Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Revolution has begun

The Fall TV series is kicking off with the first of several pilots for new shows, which also makes it the first show in that yearly game of "how soon might it be cancelled".

Our first contestant in this game is Revolution.

Revolution is a dystopian adventure set in the former United States (Illinois at least for the pilot) that tells the tale of what happens some 15 years after a mystery event causes all electrical devices to fail all at once. The show counts among its producers none other than JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk and even at least one of its stars hails from the Abramsverse -- Elizabeth Mitchell. Although it appears she was just a guest star. Another star, Giancarlo Esposito, was seen last season in Once Upon a Time, created by graduates from the Abrams School of TV. Whether these connections might give Revolution, which apparently debuted to satisfactory numbers last night, a full life remains to be seen. After all, end of the world shows (be they about the event itself or the aftermath) aren't typically light fare and more often than not burn out and typically rather fast.

This particular tale opens with a rather blah night in the life of the Matheson family. Mom (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) is on the phone with her mother while daughter Charlie (who appears perhaps 5 years old) and son Danny (around 2 or 3 years old) are watching cartoons waiting for Daddy (Ben) to come home from work. He does in a flurry yelling at his wife to fill everything she can with water and 'it's happening'. She seems to know what he's talking about but of course 'it' happens before much can be done other than an unfinished attempt to contact brother Miles and warn him as well as Ben downloading some kind of file and hiding it in a flash drive in an odd pendant.

It, of course, is everything in the world blacking out including cars, planes. Everything.

Jump ahead 15 years and we see a world overgrown with weeds, streets often flooded, people farming in their former front yards etc. It's also a world where the old government has fallen apart and at least this area is part of the Monroe Republic which is ruled under a martial law where only the Militia can have guns, members are branded with an M and so on. Charlie, now in her early 20s, has become an expert archer and is out hunting with her brother when they find an old camping trailer. Exploring inside triggers one of only a handful of flashbacks, this one to Charlie being allowed to eat ice cream for dinner that fateful night because the freezer no longer works and it will melt and spoil. (Time games such as flashbacks many will remember is a classic Abrams tool). The explorations also trigger an asthma attack for Danny when he opens a cupboard and is showered with dust. Charlie helps her brother home only to be lectured by her father about putting themselves in danger. It is during this that we find out that Mom went out exploring and never returned (they assume she was killed but being that Elizabeth Mitchell is playing the role I think she's definitely returning and not just in flashbacks).

A day or two later the Militia shows up looking for Ben and his brother Miles. Ben initially resists going with the soldiers until Neville threatens to conscript all the children and burn their little 'village'. Things turn ugly when Danny turns up with a bow and arrow and threatens to kill Neville. Ultimately Ben is shot, Danny is arrested and Charlie returns just in time for her father to tell her to find his brother who is in Chicago at an old hotel. Charlie takes off to find Miles accompanied by Grace, the town doctor and Ben's new girlfriend, and Aaron, Ben's best friend who was entrusted with the mystery necklace (which no one knows anything about). Eventually the three make it to Chicago and find Miles who is persuaded to help them after some very kick ass Bourne style fighting against Militia soldiers led to Miles hiding place by a soldier who conned them into letting him join their party. Meanwhile Danny actually managed to get away only to have another attack while running off. He wakes up in the home of a seemingly random woman who lets him stay and rest, tries to cover for him when the Militia shows up and then after he is re-arrested turns out to have some kind of hidden attic with a cobbled together computer that works and a necklace just like Ben's. She sends a message to someone that the Militia had been to the house but they haven't 'found it'.

All in all, this episode was slow and rather illogical. The tale of what happens after the big night is rather unrealistic although that can be passed off as being told 'light on the details' since the audience of the voiceover is, in show time, also a group of younger children. That the whole thing appears to be the result of some kind of EMP pulse burning out everything with a computer circuit (which is like freaking everything in the world) but that is never mentioned is just weird. The amount of overgrowth is very exaggerated for the time that has passed. It looks more like 100 years have gone by. Then there are things like Miles and his friend (later revealed to be THE Monroe himself) are at a base on the East Coast when the Event hits and some how Miles ends up hiding out 2 days hike from his family and Ben knows he's there but Miles apparently hasn't seen either of the kids since that night. Everyone seems a tad too well fed and dressed and apparently had plenty of camping supplies, etc and then there's the bow and arrow games not to mention, the number of expert swordsman who access to actual swords.  It all reeks of poor writing at this point. But then again, this is an Abrams show which means that none of this really is The Story. In the end, the event etc really are't likely to matter. Because Abrams tends to create the same story over and over. Well the same two. First is one about the nature of living and relationships between people. Especially parents and children. Charlie mentions the notion of family several times to the point of Miles literally telling her to tone it down. She invokes family as the reason Miles should help her get back Danny, she tells him it is the reason why she came back just in time when he was trying to kung fu his way out of certain death. The second story in Abrams repeated repertoire is generally called 'the hero's journey'. It's a kind of classic tale of taking a journey to some place out of the norm and finding one's heroic side and maturity. Abrams likes to layer this tale in several forms with heroes and anti-heroes, with characters also playing mentors and tricksters to other 'heroes'. Charlie and Miles would appear to be two obvious players in this tale but something tells me that if this show actually has legs we'll see Danny, Grace and even Aaron (who once worked for this 'computer thing' called Google) finding their hero side as well. The Event, is just window dressing, just a tool to tell these two actual stories, much as the mystery of the Island was window dressing to the same tales being told on Lost. And like with Lost, those expecting to ever get an answer about what happened that night and who was behind it, will likely be very disappointed. As will those that hate time games like flashbacks and such since they are basically a guarantee when Abrams is behind a tale.

I can't say that I was thrilled by this episode but I wasn't disappointed either. It was slow and yes illogical, but it was well shot with none of the cheap Hollywood shaky cam etc crap that I loathe. Yes Mile's fighting skills were rather flashy at times but they were also very crude and dirty, very Bourne if you will so they felt like they could belong to a man that was once a highly trained solder of the Army Ranger ilk. A soldier who has probably kept in shape etc because of a paranoia that those skills might be the difference between life and death at some point. And Burke's performance as Miles was, as they generally all were, understated just enough to know feel over the top. And the show is pulling from some very talented directors who are well versed in character based tales, even character tales dressed up as action or otherwise. Like Jon Favreau who directed last night's pilot.

So again, I wasn't thrilled but I'm curious enough to keep watching. Especially since dystopias are rather an obsession of mine (although with King Arthur/Merlin, Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland).

For those that might have missed the Pilot, it's currently Free on iTunes so grab it and give it a whirl.

Revolution on iTunes. 

And for those that want to check out some other Dystopian and/or End of the World Event shows try out

The Walking Dead
Jeremiah (alas season one is not currently on iTunes, try Netflix)
The Event
Flash Forward
The Fades
Dark Angel (another one for the Netflix queue)
Falling Skies
Odyssey 5 (Netflix it)
Terra Nova

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