There have now been five aired episodes of the show Revolution on NBC (“We Kill Comedy”) and while I’m enjoying the series, I’ve noticed some inherent problems that may, in fact, prevent it from lasting as long as network executives tend to want things to last; i.e. forever. That’s sort of the issue with having a high-concept show with lots of characters: the story outruns the world it inhabits. The show was created by Supernatural’s Eric Kripke and Super Producer J.J. Abrams, so there’s enough talent behind the scenes to hopefully right any of the shaking seas the series has as it makes its way from the docks, but there’s certainly rough waters ahead if they aren’t careful.
First, I’ll talk about what is working. The overall conceit, of a world suddenly and instantaneously bereft of all electrical power (even batteries) and the feudal, violent society that would rise out of that, is incredibly interesting. The built-in mystery of how and why the lights went out is a great fulcrum on which to balance narrative threads. The images of once-great American cities completely overgrown with greenery are very cool, and starting the action in a huge, recognizable city like Chicago immediately grounds the notion in plausibility. We can see how the world has coped 15 years after everything changed.
Secondly, the characters are, for the most part, very engaging. The action centers around Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos), the now-orphaned girl looking to rescue her brother from militia members. She’s a good central figure and has overcome the initial “tough-girl” clichés to become a strong but not yet world-weary woman on a mission. Her estranged and mysterious uncle Miles (Billy Burke) gives the show a central heroic figure with a dark side and a clouded past. He can swash a serious amount of buckle. The best member of the cast, unsurprisingly, is Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Neville, the military man who captured Charlie’s brother. He’s a chilling and complex villain, though he’s ultimately subservient to the militia head, Monroe (David Lyons). These three are enough to keep audiences (me) interested as the quest continues.
Now for some of the problems: The overarching plot is too big but the immediate plot is too small. For the first five episodes, the main thrust has been Charlie and Miles (and company) trying to find Charlie’s brother Danny who’s been kidnapped by Monroe’s men. Why? Because their father and Miles’ brother knew something about why the power went out. So, each episode thus far has been the good guys searching for Danny, Danny and Neville having words en route back to Monroe’s base, and Monroe searching for why the power went out. Sure, different things happen every week, but this really can’t last at this level too much longer.
There is a secondary plot thread regarding a medallion that Mr. Matheson’s friend Aaron now possesses. We see that it and ones like it act as mini generators which can power electronics within its radius. We also see that there must be other people with them somewhere because people talk to each other via internet. We learned in this last episode that there are in fact 12 such medallions in the world, or likely all in America somewhere. This worries me as I fear once the “Let’s Find Danny” story arc is completed, the show will just be a “Let’s Find the Medallions” quest-based show. Those rarely last to the fruition of the quest. And “12” seems like a number both arbitrary and throwaway. They just want some number large enough to span the series as a whole. I hope there becomes more to that.
Something that keeps happening is that we get character flashbacks throughout the episode, not unlike what they used to do on LOST. These are used to give context to what a character thinks and does in the present and also to explain some of the murkier relationships the show has created. While glimpses into what happened just prior to and just after the blackout are interesting, I think that other show relied too heavily on these flashbacks and ultimately it diminished their impact. It’s much more of a narrative oomph if mysteries are solved in the present and not simply by seeing something in a flashback we didn’t know we’d missed. This series by its very nature has a LOST vibe, so drawing even more unnecessary comparisons is not the best of ideas.
There is also the beginnings of what looks like will be a recurring “will they/won’t they” between Charlie and one of the militia spies following her and the other heroes. I really hate this kind of thing; she’s the good girl, he’s the bad boy – they shouldn’t get together, but they somehow can’t seem to stay apart. GAG. It’s the Romeo & Juliet trope and it’s about as hacky a thing as one can write. I’m all for adding a bit of romance to the show; that wouldn’t hurt anything, but this is not the way to go. Not least of which because the guy who plays the militia soldier, “Nate,” is a charisma vacuum.
The action on the show thus far is really great and so what I’m hoping is that the series levels out a bit; gets past this initial quest and becomes more about larger themes within the frame of it being about a small group of characters. Shows like Battlestar Galactica became a truly fantastic show once it stopped being merely about humans running from Cylons and got into the interconnectedness of the characters and the society in which they’re living. I like the different story threads that Revolution is doing, but I’d like them to be a bit more than just get from point A to point B.
If Revolution can be more like middle-seasons Supernatural and avoid becoming like latter-seasons LOST, then it’ll be on TV for a good long while. If not, then I fear it’ll be a one-and-done, which is a shame because high-concept sci-fi shows are a hell of a lot of fun to watch. But, hey, it’s on NBC and there’s no way they’d let a good show die…