Monday, September 17, 2012

Revolution -- A Review of the New NBC Drama

Revolution premieres tonight, September 17, 2012 at 10/9c on NBC


In recent years, the television drama has seen a real rise in quality and substance, the standards for series all around reaching new heights. This success started off with premium cable networks offering more substantial, more elaborate shows as a perk to subscribers. They would only grow in popularity and run a long time, and even eventually influence the more freely-available networks like basic cable and even the once-mighty broadcasters. One subgenre that benefited in particular from this boom was the post-apocalyptic setting, often containing survivalist themes. As far as recent examples go, the trend can be traced back to Jericho, which aired on CBS in 2006 and followed a small farming community in Kansas, cut off from society by a crippling terrorist attack and trying desperately to hang on by itself. Since then, more successful examples of this genre have popped up on cable. Chief among them is The Walking Dead, AMC's intense zombie apocalypse smash hit, and the Steven Spielberg-produced Falling Skies, a show on TNT just past its second season about a band of rebels fighting invading aliens. And now, NBC throws its hat into the ring with Revolution, from producer J.J. Abrams.

Revolution is set fifteen years after the world is thrown into turmoil by a mass blackout. In this inexplicable event, all forms of energy cease to function, and it's more than just all the power going out at once. Nothing works, not batteries, cars stall dead on the road, airplanes fall from the sky. In the setting proper, we're left with sprawling ruins all over the globe covered in dominating plant life, as depicted in Life After People. We follow Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), who was a little girl when the lights went out and now dreams of exploring the world outside her neighborhood, which looks like a small agrarian development over an old suburb. But one day, the local warlords come in, kill her father and take her brother, Danny (Graham Rogers) prisoner. This propels her to start on a journey to find him, first going to the ruins of Chicago to meet her tough, hermit-like uncle Miles (Billy Burke, the dad from Twilight).

All the promos you've seen NBC throw around for Revolution (considering the network's woes, it shouldn't be so surprising that a lot of energy goes there to generate a lot of substantial material) look to make a great first impression. If you look into the archives of this blog, you will find that the initial trailer for this show as soon as it was picked up this past May made me very excited. I could easily relate to a show that suggested that we are a little too closely connected to our electronics, because I thought it was a good point and still do. In fact, producer Abrams suggested that one of the major conflicts on this show is said to be the debate of whether or not the power should ever come back on. We even have a promo of Charlie, out protagonist saying that she doesn't think it should, stating that "When the world lost power, I found mine." I'm not sure if I can go that far, but I won't deny Abrams words either, saying that we may need to get away from it all.

But aside from that, we also get the images of a great-looking show. Another executive producer is our pilot's director Jon Faverau, the Iron Man director who I think might be the best actor-turned-director working. We get an intense opening sequence of all the power going off in the opening scene of the pilot, showing real reactions of people observing the world essentially coming to a halt. It all goes from two kids desensitized by bright flashing images off a TV and a smartphone to the chilling image of airplanes stalling midair and falling into fiery explosions. Equally as frightful is the last image on the TV, showing Bugs Bunny looking like he's trapped in a close-up shot as the image sputters around and flickers off. And the world of ruin is also great-looking. I already mentioned the History Channel's Life After People, but the same inspiration could also be found in Alan Weisman's The World Without Us. The first montage of this world promises great atmosphere as a benefit of the time-jump from the initial cataclysm, in the suitable nomadic setting and premise the show will offer. The only problem I have is in the wardrobe. Everyone's clothes look like their in good shape, and are surprisingly well-tailored. This is a world where all governments and economies failed, right? There is no Kohl's or Target to get these clothes from, much less factories to make them. It really is a nitpick and the show shouldn't be judged completely on it, but I felt like bringing it up.

But this world, covered in vegetation that is eating through all remains of the city, isn't the only one we'll see. I will admit, I initially thought that we were skipping a lot of potentially interesting stuff by jumping ahead fifteen years to the main setting. To my pleasant surprise, the pilot offered a few flashbacks to immediately after the initial blackout. An article in Entertainment Weekly also shows a picture promising to see how the family of our main heroes copes in the brave new world without power. I'm not saying either time period is better than the other. But, the initial narration talking about the inferred holocaust almost felt like a cheat, like they were leaving out some real juicy stories. Now though, I can say that the potential of this show is double the size you would expect, offering the potential for great survivalist themes on two accounts. The first being about people hoping to get by on limited resources, having just been sapped completely in a single fell swoop. And the other being a war zone where the survivors of the last fifteen years constantly pick up their arms and ward off any direct threat, like from that militia.

And finally, let's compare and contrast for a minute. Both Jericho and Falling Skies started off showcasing characters trying to survive in what seemed like a dead world, Falling Skies with some sense of a direct threat. Both shows however, would find direct conflict in their second seasons. The Walking Dead only sounds like it could be about direct conflict, given the presence of zombies. But you can argue that zombies aren't that exciting to watch as villains, and the greatest strengths of that show come to light in other ways as a real display of survivalist action and suspense. So far, all of these shows have really raised the bar for this genre, and Revolution has a long climb to make. But, while we do have one big, direct source of conflict hanging over the show, the potential for some serious survivalist overtones still hangs high. With any luck, it'll hit a strong chord both in storytelling and with audiences.

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