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.

Charlie is supposed to be headstrong but manages to keep getting in trouble as she is driven by the guilt of not being there when her brother needed her. None of the characters really has an inner life, though. Miles spouts sarcastic lines and broods when he's not slicing and dicing militiamen. In one episode the party finds a resistance group planning to restore the United States of America. Their "rebel base, " a long abandoned Applebees style restaurant, not long after a Militia attack has killed and wounded many of its members. As Miles recommends leaving them to their fate, one of the rebels, a former girlfriend, in the best Luke Skywalker-to-Han Solo fashion, say's "Look around you, these people are hurt," since apparently the only thing that works on the guy is guilt.

The rebel leader, a Catholic priests, starts giving instructions for where they'll rendezvous when shots blast through the windows. Apparently no one thought to put sentries on duty and the militia has lined up right outside to fire muskets at them. Pinned down, Miles uses his special ops military training and tells the rebels to use whatever they can to start digging a tunnel through the back of the restaurant, using, apparently any leftover silverware. In minutes they have burrowed several feet, apparently using the Bugs Bunny tunneling technique, but surprisingly, to no avail, since restaurant chair legs make poor tunnel support columns. Since just about everyone on the show seems too stupid to live, one wonders if the cast can survive the season.

Meanwhile, why did the lights go out, anyway? Aaron discovers the mysterious flash drive has the means of spontaneously activating nearby electrical devices momentarily. This is apparently the heart of the show's "mythology," the gradually to be revealed, through flashbacks, rather unintriguing mystery of how things came to this point. After three episodes of foolish and uninteresting characters stuck with a breakdown of the laws of dramatic action I didn't care why the laws of physics stopped working.

*This Review First Published 10/8/2012