Saturday, September 28, 2013

REVOLUTION Still Same Old, Same Old

Article first published as REVOLUTION Still Same Old, Same Old on TheTVKing.

NBC's Revolution begins its second season tonight with "Born in the U.S.A." It's been six months since the bombs decimated Atlanta and Philadelphia, and the survivors of the Tower have spread out. Some are settled in a small town, others have taken off to find missing relations, and still others are out on their own, heading down a self-destructive path.

First things first: the power is back off. Turns out, it only stayed on for a few minutes. Why? Well, no one knows, or at least no one viewers are familiar with knows. There are hints that this is still an ongoing thread, though, and I look forward both to further exploration of the topic, and movement on the getting-it-back-on front. This central storyline often takes a backseat to personal issues, but it's really what drives some of the most exciting episodes, and should be paid more attention to.

The most likely to be involved in this arc is Aaron (Zak Orth). Though he has moved into a house with a woman (Jessica Collins, Rubicon) and teaches elementary school, he still worries about what is going on in the world at large, and is curious about strange behavior by fireflies and other insects. He's got to be the one to figure things out, or at least spur the others to go somewhere they can find more information.

I have to admit, "Born in the U.S.A." really upset me by killing off Aaron. He ranks at the top of the list of favorite characters, and it would be a shame to lose him so early in what could be a long run. I was furious at the show and ready to rail against it had there not been that final scene of him opening his eyes again. Without it, this review would likely be colored by strong emotion and be much less positive.

Aaron dies when the small town where he, Miles (Billy Burke), and  Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) are living are attacked by raiders. This is an interesting turn and definitely one that people in their situation would have to deal with, but I can't help comparing Revolution to The Walking Dead here. The town is surrounded by a wall, like Woodbury, though it keeps out living humans, not zombies. And the leader of the raiders (Matt Ross, Big Love) does have shades of The Governor in the way he runs his camp and the falsely pleasant demeanor he tries to exude.

Unfortunately, while we know fans of good TV like this sort of development based on The Walking Dead's ratings, Revolution is much more poorly written than that show, meaning it suffers when it invites comparison. I'd rather they try to differentiate themselves more. It may be that this similarity was not purposefully conceived, but now that it's obviously happened, it's best to abandon it quickly and move on.

Miles is still playing the hero in "Born in the U.S.A." He tries to leave the town, but comes back when he rightly fears they will be attacked, leading to he and the sheriff getting captured. I guess this means the sheriff is probably expendable and will die soon. Miles could end up getting his job, and then he'd have a real reason to stay, even though that would be out of character for him. Though it wouldn't be the first time Revolution let someone veer out of character, and Miles always walks a thin line between believability and stereotype.

The gripping drama of this setting goes to Rachel who is deeply damaged by the events at the Tower. She is haunted and feels guilty, looking like a hollow shell of a person. Mitchell handles this beautifully, really making us understand her pain. Sure, she'll have to come out of it sooner rather than later, but I'm in no hurry to see that happen if only because I like that Mitchell has meaty material to mine, as the scripts aren't always worthy of her.

Rachel is staying with her father (Stephen Collins, 7th Heaven) during her time of healing. It's nice that she gets to go home to a caring parent who can take care of her, as that seems like just what she needs in her sorry state, even if he doesn't seem to be really helping much. Of course, I like Collins and I like this part, especially because it expands what we know of Rachel, so he joining the cast as a new main character is a welcome development.

Rachel's dad talks about how she has always gone for the wrong guys until she met her now-deceased husband, Ben (Tim Guinee). I can definitely see some truth in that, coming through in the way Mitchell plays Rachel. However, her dad is totally wrong that Miles is one of those "wrong" guys. Miles certainly has been selfish and careless from time to time, but bringing Rachel home at a critical junction should have earned him points, and defending the town ought to, too. And Rachel isn't exactly a perfect girl, either, making her share of mistakes. Really, Miles is a great combination of the bad boy and the noble man, at least in the episodes that serve him well, so perhaps he's the right mix for Rachel to end up with, even if he is her brother-in-law, since that seems to be where Revolution is heading.

In season one, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is initially painted as the main character. This is unfortunate, because while she works OK as a member an ensemble, her role isn't strong enough to hold the show. Considering this, I was hoping she'd stay with the group for awhile and not get played up. No such luck.

In "Born in the U.S.A.," Charlie strikes out on her own in search of Monroe (David Lyons). We don't know why she does this because the episode doesn't tell us explicitly, so we must assume it's holdover anger from last year. Maybe she still wants revenge for her brother's death? And her father's? She certainly doesn't want to be Monroe's friend, aiming an arrow at him. But it's hard to find anything compelling about her story. Plus, she was settled for a couple of months in the town with the others before she went hunting, so it would be nice if Revolution explained why she decided to depart when she did, what is so urgent about her quest.

In fact, we only get a couple of small glimpses at the intervening six months. This is fine, letting the story reset itself, and there's always the possibility of seeing more down the road.

Before Charlie has the chance to kill Monroe, he is nabbed by some bad guys. I'm much more interested in his story than Charlie's. His nation fallen, Monroe is hiding in New Las Vegas, getting into fights for money, gambling away his earnings, and generally acting like he doesn't care about his life. This makes sense, given the circumstances, and while we don't know why he is kidnapped specifically, there are plenty who'd like to get their hands on Monroe after everything he's done. Yes, we'll have to deal with Charlie intruding in the arc, but this still should be pretty interesting over the next few weeks.

One group that may want Monroe is the United States government. Sailing in from Cuba, rebuilding the White House, the unseen President wants to be back in charge. I assume this is the same President from when the power went out, so his term is long expired and he failed to hold the country together, which doesn't give me a lot of confidence that people will fall in line for him. But he could either publicly hang Monroe as a traitor to score some points, or use him to make Monroe's former subjects fall in line. Either way, the government seems the most likely organization with the ability to catch Monroe.

That being said, though the government is the most obvious choice, it could also be someone with a personal vendetta, like Charlie. There's got to be plenty of those out there. What I'm saying is, take my theory with a grain of salt, though it seems reasonable to me.

The reason we know the government is on the move, besides a brief, unexplained glimpse of activity at the White House, is that a representative sails to shore near Tom (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jason (JD Pardo), who are looking in Atlanta refugee camps for the missing Julia (Kim Raver). The pair haven't decided whether to approach the boat yet, but they likely will be involved in whatever is going on here.

Now, this could pull them away from their current mission. They can't exactly keep asking about Julia if the government is rounding folks up and moving them or assigning them some task. However, in this post-apocalyptic world, it makes sense few would have time to indulge in such hopeless pursuits as looking for someone who quite likely will not be found.

It must be said that the balance between Tom and Jason has definitely shifted, and that is to be appreciated. Both have been through a lot, and it has shaped them in different ways. Though they're not at odds as much as they once were, there is still thick tension between them. I wonder how long they can remain a pair alone.

I like the approach Revolution has of tying their characters into the larger arcs, approaching the big issues from the small scale. There's many things the show does wrong, including being cheesy and under developing its stories and players, but this is not one of them. It is far more interesting to have Tom and Jason, two familiar, main characters, get caught up in something and experience it from their viewpoint than to introduce a bunch of new people or take the situation broadly in an army vs. army scenario.

"Born in the U.S.A." has some good beginnings and a few really nice scenes for the a couple of the most excellent actors in the cast to show some range. It does still suffer some of the flaws of season one, being predictable and inconsistent, but for now I think it's worth keeping tabs on, as it still could eventually reach its potential, evident by several elements already present, and that would make for an amazing show.

Revolution airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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