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Friday, September 14, 2012

Not exactly a Revolution

Grade: 66%

NBC’s REVOLUTION is exactly the type of series that belongs on TV. It is sweeping and expansive, with a large cast of characters in an interesting and different world. All electricity has been gone for fifteen years, and people have gotten by in a variety of ways. Now, things seem to be at a tipping point, with those in charge, who are not very nice, intent to bring back the power for their own gain. A small band of heroes stands in their way. This mix of the classic story with a new twist sounds fantastic!


The execution, however, leaves a little something to be desired. First of all, why kill off two of the best members of the cast in episode one? We see Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost, V) only in flashback, just before the electricity shuts down. Then, in the future, her husband, Ben (Tim Guinee, The Good Wife), is quickly snuffed out. Both of these are excellent performers, and I sincerely hope that at least one of them isn’t really dead, even though the old plot device is a bit overused in this genre.

Second, the heroes’ journey gets off to a rocky start in that the initial gang is a bit clumsily assembled. Viewers are introduced to Ben’s daughter, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos, Majority Rules!), who is brave, high spirited, and tasked with the fate of the world. Yet, Charlie makes a mistake right away by trusting Nate (JD Pardo, American Dreams) just because he helps her once. She has been raised in this dangerous world. Are we really supposed to believe that Charlie is that naive? And even if we believe her instincts, as Nate may end up being someone worthy of her trust, the character of Nate is extremely uneven in this “Pilot,” trying to prove Charlie’s feelings about him are both unearned, but not entirely misplaced. It doesn’t work.

The rest of Charlie’s group is also a bit odd. Aaron’s (Zak Orth, Romeo + Juliet) involvement is adequately explained because of his connection to Ben, and what he has been entrusted with, which supports that Charlie has reason to rely on him, too, even if he is given a hard time. But then there’s Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips), whom Ben had only recently started dating. Yes, Ben tasked her with taking care of his children before dying, but she doesn’t seem the type who would so operate in such a blindly loyal fashion. She is shrewd and jaded, not exactly someone who should fall in with Charlie and Aaron easily. Yet, she follows Charlie with hardly any argument. Why?

The trio of Charlie, Aaron, and Maggie head out on a quest to find Ben’s brother, Miles (Billy Burke, Twilight), who is also sought after by the evil militia. Miles has a connection to the baddies, and also to Ben, neither of which is fully explored in this episode. Instead, viewers just see that he is tough, resourceful, and can single handedly take on an entire squadron of soldiers. Miles seems to be the unrealistic superhero of the piece. Burke brings just enough mystery to the character’s face to make it mostly believable. Though his decision to join Charlie or not is also handled unevenly, with a glaring missing connection between plot points.

The villains are fleshed out a bit better. We don’t see much of the militia leader, Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons, The Cape, ER) in the first episode, be we do get quite a bit of his henchman, Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad, Once Upon a Time). Tom is hardened, but fair. He serves Monroe, but he isn’t evil himself, just doing what he needs to do to make a life in this new world. He seems genuine when he talks to his captive, Ben’s son, Danny (Graham Rodgers), whom the hero troop wants to rescue. Esposito, already proven a brilliant actor in other work, delicately shapes a fully defined character in a landscape that doesn’t naturally lend itself to such a feat, a triumph on his part.

And then there’s Grace (Maria Howell), who helps Danny, but also seems to unexpectedly have a connection to Ben. While she is just as ill-defined as the rest of the cast, she is also the mysterious stranger, which means this fits a bit better on her. She doesn’t get a lot of time in the “Pilot,” especially after we learn her secret, so she still has time to make a great initial impression. Let’s see if she can do so when much of the rest of the characters haven’t quite landed.

The pacing is a problem, quite possible the biggest one. A lot happens in the “Pilot,” and in a show like REVOLUTION, that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. Many of the issues that arise occur by forcing events along too quickly, instead of taking time. Charlie and the others could have spent several episodes making their way to Miles, really earning them their prize. Instead, it feels like the writers want to rush through the introduction so that they can get to the story they want to make. This is a mistake, as if the relationships and motivations are explored more delicately now, then the set up will be ripe when the bigger action arrives. Fixing the pacing could solve many of the other complaints.

Television is capable of making a great sci-fi show (see: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, etc.). Yet, many of the efforts of the last few years fall a little flat (see: Terra Nova, V, FlashForward, The Event, etc.) Why is this? Do producers think that delivering a good hook absolves them from having to develop the characters completely? The draw of great genre shows has always been rich, complex people filling out the strange worlds that are presented. Viewers want to relate to the characters, not just see interesting new landscapes and special effects. REVOLUTION has the potential to be a great show, if it can fix the problems with the “Pilot,” which thankfully are not universal across every character and scene. But there is much work to be done if it’s going to be the next cult favorite.

REVOLUTION premieres September 17 on NBC, and is currently available online.

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