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Revolution: Series Premiere

By Becky Kifer · September 18, 2012

A couple of years back I inadvertently read The Stand, The Passage, and The Road within a few weeks of each other. Pages and pages of biological warfare gone wrong, vampiric creatures, and cataclysmic survivalism—it was like Oprah’s Book Club with a side of cannibalism. Television hasn’t helped my disaster fixation, particularly with the recent rash of shows celebrating all things annihilatory. As high profile projects like The Walking Dead and Falling Skies draw viewers in with names like Darabont and Spielberg, disaster has become the new cop show. 

Now J.J. Abrams has thrown his hat into the ruins as an executive producer on Revolution, a tale of survival in a world where, 15 years prior, all technology ceased to work. No cars, no batteries, no computers. Nations broken, cities ravaged. Losing the use of TiVo is devastating enough, but what do you do when society can no longer produce inhalers for asthma? What good is money in the bank when all the ones-and-zeroes are gone?

Revolution resides in a world of mass chaos, but instead of focusing on the whys and hows, or the greater conspiracy of what turned off the lights, the primary focus is who. Abrams is the big name above the banner, but the show is the brainchild of Eric Kripke, Grand Poobah of the Supernatural fandom. As series creator of Supernatural Kripke was the macro guy—the world, the concepts, the brawn. The micro concepts weren’t his forte; those flourished later with the help of various writers and co-executive producers.

With Revolution it seems Kripke has taken some of those Supernatural lessons to heart in his second go-around as executive producer (technically third, but as I’m not sure anyone but myself actually watched the WB’s hot-mess Tarzan, I’m going to give him a sympathy pass). Crazy-big storytelling is fine, but you also have to parallel that with human drama. And that’s exactly what the pilot of Revolution promised.

It doesn’t mean some of the “we’re family” lines aren’t kitschy, it just means it Revolution isn’t building its foundation on high-concept alone (oh, The Event, how I don’t miss you). For as much as we TV nerds would like it to happen, it’s going to take a long while (if ever) for a series to launch with the sophistication of the Lost pilot. But as I watched the cast of Revolution running around like Ragnarok Robin Hoods in their peasant couture, riding horses and getting into swordfights, I found it easy to let myself have a good time as the story skirted that indivisible line between fun and hokey. I never thought I’d be able to un-ironically use the word “swashbuckling” in a review, but Revolution has given me this gift.

The pilot opens moments before the lights go out, as Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) rushes home to warn his family that “it” is finally happening. With his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and young children, he has just enough time to call his brother Miles (Billy Burke) before the phone lines die. Years pass, and after some heavy-handed narration and apocalyptic shots of cities, we’re dropped back into a world post-power.

Living in a peaceful community, the Matheson clan (sans Rachel, who mysteriously died years earlier) has survived the blackout until a ruthless militia unit, led by the creepy-calm Captain Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), comes looking for Ben. After a scuffle Ben is murdered and his son Danny (Graham Rogers) kidnapped, forcing his daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) to go on a cross-country search for Miles, an ex-soldier who can help her rescue her brother. Alongside her is Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), a doctor romantically involved with Charlie’s father, and Aaron (Zak Orth), a former Google employee with whom Ben left a mysterious object linked to the blackout.

Charlie, with her stupid-perfect Herbal Essences hair and her Neutrogena complexion, is hardly the poster girl for the end of heated showers, but she’s not some sexed up Katniss Everdeen, so I’m going to count my blessings and watch her character develop. However, can we discuss how amazing Maggie (apparently a warrior princess medicine woman) was while choking out a marauder with the cord of a plane oxygen mask? Her I like. A lot. Although Charlie and Maggie aren’t exactly on good terms, they’re hardly enemies. I’m eager to see this relationship play out, as most stepdaughter/mother-esque roles in pop culture tend to lean toward toxic. For once, it would be nice to see the opposite (if they don’t kill Maggie in episode two).

Whether it’s a mindset driven by world events, or an innate curiosity to push ourselves and society to the limit, we as an audience sure love us some End Times. But while we want the what-ifs, the fantasy needs to overrule the reality. No one wants to go to bed depressed, wondering if they’ll wake up to nuclear fallout. We want consequences, but TV-friendly resolutions, too. In that vein, Revolution appears to have found the balance between allegory and action adventure, take-it-with-a-grain and attention to detail. It’s ambitious, but luckily without the shawl of pretentiousness that hung around the neck of past failed action-sci-fi-mystery shows like FlashForward or Alcatraz, and more widely accessible than the sometimes bleak Battlestar Galactica (RIP, BSG).

With the overall mythology of what turned off the power operating in the background, Revolution looks to be a road trip from hell as Charlie and company traverse a broken America in search of Danny. As the show hopefully grows more complex with time (assuming people watch; Terra Nova was supposed to be the next big thing and look what’s not on the Fall 2012 roster) it can expand beyond merely entertaining. At such an early stage it’s safe to say Revolution isn’t great—but I look forward to the day when it could be. Apocalypse ahoy!