hi to her?  How can she be so stupid as to not think that the militia member who is trying to kill her uncle won't come back for them after she forces Miles not to kill him?  How can Aaron be so stupid as to barge into a house that could've easily been an ambush?  How can he be so stupid as to walk in the open with the pendant of power just dangling from his hand, when he knows it's vitally important?  These people would be dead within a week in the type of brutal world the show wants us to think they live in.

The world itself.  I don't really care how/why the electric went out, in the sense that it needs to make "scientific" sense.  I'm all for technobabble and caves of light.  But the world is so inconsistent and frankly, implausible.  The loss of electricity doesn't mean the loss of steam power, the loss of windmill power, the automatic reversion to some sort of pre-industrial revolution society.  It certainly doesn't mean they can no longer manufacture things like bullets (that whole bullets-are-scarce thing was just utterly stupid).  They've really never addressed how big a die-off there was after the blackout -- I'd really like them to.  Oh, and if you are going to set your story up in a real place (northeastern Illinois), perhaps you should address what happened to the 3 nuclear power plants that surround Chicago that would've melted down after the electric went out, leaving large sections of our heroes' home irradiated.

If the characters were brilliant and compelling (like Lost), I would not worry about the world so much.  If the world itself was coherent and well-built, I'd simply go along for the ride regardless of the shallow characterization.  But neither is well done, and I'm mainly watching just to see exactly what that pendant of power is going to end up doing.

majnun99
majnun99

I kinda feel like if they knew they were going to get a full year they'd have made better casting decisions. It's a godawful ensemble. I don't know if I'll ever get past that.

The dialogue does them no favors but it's a two-way street

Kaptin_Gimpy
Kaptin_Gimpy

I agree with your criticisms of Charlie, but have to throw Miles in there as a fundamental flaw as well.  Not necessarily for the nonsensical decisions, but more for the fact that Billy Burke, who plays Miles, just cannot carry a scene as a leading man.  He can't pull of menace or present himself as a physical threat, nor can he pull off dark brooding.  Put someone like Terry O'Quinn in that role and you stabilize the centre of the show for the "good guys" the same way Giancarlo Esposito stabalizes the centre of the militia.  

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

Yeah, I largely agree with these criticisms. I only care about the world-building/realism insofar as a metaphor of how lived-in the world feels. The Abercrombie amp; Fitch clothing I could ignore, except that it reflects the sense that characters don't really feel/behave they've been living in this kind of world for 15 years. But--maybe forced optimism--I saw the last half of the third episode as at least a move toward that.

ministerial
ministerial

Here's how I put it, James:  The Last Resort requires suspension of disbelief.   Revolution requires suspension of sentience.

It is therefore not a watchable show and it has been noted-to-death. (someone should mint a phrase for this; I"m coming up blank... "note-smothered" maybe? "Notesphixiated"?)

You would literally have to pay me to watch it, so it's good you are getting paid to do so.

Karen Freund
Karen Freund

I tried.  Halfway through episode two I stopped trying.  And I like Tim Guinee and I like Giancarlo Esposito and I was glad to see that Guinee was going to be showing up in flashbacks, but I just couldn't handle the bad dialogue, bad acting and Katniss Everdeen Lite, and total lack of characters I cared anything about. (Wait and I'll tell you how I really feel.)