‘Revolution,’ hobbled by its premise
In NBC's post-apocalyptic drama, good folks battle evil folks
September 5, 2012
In a post-apocalyptic America, a band of likable folks unite to battle lowlife outlaws and the unjust local rulers. That sounds familiar, but it also sounds fun.
It turns out, however, that the disaster that destroyed American civilization was caused by a powerful, shadowy group intent on keeping the country literally in the dark. That sounds familiar, but it also sounds tedious.
That's basically the good news and the bad news about NBC's new drama "Revolution." TV can handle serialized action, but as a long list of series including "The X-Files," "Lost," "FlashForward," "Jericho" and "The Event" has shown, shows with an overarching conspiracy or mystery behind them tend to get dragged down by the complexity or absurdity of their "mythology."
Even in its first episode, the premise behind "Revolution" already sounds both complex and absurd, but the characters, suspense and well-staged violence make up for it. As the aforementioned shows have proved, the struggle between fun action and paranoid conspiracy theorizing is usually a losing one for both sides, but "Revolution" might beat those odds.
At least the series is upfront about its paranoid side. In the opening scene of the premiere, which airs on Monday, Sept. 17, at 10 p.m., Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) comes home with emergency supplies, telling his wife, Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell), to fill the tubs and sinks with water.
He then phones his brother, Miles (Billy Burke), a marine, and tells him, "It's going to turn off, and it will never turn back on." Suddenly, in an eerie scene, lights blink out, cars come to a dead stop on the highway, and airplanes begin to fall out of the sky.
Ben has had time to download some files and store them on a thumb drive, which he inserts into a medallion that sort of resembles the Federation insignia on "Star Trek."
In the next scene, it's 15 years later. After untold deaths and chaos, America has reverted to a preindustrial state. Ben is living with his two children in a peaceful agrarian village that seems to be squatting in one of those subdivisions that typically went underwater in the recent real estate meltdown. Suddenly, a troop of militiamen led by Capt. Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) ride in and, acting "under the authority of the Monroe Republic," demand that Ben surrender.
Ben's teenage son, Danny (Graham Rogers), resists, setting off a skirmish in which Ben is killed and Danny is taken prisoner. Ben has just enough time to tell Danny's sister, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), to go to Chicago to find Miles.
Accompanying Charlie on her quest are Ben's new girlfriend, Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), with whom Charlie has a typical teenager-stepmother relationship, and Aaron (Zak Orth), a pudgy, nerdy villager who is now in possession of the mysterious thumb drive.
The journey of the three is entertaining, even if much of the action and many of the visuals will bring back strong memories of such dystopian films and shows as "Jericho," "I Am Legend" and, most strongly, "The Hunger Games." Both Danny and Katniss — oops, I mean Charlie — hunt with bows, as does a cute young man named Nate (J.D. Pardo), whom Charlie meets on the trail.
Second Amendment fans will be disheartened to learn that the tyrannical Monroe Republic has outlawed the private possession of firearms.
Captain Neville is a satisfyingly supercilious villain, and his superiors show signs of being even more evil. A reluctant hero, Miles actually seems tough enough to be able to fight 20 or so bad guys singlehandedly. (As usual in this sort of brawl, the bad guys politely take turns attacking him.)
In another cliché, three different good guys are menaced with certain death or worse, only to be saved at the last second by an unseen rescuer who stabs the assailant from behind. As is often the case in incident-filled dramas, some characters' behavior defies logic.
But the script throws in a twist or two that keep us off-balance. The sight of familiar landmarks in a state of ruin is just as powerful as it was when we saw the Statue of Liberty at the end of "Planet of the Apes."
Sadly, the conspiracy aspects of the story seem to be settling into a well-worn rut. Like the premise of "Jericho," it presupposes the existence of a group of sociopaths who are willing to cause the death of millions to further whatever is their goal. The nature of Ben's involvement is unclear, but since we hardly get to know him before he dies, we don't have much of a stake in the answer.
We could give the show's creator — Eric Kripke, who also created "Supernatural" — the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's got some amazing reveal up his sleeve, but one of Kripke's fellow executive producers is J.J. Abrams, who kept us waiting for six seasons of "Lost" before revealing that he and his fellow writers had no satisfying explanation for all the oddities on the island.
One could watch "Revolution" for the action and have a good time. But when and if the producers explain the premise, they should be prepared for the audience to revolt.
Tags: Accompanying Charlie, America, Ben Matheson Tim Guinee, Captain Neville, characters, conspiracy, Eric Kripke, J.J. Abrams, Jericho, Monroe Republic, nbc, Second Amendment, Star Trek, time, Tom Neville Giancarlo Esposito, tv
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