The new NBC show Revolution asks the question: What would happen if one day all electricity just stopped working? A giant pulse that shuts down everything–even engines and batteries are kaput–and suddenly the world as we know it is thrown back to the semi-dark ages.
Or the television version of it. So, the Dark Ages with dental care, amazing haircuts and perfectly tailored clothing for all the leads.
From the genre-happy minds of J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural), and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens), this idea is explored with some mixed results.
Moments before the wave hits, a frantic Ben Matheson rushes home to tell his wife Rachel (a quick cameo by the always beautiful Elizabeth Mitchell) to fill the tub with water because, “it’s happening.” Ben downloads something on a small flash drive, while urgently trying to reach his brother Miles (played by Billy Burke of Twilight fame). He tries to warn him that something terrible is going to happen as the final seconds of the download are interrupted by flickering lights.
Boom. We’re in the dark. And now, fifteen years later…
The show moves fast to set the stage as exposition is quickly parsed out by our main characters. Ben’s grown up kids–Charlie (an underwhelming Tracy Spiridakos) and Danny (Graham Rogers, who offers impressive cheekbones, Zac-Efron-hair and not much else)–are out exploring beyond the boundaries of their village (a cul-de-sac with a fence, crops and a chicken coop) and displaying some non-Dad approved curiosity.
A quick and painful issue with the developing story is Charlie’s eye-rolling, sassy pants teen thing, which doesn’t much work, particularly after you do some math and realize she’s twenty. She clearly loves her dad but Mom has passed and Dad’s new girlfriend (Aussie actress Anna Lise Phillips) turns her into an angry brat. As a character intro, it’s not very effective.
But there’s not much time to linger as the action picks up and we’re faced with the Big Change that propels our heroine out of the cul-de-sac and into the big bad world.
Giancarlo Esposito saunters into the village and things start to get deadly. He works for the Big Bad, a general named Monroe who is a mysterious figure for most of the pilot. Monroe wants Ben and his brother Miles and he’s not above spilling some blood to get them. Or kidnapping a boy like Danny, who makes a tragically bad mistake that results in more heartbreak for the family.
Fueled by anger and grief, Charlie is forced to set out on a quest to find her Uncle Miles–accompanied by her father’s girlfriend Maggie and family friend Aaron (scene stealing Zak Orth), a former millionaire who drinks and wishes for nothing more than a roll of Charmin. He’s been entrusted with something very important: that download from the opening sequence.
Along the way, Charlie and her crew of two run into a handsome stranger, Nate (J.D. Pardon, working a serious Logan Lerman/Darren Criss vibe), who seems too good to be true.
And you know how that goes.
The reunion with Uncles Miles and the subsequent action sequence brings us to the good and bad of this pilot. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t, the giant clanking noise as it hits the floor is deafening. The emotional connection isn’t quite there between the characters so the action is a relief. While that’s a temporary fix, it’s not going to lend itself well for the long term.
What really works is perfectly demonstrated in the last ten minutes of the pilot. Just when I was sure I had everything figured out, a few well-timed surprises, and a flashback with an excellent reveal upped the stakes tremendously. Maybe that was the plan? Lull and surprise. If so, it worked.
There is definitely potential here. The writers would do best to focus on the plot (What is on that downloaded file? How did Ben know what was going to happen?) and the grown-ups, rather than Charlie. The actress and the character just aren’t up to the level needed to carry this series. She dresses like Katniss and has Buffy-level hair and wardrobe, but that strength of character just hasn’t been demonstrated yet. We’ll have to see.