Start the Revolution Without Me: A Review of Revolution
- Monday, October 08, 2012
The Apocalypse continues this fall on NBC. After crashing through Battlestar Galactica, Jericho, Lost, Flash Forward, The Event, The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Terra Nova—did I miss anyone?—it lands with a soft thump at the bottom dwelling Peacock Network where 21st century society is thrown back to the 18th century when the all electrical power stops working. As you can tell from some of the shows on the list above, having civilization collapse isn't always a guarantee of ratings but this fall season's experiment in catastrophe is making a less than electrifying effort.
The pilot starts in our time, in Chicago as Ben Matheson bursts in the door of his house in a panic and tells his wife to start filling water bottles and the bathtub. His wife Rachel (Elisabeth Mitchell of Lost and another short-lived catastrophe series, V) responds, "It's happening, isn't it?" And as Ben is downloading data from his computer into a USB drive, a low hum rises all around them and the lights flicker and the power dies—and there's a kind of hush, all over the world that night. Planes fall from the sky, cars stop rolling, cell phones die and the world turns black. The story picks up fifteen years later as what was the United States has become an agrarian society fought over by various armed militia with the Monroe Militia controlling the local area. Gun ownership is forbidden for civilians and the remaining firearms (muskets, rifles, automatics, etc.) are mostly held by the militia, but everybody often uses swords to save on gunpowder and bullets.
A squad of militia enter the community led Captain Tom Neville (played by Giancarlo Esposito, so creepily evil on Breaking Bad, and just as nasty in a different way here) who says he's here to take Ben into custody. When the locals try to resist Tom's capture, guns go off and Ben's mortally wounded. Having earlier given his tech geek friend Aaron Pittman his unique flash drive before he dies, with his dying breath he tells Aaron to get it to his brother Miles in Chicago, and the militia takes his teenage son Danny instead. Meanwhile, Ben's young daughter, Charlie, who's been off sulking like a typical teen, arrives with her crossbow (clearly inspired by Katniss from The Hunger Games) too late to help and now she's got guilt so she joins Aaron in the journey to Chicago.
I first saw the trailer online for the new series last summer, thinking it was a movie. But I quickly noticed how nicely everyone was dressed, like they'd pillaged nearby Banana Republic and Gap stores after the blackout—they were too decked out to be in a dystopian movie. Similarly, everyone's hair looked clean and well coifed, and the women's skin had rosy cheeks. If The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Lost has taught us anything about premodern and post-disaster life in the wild, it's that no one's hair and skin survives exposure to such a harsh existence looking like television actors on a photo shoot. Charlie is often shot with lovely backlighting no matter what direction she's facing.
If the cast looks surprisingly fresh, the show's production design is jarringly realistic.Cities are overgrown with vines and weeds. Automobile hulks sit rusting in the sun; such a tarnished world is the only part of the series that feels real. As Charlie and company reach Chicago, she walks into a bar and asks the bartender if he knows where Miles Matheson is. Wouldn't you know it, the bartender just happens to be her Uncle Miles; what are the chances? Indeed the first hour of the show is full of such rushed and improbable plotting and it doesn't spend much time developing characters we care about. Miles (Billy Burke) is the classic reluctant hero, obviously hiding things, and somewhat disreputable, but when militia members show up, he's a wizard with his sword. Charlie guilts him into helping them find her brother and soon they're off to find Captain Neville's headquarters.
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