First Thoughts: NBC's 'Revolution'


I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for shows like this. With all the generic police procedurals, medical dramas and half-baked sitcoms out there, when a post-apocalyptic sci-fi pops up on network TV, I sit up and take notice. After all, on the business side, sci-fi series are expensive to produce and tricky to keep on the air. And on the creative side, shows like last year’s Terra Nova prove how difficult it is to strike a balance between character, exposition and special effects when you’re dealing with a fantastical premise.

But in the case of NBC’s new series Revolution, I’m feeling more confident than I was about Terra Nova. It’s true that Revolution requires some suspension of disbelief. But the strength of its characters and the persistent, engaging theme of our overdependence on electricity prove that it's one of the most promising new shows this season.

Revolution relates how the world carries on after a complete, seemingly permanent electrical blackout. The story picks up 15 years after the power went off. In America, cities are overgrown, the federal government has fallen, and a number of militias have taken over. The most prominent one is the Monroe Republic, which appears to control much of the Midwest.

Living in the midst of this new world order is Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), a young woman whose father had some mysterious connection to the blackout. When Charlie’s father is killed by the militia and her brother Danny (Graham Rogers) is kidnapped, Charlie sets out to recruit her uncle Miles (Billy Burke) to rescue Danny. Along with her late father’s girlfriend and family friend Aaron, Charlie treks across what remains of the country to repair her family and possibly unravel how to turn the lights back on.

On the surface, Revolution plays like an expanded version of the History Channel program Life After People. The dilapidated landscapes and ruins of society are fascinating to look at, but it helps that we have a plucky heroine to root for. The characters are well-drawn, and several of them have developed more in two episodes than many characters do in a whole season of other sci-fi shows.

The first thing you have to get past while watching Revolution is the nagging part of your brain that rejects the “science” behind the show. We’re supposed to believe that anything that produced electricity no longer can; that includes batteries, generators and nuclear reactors. For now, the show is keeping the reason a secret, but I have a feeling that the answer, when it comes, isn’t going to be all that satisfying.

But I’m willing to disregard that, because the show uses the concept of a permanent blackout in such an interesting way. We all know how annoying it can be to lose power for a few hours or even a few days. But in Revolution, it’s been the case for 15 years. It’s a scenario that feels familiar and foreign all at once.

The situation extends beyond the loss of cellphones and TVs. There’s no cars, no trains, no airplanes. Characters like Maggie (Anna-Lise Philips), who was visiting the United States from Britain when the blackout happened, are stranded. In the second episode, she reminds us that she probably won’t see her children again – to do so would require a dangerous sea voyage lasting weeks or months.

But the writers don’t bang us over the head with the concept. Instead, they approach Maggie’s isolation through common piece of technology: an iPhone. She doesn’t miss texting or updating Facebook; she misses looking at the only photos she has of her kids, now locked inside a dead hunk of metal and glass. At every turn, the show demonstrates how dependent we are on electricity – and fortunately, the show has yet to feel patronizing or pedantic on the topic.

It’s also interesting to see how the post-apocalyptic scenario challenges our ideas about the morality of Revolution's characters. The second episode of the show deals with Charlie’s misgivings over whether to kill the militiamen and bounty hunters chasing her group. At first, she wants be merciful, but we slowly see her change her mind.  Naturally, we assume that an innocent main character on network TV can’t kill anyone in cold blood. But maybe we’ll be forced to accept Charlie’s decision, and that’s an interesting direction for a major series to take.

We might be only two episodes in, but Revolution gets a strong recommendation from me. If the show can hang on to its serialized structure and keep its characters fresh, we could be looking at a program that will stick around on NBC (something relatively novel for the network recently).

Have you seen any of the early episodes of Revolution? What did you think? Can it carve out a place for itself in the fall lineup, or will viewers ignore it? What new shows do you think might take off this season? Share your reaction to this season of TV in the comments section! If you liked this article, share it with your friends and followers, and check out some of my other TV-related posts here:


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